It’s an A3, but not quite as we know it. Underneath the familiar exterior lie two drivetrains, cleverly engineered into one.
You must be thinking something like: “Why, it’s just a normal A3 with some tasteless stickers up the side, you blithering idiot.” Electric cars, even part-electric ones like this, are usually on the snobbishly effective side of letting you in on their tree-hugging credentials, but not so this one. At a glance, nothing is new at all.
But delve beneath that ubiquitous surface, so familiar from the millions you probably see on your commute, is a very clever petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain that combines the cheap energy of plug-in tech and the ability to recharge on the move. You can use it the way that suits you best, travelling up to 30 miles on electric power only.
In terms of its look, it’s an Audi A3 so at least you won’t need to explain it to your neighbours. They won’t even know it’s a hybrid unless you tell them, since these dubious graphics are simply there for shameless model promotion by Audi. The e-tron is based on the A3 Sportback Sport (would Sir like some extra sport with that?) trim with a few added goodies like LED headlights and sat-nav, so it looks expensive without being antisocial in the eyes of the Jones’.
Inside the four passenger doors interior space is good for five, and luggage capacity is the same as a Quattro four-wheel driven A3, which is to say 100 litres down on the basic A3 Sportback and technically only 29 litres more than a Volkswagen Up. It’s broad rather than deep, though, and turns out to be plenty practical enough. Cupholders, a central storage bin and a fuzz-lined glove box are handy to have.
Behind the wheel the e-tron is quick enough in a straight line but along winding mountain roads it’s about as dynamically exciting as an elderly goldfish, especially until you take control of the six-speed S-tronic automatic gearbox yourself. Weekend blasts are not what it’s really designed for.
In town it absolutely excels. It’s so unerringly quiet and smooth in electric-only mode, while the three further drivetrain modes do their respective, very different, jobs impeccably. Crucially, the standard everyday hybrid mode does brilliantly well at using the electric motor as much as possible, saving the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol back-up for fast getaways and topping up battery charge.
At less than 30 big ones this is very much in the sort of ballpark that buyers looking for a top-end A3 would happily pay. For that money you don’t get any special performance or an S badge, but you do get Audi’s best everyday A3. It’s that good. If an A3 is on your shopping list, this is the one that could reduce your weekday fuel bills to practically zip.
If we could all afford one as our daily driver, we’d all want one. Half the journalists on the launch had already made requests for long-term test cars by lunchtime. Thing is, the A3 has found thousands of buyers across a statistics-mocking range of demographics. It’s pretty clear that any buyer who wants premium quality, a near-silent cabin around town and fuel bills that will make an eco-diesel look wasteful should look no further.
Facts and figures
Model: Audi A3 e-tron Price: From £29,795
Engine: Plug-in petrol-electric hybrid producing total system outputs of 201bhp and 258lb/ft of torque
Performance: Top speed 137mph, 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds
Economy: 176mpg combined
CO2 rating: 37g/km