• 2016 Audi A3 e-tron Sportback

Road Test: 2016 Audi A3 E-Tron

SRO*: First Step to Electrification

The electric and hybrid car market is a small part of today’s car market, but it’s growing. Every brand wants some skin in the game, because to meet future fuel economy targets, you need to sell at least some super-efficient vehicles. The 2016 Audi A3 e-tron gives the premium German marque an entry point.

2016 Audi A3 e-tron Sportback, engine

Gas+electric under the hood

Based on the previous generation Sportback wagon, it combines a 150-horsepower 1.4-liter gas engine with a 102-horsepower/75 kW electric motor to make a combined 204 horsepower drivetrain. With 258 lb.-ft. of torque, it pulls the compact wagon from 0-60 in 7.6 seconds.

Electric vehicles, including half-electric ones like the A3, use the MPGe rating, which offers an efficiency standard that you can use to compare competing vehicles. For example, you can measure the A3 against the plug-in Prius or the Chevrolet Volt. The A3 e-tron earns an 86 MPGe rating using electricity and gasoline, or 39 MPG running on gasoline only. I averaged 96.4 MPGe during my test week. The window sticker claims I would save $3,750 a year in fuel costs over the average new vehicle.

EPA fuel economy ratings are 8 for Smog and a perfect 10 for Greenhouse Gas. The 138 grams per mile of CO2 is lower than most cars, but, of course, higher than an all-electric car.

Comparing Plug-ins

One way to compare plug-in hybrids is by the range they can drive on electricity alone. The A3 claims 17 miles; in my 18-mile commute, I found that to be accurate. Just before I arrived at my office, the gauge indicated the switchover from electric to gas. So, I plugged in and had enough to get almost home, and so it went. By charging at both ends, I used very little gas for commuting.

Charging is simple. Plug in to standard 240-Volt (level 2) chargers at work or in other public places, or use your own household current, which is 120 Volts (level 1).  It’s an eight-hour process at home, comfortably overnight. On a level 2 charger, it’s just two and a quarter hours. You won’t be hogging the chargers while others wait. They’ll appreciate that.

2016 Audi A3 e-tron Sportback

The upscale wheels

The 2016 Audi A3 e-tron is on the lower end of the range listing for plug-ins, but it still makes a big difference. The Chevy Volt offers an honest 53 miles of charge before switching over to its gas engine, which generates electricity to run the electric motor. The Audi is typical of a hybrid, using the gas engine and electric motor interchangeably as needed.

The A3 e-tron offers four driving modes, which you select on the dash. EV mode uses the electric motor only. In Hybrid mode the car’s computer picks the most efficient power source for the driving conditions—EV, gasoline or both. In Hold Battery mode, the car is a hybrid only, saving the battery charge for driving all-electric later. The Charge Battery mode uses the engine to charge the battery while you’re driving at freeway speeds.

This test week, I ended up taking a six-hour round-trip to an exciting but farther away than I thought microbrewery, so for that trip, the A3 behaved like a normal hybrid car. That’s what distinguishes a plug-in from an all-electric car. You can pretty much go wherever you want to, but drive hyper efficiently when you stay local.

A Capable Configuration

The 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack sits under the rear seat. Because it doesn’t take up any cargo space, the wagon is fully usable to carry your stuff. Other plug-ins like the Prius and Volt are hatchbacks, so the A3 has an advantage with a lower sill for easier placement of, say, a bass, in my case.

The A3 Sportback wears a new name: e-tron, which Audi will use to identify other, future electric and hybrid models, too. For now, it looks and feels like an A3, which is a good thing. The premium craftsmanship inside, simply presented at this level, is pleasant and feels substantial and carefully thought out. My Misano Red Pearl Effect test car greeted me with a sweet leather aroma when I opened the door for the first time. The switchgear works nicely, the eyeball vents swivel satisfyingly; it’s a pleasant place to be.

2016 Audi A3 e-tron Sportback

The dash is premium plus, too

The 2016 Audi A3 e-tron comes in three levels: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige. Base price is $37,900. My tester was a Premium Plus, which added $4,100 to the tab. That got me extras like 17-inch, 15-spoke alloy wheels, 3-D optic inlays, the Audi music interface, heated front seats and aluminum window surrounds. The $2,600 Technology package added a navigation system, Audi Connect online services and more. They charged $575 for the fancy red paint (a typical Audi upsell). The bottom line came to $46,100.

If you’re an Audiphile, this is your high-efficiency choice. An all-electric e-tron model should be here soon.

* In order to give you, the reader, the best perspective on the many vehicles available, Clean Fleet Report has a variety of contributors. When possible, we will offer you multiple perspectives on a given vehicle. This comes under SRO-Second Road Test Opinion. We hope you’ll enjoy these diverse views–and let us know if you do or don’t. 

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2016 Audi A3 e-tron (Michael’s view)

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Road Test: 2016 Chevrolet Volt

Road Test: 2017 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class. We also feature those that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

 

 

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About Author: Steve Schaefer

Steve Schaefer has written a weekly automotive column for 25 years, testing more than 1,100 cars. Now, he’s focusing on EVs and hybrids. Steve remembers the joy of riding in his father’s Austin-Healey. After discovering the August, 1963 issue of Motor Trend, he became entranced with the annual model change, and began stalking dealers’ back lots to catch the new models as they rolled off the transporter. Coming from a family that owned three Corvairs, Steve was one of the first Saturn buyers, earning him a prominent spot in their 1994 product catalogue. To continue the GM tradition, Steve now has a Chevrolet Bolt EV. Steve is a founding member of the Western Automotive Journalists. Read his EV/hybrid blog at stevegoesgreen.com.

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