Wednesday 17 January 2018

Powering cleanly into future with the Audi A3 e-tron

Dirt-cheap commuting gives the Audi A3 e-tron a plus but it also conquers range anxiety

Clean and fast: The Audi A3 e-tron is a powerful advocate for an electric/hybrid future
Clean and fast: The Audi A3 e-tron is a powerful advocate for an electric/hybrid future
Campbell Spray

Campbell Spray

As I have been driving a lot of Audis lately and if - and it's a big if - there's any truth in the joke comparing hedgehogs/porcupines with drivers of the four-ringed marque then I should be beginning to sprout quills.

I thought the A3 saloon was one of the best cars I have driven in recent years, which really deserves to take sales from its bigger sister. Also, earlier this year, I tested the Audi TT coupe, which has grown up to be one of the really delightful cars to drive. Now perfectly weighted, it exudes confidence and brio. Of course, as one of my colleagues found out when I was giving him and his wife a lift to a funeral, sitting in the back is only really for young children and animals. Yet powering down the roads of North County Dublin, I seemed to lose 20 years as my pulse quickened.

I was prepared to be less impressed with the Audi A3 e-tron Sportback (estate, in old money), which is the marque's first step into the hybrid/electric market. It isn't cheap but judicious use of the rechargeable electric battery and the turbocharged 1.4 petrol engine means that you can get the best of both worlds: dirt-cheap commuting or town driving and up to 800 kilometres available for longer trips. The old range anxiety argument flies out of the window. Sure, the electric range is only about 50kms, but you can charge it in just over two hours from a special wall box or about double that from a domestic socket. The battery can also be charged while driving, especially when braking or using the petrol engine as a generator.

The performance of under 8 seconds for the 0-100kmh is excellent, although you can quickly drain the battery doing this. Silently stalking the city streets is better. With the battery under the rear seats and the fuel tank below the load area, it means you lose about a quarter of the luggage space and rear leg room isn't generous, but up front, it is a very sophisticated package.

Apparently, the e-tron achieved something like 180mpg in some European tests but in reality you won't get a third of that, which may be on par with some diesels, but this is cleaner, quieter and very responsible motoring to give you a really smug feeling which is hard to beat.

With CO2 emissions of only 37 grammes per kilometre, there are also some hard facts to back up your smugness. The car comes standard with an excellent navigation system, partial leather upholstery, automatic A/C and some nice, unique e-tron alloy wheels and other touches. I could even live with the test model having its name emblazoned on both sides. The entry price here is €47,750 on the road but with current private and public grants to "promote carbon neutral mobility", the e-tron comes in at two ponies or one nifty under €40k.

A colleague called it the "best-balanced, sweetest handling" car in the A3 range. I can't disagree. And while it is going to be more than its diesel and petrol siblings - but not that much - this is a real family car. I am beginning to really get the hybrid/electric thing so if you can stretch to it, then this is one which is worth it.

***

The Saturday before picking up the e-tron, my daughter and I were the guests of Audi at the Ennio Morricone concert at the 3 Arena. It was brilliant. I just wanted to point this out in the interest of transparency. Anybody who has followed my columns will know that it wouldn't influence me. Quite the reverse. As an old colleague said: "We shall astound them with our ingratitude." But thank you.

Sunday Independent

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