£36,455 Price range
It’s going to take more than a good, hard look to spot the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron from its regularly-fuelled brethren (those stickers aren’t exactly factory standard). That’s part of what makes this car so enticing – a hybrid it may be, but it’s one that doesn’t look wacky.
It keeps the dazzling array of talents that see the A3 Sportback nabbing positive reviews from everywhere. It has a high class cabin with loads more room than the hatchback (particularly legroom in the back) and the usual excellent standards of fit and finish to make for a very pleasant environment.
The interior gets a high-tech edge thanks to the addition of a seven-inch infotainment screen and other useful standard equipment includes automatic headlights and wipers, powerful LED headlights and rear parking sensors.
The e-tron is both the most powerful of the regular A3 offerings (you need an S badge to get more) but also the quietest, capable of running up to 31 miles at up to 40mph on battery power alone.
It’s not without its drawbacks though. No Audi is truly cheap, but at nearly £35k this one’s a whopper. Even after a government grant for battery cars, it’s as expensive as its sporty S3 sibling. Moreover that battery brings some weight to go with the punch – the e-tron is 400kg heavier than the regular 1.4-litre petrol, roughly equivalent to having five extra adults on board at any one time.
But it does have few rivals. Key amongst them would be its stablemate the Volkswagen Golf GTE, which does a pretty similar job and comes in at broadly the same price – so it may come down to which badge you prefer. The BMW i3 is also worth considering.
Audi keeps on forging ahead of the field when it comes to interiors, with high quality materials as far as the eye can see – and as far as the fingers can probe. They’re practically unrivalled at this price.
The e-tron gets the best of what the Audi A3 range can offer with a huge standard kit list including a seven-inch colour display. Leather is only optional though – something that seams a little mean on a car costing £35k.
It’s still as ergonomically sound as the regular car too. In fact, aside from the addition of an EV mode selector button, you’d be very hard pressed to tell the difference between the e-tron and any other well-equipped A3 Sportback.
Audi A3 e-tron passenger space
In terms of the occupants, there’s absolutely no difference from the ordinary Sportback and the e-tron. There’s plenty of room for adults of most sizes, thanks to a 35mm stretch in the wheelbase compared to the three-door hatch. With two back doors to make chucking kids (and their seats) in and out easier in a crowded supermarket car park, it’s a practical step up.
Audi A3 e-tron boot space
To make way for the electrical components, 100 litres have been cut from the boot space compared to the ordinary front-wheel drive A3s – meaning the e-tron offers only 10 litres more boot space than the much smaller Audi A1. Fold the rear seats down and that swells to 1,120 litres, but remains 100 litres short of the standard car’s maximum capacity. Boot space is further gnawed into by a bulky case that holds the e-tron’s recharge cables.
Our A3 Sportback dimensions guide gives a good idea of the passenger space you can expect from the e-tron.
Nicely weighted (and adjustable) steering can’t hide a chassis that has been setup to feel safe and secure, rather than fun. At normal speeds you’re unlikely to notice a big difference between the e-tron and a normal A3, but up the aunty and things unravel. At pace its 400kg weight penalty quickly becomes evident as it ploughs through corners that the standard car would make light work of.
Although it does at least mean the e-tron avoids the uncomfortable ride of S line and Sport models, the car’s soft suspension is another limiting factor leading to plenty of lean in fast corners. Audi’s excellent adaptive dampers, which allow the driver to choose between a taught or comfy ride, are not available on the e-tron and neither is the all-weather grip of the firm’s quattro four-wheel drive system.
The e-tron’s S-tronic gearbox, which is slower than the twin-clutch unit fitted to the standard car, does nothing to help the e-tron’s detached feel.The final nail in the coffin takes the form of regenerative brakes, which deliver stopping power that is hard to judge.
The e-tron totes a hybrid mixture of a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 148hp and an electric motor offering 101hp. Each can power the car individually, depending on the mode you choose, or can be paired up for peak power of 201hp. Audi claims fuel economy of 176.6mpg and low emissions mean that the car is cheap to tax.
