We just got our first go in Audi’s only plug-in hybrid sold in the North American market and its first plug-in hybrid ever. So what is Audi’s new little hybrid hatchback like to drive? In a word, interesting.
The Audi A3 e-tron is an interesting car because it’s quite contradictory. Firstly, it’s a small hatchback that’s only a bit bigger than a Volkswagen Golf, but it’s actually quite heavy, at around 3,400 lbs. That gives it a strange driving feel, as it’s small and compact, making it easy to place on the road. However, you can feel all of its electric motor/battery heft. Despite the weight, though, it’s actually very easy to drive and feels more nimble than I had expected, considering its weight and front-wheel drive nature. The steering is light, but weights up nicely in corners and feels quite accurate, even if it is completely devoice of feel. But the A3 e-tron can be a fun little car to drive if it needs to be, but it isn’t a Volkswagen GTI.
The A3 e-tron only comes with front-wheel drive, Audi’s famous Quattro isn’t an option, but despite only powering the front wheels, it actually clings on through corners better than expected. That starts to be a recurring trend with the A3 e-tron, surprising me.
Its little 1.4 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes only 150 hp but when paired to its electric motor, the total system output is 204 hp and it feels genuinely punchy when both are at full chat. Admittedly, there’s a bit of lag at the bottom of the rev range, as the tiny engine builds boost, but once at full boil, the little motor can pull. Bury your foot and it isn’t remarkably quick, as there’s a lot of weight to lug around, but it’s quicker than originally anticipated. The little engine also sounds pretty good.
The six-speed dual-clutch gearbox shifts cogs swiftly and always keeps the car in the right gear. In manual mode, shifts are prompt and sharp and the car will tell you which gear to be in for optimum efficiency by giving you little up or down arrow indicators on the screen in the gauge cluster. Speaking of efficiency suggestions, the tachymeter is replaced with an efficiency gauge that helps you drive while using the least amount of fuel possible. The gauge has a few sections, ranging from Charge, which shows when regenerative braking is charging the battery, Efficiency, which shows you when you’re driving in the range of optimum efficiency, and the rest shows you how much percentage of electric motor you’re currently using. At the top of the gauge is a Boost section, which shows when the motor is giving the engine for more power.
On the inside or our fully loaded tester, the A3 e-tron is typical Audi, in the sense that the build quality is superb, materials are fantastic and the design is simple and ergonomic. The MMI system works great and is fast and responsive. However, the scroll wheel spins in the opposite direction that it should, which is frustrating. The seats are great and supportive without being too firm. Front interior room is great for such a small car and rear seat space isn’t too shabby either. In fact, I was able to sit behind myself really comfortably and sit behind a much taller fellow with adequate knee room, even if my feet were a bit too cramped.
Overall, the A3 e-tron is a good little car for young people, maybe with a small family, that don’t have a far commute and want to save some money in fuel and be efficient. The A3 e-tron isn’t cheap, with it starting at around $37,000 and our tester ringing in at $47,000, but it is a good way to get into a hybrid with great efficiency and good driving dynamics. If that sounds like you, the A3 e-troncould be your perfect car.
Special thanks to Ray Catena Audi of Freehold for letting us drive the A3 e-tron.