EL SEGUNDO, California — Featuring both a gas tank and a charge port, plug-in hybrids split the difference between conventional hybrids and full EVs, offering buyers the green silence of pure electric driving without any range anxiety. The catch is that the all-electric range of these vehicles is limited.
The 2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron is Ingolstadt’s PHEV offering (it’s also the only way to get yourself into a new A3 hatchback). While it offers 380 miles of total range thanks to an EPA rating of 33/37 mpg city/highway and 83 MPGe, the 8.8-kWh battery only holds enough juice for 16 miles of all-electric range on a full charge. By comparison, the 238-mile Chevy Bolt EV uses a 60-kWh one.
That juice is used by a three-phase electric motor, which is located inside the six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The motor makes for 102 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque, while the 1.4-liter turbo-four engine is good for 150 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque.
The two combine for a peak output of 204 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is sent to the front wheels and gets the 3,616-lb A3 e-tron to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds. Not quick, but considerably faster than two of its rivals: the Chevy Volt, which takes 8.4 seconds to get there, and the Toyota Prius Prime, which needs a whopping 11 seconds.
There are five powertrain modes to choose from on the A3 e-tron: EV, hybrid, battery hold, charge battery, and Sport mode. EV and hybrid are self-explanatory, battery hold maintains a steady level of charge, charge battery pulls a little extra juice from the engine to charge the battery at highway speeds, and Sport throws pretenses of economy out the window and uses maximum power from both sources. The first four are selected via the MMI interface, while Sport is selected by moving the shifter into S.
In addition, there are four driving settings to choose from – comfort, auto, dynamic, and individual.
Unlike other plug-ins, the A3 e-tron’s charging port is not located on the side of the car. Instead, it’s located behind the Audi rings on the center of the grille. The car must be unlocked before the port can be opened by turning a dial on the second ring to the left; give it a twist and the four rings will slide open. The bumper-level placement makes it vulnerable to minor accidents that could cause it to get stuck, such as being backed into by an inattentive parallel parker.
Fully charging the A3 plug-in electric hybrid requires two hours and 15 minutes with a 240-volt power source or about eight hours using a standard 120-volt outlet. Additional juice is provided by regenerative braking, which operates at maximum efficiency in Dynamic mode, creating the sensation that the parking brake is engaged as soon as you let off the hybrid’s accelerator. The pedal feels a bit springy, especially when the vehicle is at a standstill.
Looks wise, the four-door hatch appears more humpback-shaped than sporty; from the side profile, the body looks a bit short for its 103.5-inch wheelbase. On the plus side, the five-seater offers a good amount of storage space and cuts a decent enough profile from the front end. The Tango Red metallic model we tested even turned a few heads around town.
The car is fun to drive and packed full of the latest tech. The infotainment system can be controlled via a knob or a touchpad, but you can also use voice commands. It uses Google Maps for navigating and includes support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay friendly, which is always a big plus. The Google maps are so detailed that you can even zoom out into space to see the entire planet if you want. It’s that good.
In full electric mode the car is quiet and stealthy, but you can detect a bit of road noise coming from the undercarriage on rougher roads. Compared to other Audis the ride feels more functional than sporty. Still, you can have a lot of fun with it, but it’s no R8, TT or even A4.
The panoramic sunroof and rearview camera are now standard, while LED daytime running lights with LED headlights are available on the Premium Plus and Prestige trims. There’s a digital compass on the mirror, and a volume knob that’s handy despite being located closer to the passenger seat than the driver’s.
Virtual cockpit, part of the $3,150 technology package is a highly recommended option. Out tester also featured the $3,100 sport package, which adds a three-spoke flat bottom steering wheel with paddles, 18-inch 15-spoke wheels with all-season rubber, front sport seats, and an S line roof spoiler.
The biggest challenge for the A3 e-tron out in the real world is finding a place to charge. Audi’s sultry voiced navigation system can happily tell you where the nearest charge station is located, but it takes a bit of research to determine the hours of operation or whether or not the charger is open and available to the public. You’ll also need an app for charging stations that don’t accept credit cards at the chargers themselves. If you don’t have access to a garage where you can charge your vehicle at home and/or work — or simply have a long commute — you’ll be better off going for a regular hybrid instead of a plug-in.
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron Specifications
|PRICE||$39,850 (base), $46,675 (tested)|
|ENGINE||1.4L turbocharged DOHC I4 engine and 75kW electric motor (102 hp)/204 hp (combined), 258 lb-ft (combined)|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, electric motor, FWD hatchback|
|EPA MILEAGE||83 mpg-e city/hwy|
|L X W X H||169.7 x 77.4 x 56.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.6 sec|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph|