Overall rating: 4/5
Audi's A3 Sportback e-tron comes with a hot hatch like 204hp, yet sits in the cheapest tax band for non-EV cars. Running costs will prove to be low and this could well convince buyers that diesel isn't always the way to go. We'd like it to shout about its abilities a bit more though.
In the Metal:
The new model looks much like any other Audi A3 Sportback, so by definition it's familiar, the e-tron joining a mass of middle management machines on our roads. Only the sharper, single-frame chrome grille, more prominent badge (behind which is the e-tron's plug-in socket), subtle e-tron badges on the front wings and boot lid and 15-spoke alloy wheels differentiate it. That's either to its benefit or its downfall, as the e-tron looks fairly ordinary if you're hoping to make an environmental statement like you would in a BMW i3.
The interior follows Audi convention too, so solid build, excellent functionality and fine materials are all present and correct. The e-tron gains greater functionality in the pop-up infotainment screen, though again there's little inside to highlight that this A3 adds an electric motor to proceedings.
The A3 Sportback e-tron is understated in its looks and so too is it quiet on the road, impressively so. By default it moves off in electric-only mode, so Audi worked very hard on removing the background electric noise that's obvious in many EVs. That alone has required Audi to rethink everything from the sound of the climate control's fan to other noises that would otherwise be drowned out by the sound of an internal combustion engine.
Four drive modes are offered: pure EV, hybrid, a hold setting that keeps the remaining battery charge, and last of all a mode that pushes power to the batteries to charge them up as quickly as possible. Add in the Sport and manual modes of the six-speed automatic transmission and there's a lot of choice for the driver. Too much arguably; Audi e-tron drivers will need to be dedicated to the cause of ultimate efficiency if they're to get anywhere near the official 176.6mpg combined figure - a number around 100mpg less is a more realistic one in daily driving.
The EV mode will work up to 130km/h, though do that and you'll struggle to manage the potential 50 kilometres on batteries alone. Regardless, as a hybrid it's seamlessly integrated, the TFSI engine all but silent in operation, until you ask a lot from it. Do so and there's sound, and not a huge increase in pace, the A3 e-tron feeling moderately brisk rather than in any way sporting.
Accept that mind-set, as you'd expect the target customers to do, and understand that its conventionally powered (petrol or diesel) A3 relations deliver greater agility, significantly less understeer and more outright grip and you'll not be disappointed. If you're predominantly in town then the A3 e-tron's ability to glide around silently emitting nothing is genuinely appealing, as are its official emissions figures if you're buying it with company money.
What you get for your Money:
Audi Ireland has yet to confirm pricing or specifications, but it's expected that the e-tron model could cost a little more than €40,000 after the relevant grants have been applied. That puts it right near the top of the A3 Sportback tree (S and RS models excepted), though Audi is likely to sweeten the deal by adding plenty of standard equipment. Just two dealers, one in Dublin and one in Cork, will sell the e-tron with a launch date of November expected.
All that additional technology has to go somewhere, and the e-tron battery alone adds 125kg, while boot space suffers by 60 litres (seat up and down) compared to its quattro relations. Charging time is four hours from a domestic socket, or 2 hours 15 minutes from a public or home 'wallbox' charging point.
Audi's new A3 e-tron is a car that offers emissions-free driving within a fairly strict set of parameters, though achieves this without the compromises of many rivals. Audi's integration of the plug-in hybrid technology is impressive, the petrol and electric motors and six-speed gearbox working very well together. It comes with huge refinement, lots of standard equipment and excellent economy and emissions figures, the latter resulting in obvious tax and running cost advantages. It's just a shame it's not more distinct looking, as while it'll salve your environmental conscience, it'll do so without letting everyone know how green you're being.