Sunday 11 December 2016

Can Audi’s A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid really achieve a range of 940kms?

Philip Hedderman

Published 14/04/2016 | 10:28

Audi’s A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid
Audi’s A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid
Audi’s A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid
Audi’s A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid

I'm what you'd call a hybrid dinosaur.

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When Toyota launched the Prius way back when it didn't electrify me or indeed leave me buzzing.

In fact, when I drove it, the big dream fizzled out as quickly as the battery.

Granted, it was handy if one spends an hour a day in rush hour traffic, travelling only three kilometres while never managing to get beyond 30kph.

Fear not, the full electric revolution was just around the corner we were told.

The Nissan Leaf was first out of the zero emissions trap but proved expensive with a price tag to match a 3-Series BMW or Audi A4.

Audi’s A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid
Audi’s A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid
Audi’s A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid

Next came the bargain basement Renault Twizzy which left me cold - literally.

(Who in their right mind would launch a car in Ireland with no windows or doors?)

And to add insult to injury, you had to lease the batteries.

Other variatoins followed like the Zoe, the Mitsubshi iMiev and the BMWi3, so we were spoilt for choice.

But the biggest enemy of the aforementioned is a condition known as 'range anxiety'.

It'll freak out even the calmest of drivers because the e-car infrastructure is so poor.

Yes, compromise is very much a part of the green driving experience.

So you can imagine our excitement when Audi unveiled the A3 e-tron - a super hybrid.

Audi’s A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid
Audi’s A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid

The stats read like an eco warrior's dream.

Not only could it cover 50kms on full electric power and at speeds of 130kph, the 1.4 litre petrol engine could boost the range to an eye-watering 940kms.

The combined power of the two motors add up to hot hatch poke of 204bhp with a 0-100kph to match of 7.6 seconds.

But most importantly it sips fuel with the official Audi figures - put at 118mpg or an astounding 1.5l/100kms and emissions of just 37g/km.

You also had several ways to charge the battery from an industrial 3-phase power socket (which takes just over two hours) an ordinary on-street point (around four hours) or from a normal 3-pin domestic socket (which takes three hours and 45 minutes). 

So, for the first time ever I now have an alternative to diesel for my 100km commute to Dublin every day.

Climbing into the e-tron the cabin is pretty much identical to the A3 - superbly finished and loaded with extras as standard including half leather seats, Xenon headlights, MMI navigation plus, climate control  and unique alloy wheels.

Press start and EV mode automatically kicks in and we silently leave Sandyford.

Power and torque is instant as the e-tron quickly tips 100kph on the M50 as the automatic gearbox works its magic effortlessly as the wind whistles around the windscreen.

Unfortunately the battery was almost drained dained when I collected the car so within 10 minutes the petrol engine kicks in.

It too is remarkably quiet and the transition is barely noticable.

Activate cruise control, engage battery recharge and the next stop is 100kms away.

Slipping off the M1, the battery gauge gives me a full reading and we kick back into battery mode which read 35kms.

It's dark by the time I arrive and I'm too lazy to charge the rest.

A quick calculation tells me that the following day I should only use 30km on petrol so we're quids in.

No so. The 35km reading disappears in blocks of fives and the electric reserve covers just 23km and we're back on fossil fuel.

It's a similar story when we hit rush hour traffic in Dublin.

Not to worry as I've a couple of hours to kill.

 Finding a free parking bay to charge then e-tron is not easy as they're mainly being used by other non electric motorists. Several we encountered were also faulty but are flagged with a red light on the top.

Plugging in couldn't be simpler and the points are locked in place and can only be unlocked by your unique card.

After two hours we return only to discover the whole process has boosted the battery by a mere 10kms.

By day five of the week-long test, my enthusiasm has waned more than a bit for the whole electric experience and I thank God for the internal combustion engine.

For me the real-life range was nowhere near 940kms -  more like 650kms which I reckon could have been pushed up by another 100kms.

Don't get me wrong the technology in the e-tron is astounding, a feat of automotive engineering and a template of future motoring.

But it just overlooked one small thing - the human condition.

Buying a car like this takes real commitment.

Your day has to be structured and planned.

One has to be organised and disciplined.

Unfortunately, I'm not.

Getting out of bed on time is a real achievement let alone plugging in and out in the cold and rain.

Now that's what I call conserving energy.

The Audi A3 e-tron costs  €39,950 (including €5,000 SEAI grant and €2,500 VRT rebate.

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