Welcome to the future. Audi’s entry into the hybrid electric car world, the 2016 A3 Sportback e-tron, truly represents the future of personal automotive transporation. One one hand, it’s packed with the latest hybrid and electric vehicle technology, allowing you to approach 90 MPGe using the hybrid system. On the other hand, it’s a beautifully designed, well-built Audi that with 204 HP (using both the gasoline and electric motors) and Audi’s race-proven driving dynamics, creates a fun performance driving experience true to the Audi brand.
This PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) comes with both an electric and gasoline engine which can be used in tandem or individually. The system has four settings adapting to a range of driving conditions. EV Mode operates the car in an electric-only mode with the high-voltage battery system providing about 16 miles of range. In Hybrid Mode, the car automatically selects which engine should be used based on the driving conditions. The Hold Battery Mode operates the car in hybrid mode, but preserves the charge of the battery for later use. Charge Battery Mode uses just the gasoline engine to power the car and to charge the battery while driving. The settings are controlled by a switch and are switchable when the car is driving or parked.
Like all Audi models, the A3 e-tron is available with a wonderful suite of infotainment options, all controlled by the easy-to-use MMI touch system. Audi connect is a subscription-based service that features Google Earth, Google Voice Search, a proprietary traffic guidance system along with fuel prices, parking info, music streaming and internet radio. Other tech goodies include the use of Google Earth and 3D satellite technology. The car is a moving Wi-fi hotspot, offering full 4G LTE (powered by AT&T) for up to eight devices.
The A3 Sportback e-tron offers the full suite of Audi safety features like multiple airbags, along with some electronic collision countermeasures. There’s a wide-sweeping side assist system that detects and alerts the driver to other traffic next to them, as well as an optional active lane assist system. This reads the lines in the road and gently nudges the steering wheel when it senses the car is drifting over the lines on either side.
The A3 e-tron may be one of the most app-based cars available and the functions controllable or monitored via the app are truly helpful for owners. The app shows the current charge and range, as well as the vehicle’s parked location. The remote start functions are very smart, they allow the interior temperature to be set and brought to the desired level in advance, while the car is still plugged in, saving battery usage. Charging can also be timed via the app to take advantage of low power rates at night.
This is first and foremost, an Audi. Like other Audi models, it’s a driver’s car with brilliant performance, but this e-tron adds the hybrid technology. Unlike other hybrids, I like how the A3 e-tron does it effortlessly, in the background. You’re not distracted by a huge screen showing the power path and charge like on a Prius, in fact you can virtually hide the hybrid functions, leaving you a standard Audi dashboard. For tech geeks or hypermilers who want to monitor everything, it’s easy to set it up that way. To me, that’s the key to this car and why it’s the future of vehicles, it’s an Audi first and a hybrid second.
The most surreal part of the experience is when starting and driving the car in EV Mode as it’s just so quiet. When you hit the start button, there is no noise and no vibration, like you have in a conventional car. It just comes on and you’re ready to go. For most driving, the EV Mode feels just like driving a conventional car, just a bit smoother, even when rolling at freeway speeds in the EV Mode.
The A3 e-tron is driven by two engines, operating in tandem or individually depending on conditions and the car’s settings. The electric motor produces 102 HP and 243 LB FT of torque and the 1.4 L TFSI (Turbo Fuel Sequential Injection) engine makes 150 HP. Together, they get the A3 e-tron from 0-60 in 7.6 seconds and it’s a fun ride.
With the car in hybrid or charge mode and with the transmission in S (sport) mode, the car moves nicely and is really fun to drive, you would not know you’re driving a hybrid, it feels like any other A3 (that’s a good thing). Like other Audi models most of the driving dynamics are controlled by Audi’s drive select system. There are four driving modes: comfort, dynamic (sporty), auto and individual, which is a customizable mode.
Charging is done via a discreet (and rather cool) outlet located under the iconic four-ring Audi logo on the front grill. A small physical switch is turned in one of the rings and the entire logo lifts up and to the left. The charger cable easily clicks into the outlet. The charger can then be connected to household 110 volt power for an eight hour charging time or a 220 volt connection for a two and a quarter hour charging time. This port is also used for public charging stations.
For those looking to further decrease their carbon footprint, Audi offers a home solar power solution from SunPower. High performance solar panels create the energy to charge the car. A full home charger system is available, which is basically a permanent, lockable mounting case for the electronic charging system (which is portable, like a giant laptop charger). To provide a home installation experience equal to the quality of the car, Audi offers home installation of the electrical system from Bosch-certified technicians.
All this technology, performance and quality does not come cheap, but I think it’s worth the price. The 2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron ultra has a base price of $37,900. The model I tested had a $575 Misano red pearl effect paint job and was the Premium Plus model, which is a $4,100 package option. The Premium Plus option includes upgraded wheels, adaptive lighting, iPhone interface cable, an auto-dimming mirror with compass, heated front seats, full LED headlights and high-gloss aluminum window surrounds.
It also featured the $2,600 Technology package with Audi MMI navigation plus with MMI touch, six months of Audi connect online services and Audi side assist. Add in the $925 destination charge and you’re at $46,100. Locally here in Los Angeles, Audi offers a lease for $339 per month with $3,000 down (low mileage lease for a specific, Premium trim level model). To offset the price, currently there is a $4,168 Federal tax credit available on the A3 e-tron for purchasers, not leasees.
The price includes one first scheduled maintenance service and the car comes with a four-year / 50,000 mile warranty on the vehicle and an eight-year, 100,000 mile warranty on the battery system. The A3 also comes with four years of roadside assistance.
Follow luxury car enthusiast Freddy Sherman on Twitter @luxuryfred