Audi joins the brace of planet-saving car debuts at the Shanghai Motor Show with the A3 e-tron concept, a plug-in hybrid wrapped in the crisp sheet metal of the next-generation A3 sedan. Like the Chevrolet Volt, the A3 e-tron can be charged at night so that drivers can travel moderate distances without using the gasoline engine.
The gasoline half of the powertrain is a 1.4-liter TFSI four-cylinder -- direct-injected and turbocharged -- rated 211 horsepower. It’s coupled to a 27-horsepower electric motor, with the charge stored in a 12 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack located behind the rear seats. Audi says the e-tron can travel up to 34 miles on electricity alone. The gasoline engine only kicks in to provide extra range or additional acceleration.
A company like Toyota might be content with figures like that, but Audi wanted a healthy dose of performance from their hybrid. With the gasoline and electric units working in tandem, Audi rates the e-tron at 238 horsepower, reportedly enough for a 6.8-second dash to 62 mph and a top speed of 143 mph. Power is transmitted through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission which has a launch-control feature.
Aiding such high-speed antics is a chassis derived from the hot Audi RS 3 Sportback, with five suspension modes available from the Audi Drive Select system -- including an “Economy” mode that somehow reduces fuel consumption. The chassis specs imply this will be a seriously sport hybrid: The car wears 20-inch wheels with low-profile tires, has four-piston front brake calipers, and the stability control can be fully disabled.
The A3 wears the same attractive design that was presented in concept form at the Geneva auto show. The four-seat sedan looks like a scaled-down version of the Audi A4, with taught body lines, flared wheel arches, LED headlights, and cool recessed aluminum door handles. To save weight, the mirror housings, front air dam, and rear lip are all composed of carbon-fiber reinforced polymer; the hood, doors, and trunklid are aluminum. The car’s curb weight, though, is still a somewhat portly 3792 pounds.
The A3 e-tron’s key interior highlight is a rounded, single-piece dashboard with four vents meant to look like jet engines. It has the brand’s traditional, sporty three-spoke steering wheel, bolstered sports seats, and abundant aluminum trim. The screen for the MMI infotainment system extends upwards from the center of the dashboard; the speakers likewise slide out several millimeters from their housings. Instead of a tachometer, the e-tron has a “power meter” with a needle swinging between 0 and 100 to indicate total drivetrain output.
There’s no indication whether this car will actually go into production. Instead, like the variety of e-tron-badged vehicles Audi has trotted out at past auto shows -- some diesel hybrids, others full-electrics -- some design and technical elements from the concept will probably inspire future Audi products. A hybrid A3 is quite likely at some point in the future, but it probably won’t much resemble this e-tron concept.