Audi A3 Sportback e-tron: road test

Posted on February 18th, 2015 by James Luckhurst

The e-tron makes compelling sense for company car drivers, less so for private buyers.

Audi A3 Sportback e-tron: road test

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What is it?

The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron is the petrol-electric hybrid version of the Audi’s A3 five-door. It promises hot-hatch performance but with excellent economy and very low emissions.

How safe is it?

There should be no worries over safety. The e-tron has been tested by Euro NCAP and achieved five stars, and there’s a long list of safety equipment fitted as standard.

Who should buy one?

The e-tron makes most sense for company car drivers who will pay very little in Benefit-In-Kind taxation thanks to the Audi’s exceptionally low carbon dioxide emissions.

DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
Audi A3 Sportback e-tron: road test

Some hybrids and electric cars make a big show of being different. Not the A3 e-tron. Whereas a BMW i3 has necks swivelling wherever it goes the e-tron looks just like any other A3, which could be an advantage if you’d rather not be stared at every time you stop at the lights.
From the driving seat, though, you’re left in no doubt that the e-tron is a very different machine. It’s powered by a 150PS 1.4 TSI petrol engine and a 75kw electric motor. The power units operate in one of four different modes. In EV mode the e-tron relies on electric power alone, travelling in hushed quiet and capable of speeds up to 80mph. The claimed range is 31 miles on electricity (580 miles overall). Hybrid hold mode preserves the battery’s charge for later use, the idea being you can switch to pure-electric running when you reach a town or city, minimising pollution in built-up areas. Charge mode uses the petrol engine to top up the charge. Hybrid auto mode uses a mixture of petrol and electric power, engaging the electric motor whenever possible.
When both power sources are put to work the A3 e-tron really shifts, reaching 62mph in just 7.6 seconds according to Audi’s figures. Even when relying on electric power alone the A3 easily keeps up with the ebb and flow of traffic.
The electric motor is quiet, as you’d expect, and the 1.4-litre engine is refined, too. Wind noise is also minimal, although there’s a surprising volume of road noise on coarsely surfaced roads. It’s especially noticeable when running in EV mode as the car is otherwise so quiet.
The extra weight (more than 200kg) of the e-tron version is mostly well disguised. Only when pushed really hard does the e-tron feel a little less light on its feet than a standard A3. The ride is on the firm side, especially at low speeds, but it’s certainly not harsh.

SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Audi A3 Sportback e-tron: road test

Hybrid cars, especially those based on conventionally powered models, tend to be less practical than the cars on which they are based – the battery and motor has to be squeezed in somewhere, and boot space often suffers as a result. The e-tron’s boot has a 280-litre capacity, which is 100 litres less than a regular Sportback’s. The weekly shop shouldn’t be a problem but a family holiday might.
If more luggage space is needed folding the rear seats gives 1,120 litres for your bags.
Passengers space hasn’t been compromised, though. The A3 Sportback closely matches the Volkswagen Golf for head and legroom, which is no surprise given the cars are built on the same underpinnings. Those travelling in the front have plenty of room to stretch out, but rear-seat space is acceptable rather than generous. If practicality is a priority there’s no shortage of larger, roomier cars you could spend £30k on, including another petrol-electric hybrid – the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

SAFETY
Audi A3 Sportback e-tron: road test

The A3 e-tron has a long list of safety kit included in the asking price, including secondary collision brake assist which automatically applies the brakes to prevent or reduce the severity of any further impacts. Safety experts at Euro NCAP have put the e-tron to the test and have awarded the car a five-star rating, just like the standard A3. However, it’s a shame over-shoulder visibility isn’t better.

EQUIPMENT
Audi A3 Sportback e-tron: road test

There are various trim levels with the mainstream A3 Sportback range, but there’s just one e-tron. You get a decent level of equipment, although so you should when spending so much money on a relatively small car. LED headlights, satellite navigation, Audi connect internet-based services, Bluetooth connectivity, a DAB digital radio, dual-zone climate control, an eight-speaker stereo, voice control for telephone and radio functions and 17-inch alloy wheels are all included in the price.

COSTS

Audi A3 Sportback e-tron: road test
For a private buyer, the price tag is pretty stiff. However, for a company car driver the e-tron costs next to nothing in tax thanks to emissions of just 37g/km, putting the car in the 5 per cent bracket for Benefit-In-Kind taxation. Officially, the car achieves 176.6mpg on the combined cycle, but you’ll need to charge the car often to get near that. A full charge takes around four hours from a domestic power source.

WE SAY

The e-tron makes compelling sense for company car drivers, less so for private buyers.

AT A GLANCE:
Price: £29,950(after £5,000 government grant)
Performance: 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds
Economy: 176.6mpg combined
Insurance: Group 29E
Tax: Band A (£0)