The e-tron offers four driving modes: EV, Auto, Hold and Charge. The first uses the electric motor only. It’s the default setting and, so long as you don’t stamp on the accelerator, will remain engaged at speeds of up to 80mph.
Offering the most performance, Auto mode uses a mix of petrol and electric power to provide near-silent motoring at low speeds before the petrol engine kicks in – generally as you pass 40mph. Decide to press on, though, and Auto combines both petrol and electric power to hustle the e-tron from 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds, although you can forget about any semblance of fuel economy.
Switching the selector to Hold means the A3 will preserve its battery power so you can, say, save electricity until you enter a low-emission zone, while Charge uses the petrol engine to both power the car and recharge the battery.
There’s no denying its a clever car, but whether the e-tron makes sense for you depends largely on personal circumstance. If you cover a lot of motorway miles then an A3 diesel will undoubtably be cheaper to run, not to mention cheaper to buy. That’s despite the £2,500 government grant that takes the edge of the e-tron’s colossal £35,000 asking price.
For someone living and working in London, however, the e-tron could make sense. There its exempt from paying the capital’s congestion charge and you could conceivably drive to and from work, without ever having to pay for petrol – if that doesn’t put a smile on your face then we’re not sure what would!
Unlike the standard Sportback, the e-tron model has received a specific test from EuroNCAP under the new, stricter evaluation of the 2014 tests. Yet despite this, the Audi still managed a five-star performance, rating pretty well across the board. Scores of 82% and 78% for adult and child occupant safety, respectively, might not be headline figures for the class – the lateral pole test being a particular chink in the armour – but backed up by 66% and 68% in the pedestrian and safety assist categories, it is still a great all rounder.
Euro NCAP gave the car two advanced rewards too, for pre-sense crash avoidance and brake assist collision mitigation. The former system will take action if one is inevitable (including closing the windows, to keep outforeign objects), while the latter keeps the brakes on after a crash to stop you rolling off and into a second one.
Dip into the options list and there’s the opportunity to make the e-tron even safer, with items such as adaptive cruise control (£575) and Audi’s Pre-sense automatic braking system (£300). There’s even the opportunity to save a little money by choosing the Driver Assistance package, which bundles together adaptive cruise control, lane assist, high beam assist, plus front and rear parking sensors for £1,105 – a £270 saving on buying each separately.
While Audi isn’t a buzzword for value generally speaking, the A3 and particularly the Sportback model is one of those cars that feels like it’s worth the extra money it costs over its badge-siblings.
The e-tron though does a stellar job of countering that. It’s a very pricey car even compared to the standard Sportback – and it’s more expensive than the desirable S3 hot hatch, even after the government’s plug-in car grant is taken into account.
There are also obvious gaps in equipment, with items you would expect to get as standard on a £35,000 car, such as cruise control, remaining on the options list. Although the e-tron is on the whole very well equipped.
The dent the batteries put into the practicality is also a serious chink in the armour, while doubts over their lifespan mean the e-tron will be worth just 40 per cent of its original value after three years/36,000 miles. By comparison a diesel model can be expected to hold onto 50 per cent of its purchase price after the same period. That said, Audi covers the battery under warranty for eight years.
The e-tron comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty that can be extended to four (£245) or five years (£545).
There’s a great deal to be said for bringing hybrids into the realms of the normal and the e-tron does this spectacularly well. Chances are you’re going to see a lot of them thanks to attractive company car tax – probably in an outside lane of a motorway – but not even realise it. This can only be a good thing.
But the car does suffer for it. The extra bulk of the batteries dents ride, handling and just general day to day living, while soaking up enough boot space to leave the Audi less roomy than a Ford Fiesta. It’s also whimperingly expensive – and its wowscore compared to the regular Sportback tell the tale of how compromised reviewers think it is.