VERY CAPABLE: The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron.
VERY CAPABLE: The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron.

Hybrid benefits of Audi A3 Sportback e-tron

ELECTRIC power is nothing new for cruising around Hamilton Island in the idyllic Whitsundays.

Golf carts are the island's primary transport. But in a week when wind power takes precedence, a new arrival slipped silently into town to steal the limelight from the flotilla worth millions which packed the marina for Audi Race week.

The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron is the first of the rapidly growing luxury brand's alternative fuel offerings.

Expected to cost about $60,000 when it arrives in March next year, we got the chance for an early steer of some left-hand drive models leading up to their arrival.

Comfort

Apart from the various e-tron branding scattered elegantly through the cabin, there is no shouting of the hybrid drivetrain within.

The driver can easily select between modes via an EV dash button and the console dial.

Other than that the look and feel is essentially A3 - refined, well-designed and easy to navigate. Out test models were well equipped with a flat-bottom sports steering wheel and leather trimmed pews which are all expected to be standard fare when the right-hand drive models arrive next year.

Owners just need to get used to the dial which operates the main computer system on the 17.7cm colour screen, although it's straightforward once you get your head around the menus.

For those not used to the hybrid world the silent start-up can also be a different experience. Press the start button and the dash comes alive, but no drivetrain.

It's eerily quiet when under way and when in EV mode it travels beautifully with only minor road noise.

On the road

With about 300kg of additional weight over the standard A3, you'd expect the e-tron to feel sluggish. It's completely the opposite.

The 125kg battery sits under the floor and central in the car meaning the extra burden actually aids its performance.

Using pure petrol power it will sprint from 0-100kmh in less than eight seconds, but combine electric and petrol sources and the A3 will achieve the same feat in under five. Enough to make some dedicated sports cars blush.

Throw it into a corner and the e-tron also feels remarkably capable - and even better than your run-of-the-mill A3.

After converting the apron of Hamilton Island Airport into a test track, it was put through its paces with some challenging chicanes which it relished with little body roll or understeer.

The A3 e-tron has a range of modes available, and you can choose between purely electric, various or hybrid power choices. The latter enables the driver to maintain the battery at its current level, use a combination or petrol and electric or increase the battery charge via various regeneration technologies.

What do you get?

With pricing and features yet to be finalised, being the range-topping A3 model Audi has confirmed it will get high levels of standard specification. Expect complimentary inclusions of 17-inch alloy wheels, sat-nav the Audi MMI touch system, automatic parking along with sensors front and rear as well as a rear view camera, five-star safety rating, keyless entry with push button start and dual-zone automatic climate controlled air- conditioning.

Running costs

With an official average of 1.8 litres for every 100km, there is no doubting this is ultra cheap mileage.

For those who want a fast charge you can get an upgrade at home to a high output 16-amp plug which reduces charging time to 2.5 hours. And using an off-peak rate would reduce a full charge to under $2.

Those who travel less than 50km a day could conceivably make petrol station visits a rarity.

Insurance could need some investigation.

The plug is hidden behind the four rings on the grille and is neatly revealed by the flick of a switch.

Practicality

Making space for the battery comes at the expense of boot area, and it's about 80 litres down on the normal A3. It is still comparable with most compact SUVs and the rear seats can also fold.

There is also no spare, just a puncture repair kit in case of a flat.

Funky factor

Hybrids have outgrown gawky shapes. Remove the e-tron badges and there are few external cues which hint at the environmental credentials.

It retains the premium lines featured on all A3s, but has a matt black single frame grille, with horizontal chrome struts.

There will be 13 external colours to choose from.

What matters most

What we liked: Outstanding performance, perfect car for those who travel short trips daily, doesn't look like a hybrid, fast to charge.

What we'd like to see: Lower price - although we must remember it's still expensive technology which will only get cheaper with more progress and demand.

Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing intervals are annual or 15,000km.

VITAL STATISTICS

Model: Audi A3 Sportback e-tron.

Details: Five-door front-wheel drive plug-in hybrid hatchback.

Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol generating maximum power of 110kW @ 5000-6000rpm and peak torque of 250Nm @ 1600-3500rpm and an electric motoring powered by a Lithium-ion battery generating 75kW and 330Nm. Combined output is 150kW and 350Nm.

Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Consumption: 1.5 litres/100km.

CO2: 35g/km.

Performance: 0-100kmh in 7.6 seconds, 4.9 seconds in electric mode. Top speed 222kmh in hybrid mode, 130kmh electric.

Bottom line: $60,000.



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