The quiet revolution

The Audi A3 e-tron slips quietly into the country - but makes a big impression.

Real-world performance meets state-of-the-art hybrid functionality and efficiency. The Audi A3 e-tron Sportback arrives Down Under and brings with it a new era of mobility.

31 October, 2015

No compromise motoring

It's quiet. Too quiet. Mutter this line in a hackneyed western and it’s a good sign that all hell is about to break loose. Not so in the A3 Sportback e-tron. Or, at least, not necessarily so.

 It’s much less predictable. 

On battery power alone, Audi’s petrol-electric plug-in hybrid is quieter than the lonesomest prairie. But where a minute of aimless reverie in a John Wayne film can only be a prelude to a gunfight, the A3 Sportback e-tron has an average electric-only range of 50km. Fifty perfectly silent kilometres. 

This isn't the e-tron's only sign of reserve.

As we begin our journey from the Southern Highlands to Sydney, the e-tron is also quiet in other ways. Where most hybrids shout their green credentials with ‘eclectic’ design, this hybrid hatch is most remarkable for looking identical to the normal A3. Or, at least, very nearly identical; to the untrained eye, as we cruise through the slow weekday streets of Mittagong, the hybrid’s silent propulsion is the only clear sign of our environmental credentials. The others – minimalistic badging; a chrome front grill, housing the charger port behind the lever-out Audi rings; completely concealed exhaust pipes – are subtle. This is a hybrid for people genuinely interested in their environmental impact … but not particularly compelled to tell everyone they’re being green. 

It’s also a hybrid for drivers keen on the hybrid’s obvious draw card – frugality – but not willing to compromise on performance.

It offers four driving modes: EV, or full-electric, with that average 50km range, allowing most buyers a day of regular errands and commuting without ever needing to bother their local petrol station.

There’s ‘Hybrid Hold’ mode, which disturbs the horses ever so slightly more, employing the 1.4L, four-cylinder petrol engine only and maintaining battery power levels for later use? (Allowing you to cheaply plug-in charge once home.) There’s ‘Hybrid Charge’, which also uses that engine to recharge the A3 e-tron’s 8.8kW battery capacity during travel (equivalent charge to about 160 Apple Macbooks). 

And finally, there’s Hybrid Auto, where both petrol and electric are available according to conditions and throttle input. 

Performance on tap

That four-cylinder engine is exactly the same one as is shared with the regular A3 – the winner of six international Engine of the Year awards. When bidden, it adds its 110kW and 350Nm heft to the electric motor’s 75kW and 330Nm (for combined figures of 150kW/350Nm) – and things get rowdy at the OK Corral. Top speed jumps from 130km/h in EV to 222km/h – with a 0-100km/h time of just 7.6 seconds. 

For now though, we’re gliding in silence, as part of a launch challenge to see how far we can extend that 50 kilometre estimate in competition with a dozen other drivers in six other e-trons. Windows up. Coasting towards traffic lights. Rarely besting 70km/h, aircon off and windows fogged. These guys take a challenge like this very seriously!

Fully charged and with its reduced, 40-litre fuel tank filled to the brim, the A3 Sportback e-tron is capable of 940km between fuel stops. 

Sweating, we manage almost 57 kilometres – only to reach the judging area to find that a rival car, piloted by a whippet-like pair of cheerfully skinny drivers, who’d ghosted through traffic and stuck more rigidly to their strategy – had managed 67km for the win.

The perfect dual personality

The A3 Sportback e-tron has also put on weight. It tips the scales at 305kg over the non-hybrid, 125kg of which is battery pack. Driving in more conventional fashion later on, swooping enthusiastically through bends, it might just be that the hybrid’s greatest achievement isn’t any of its four available driving modes in particular. Nor is it how quickly the choice of modes become intuitive. It’s how easily it applies itself to dynamic driving; how surely it hucks the hybrid towards the hotter hatches. The steering is engaging and the braking impressive – those extra kilos apparent but not overly burdensome. 

Go easy and all is quiet as you mosey off into the sunset. Plant your foot and it’s pistols at dawn.

But as they always say, it’s the quiet ones you have to watch.