Audi’s new rechargeable hybrid, the A3 e-tron hits European streets next month, launching in Australia in March 2015 and it’s a game-changer.
Let’s call it eco-luxe. The company has combined the opulence you expect from the German auto maker with incredible technology that means you can drive to and from work daily and never use the petrol engine again. And while Audi’s not the first into the hybrid market, it’s certainly setting the benchmark other manufacturers will aspire to.
Business Insider Australia and a few of our lucky Melbourne readers had the chance to test drive the A3 Sportsback last week and it blew us away. The car is so new we had left-hand drive cars, but we had some fun whizzing it around a kart track. It’s nimble and the battery, laid out under the rear passenger seat, gives the front-wheel-drive car additional traction at the rear as you launch it around the corners.
There are two engines – a 100kg, 1.4lt 4-cylinder combustion one and more importantly, right beside it, a 34kg electric motor. It has a range of 50km between charges, which means most people can drive to and from work on a single charge. It flips, the way most electric engines are used, as a backup to petrol. Audi says that rather than the usual “either/or” the e-tron is “both… and…”. The hybrid management system monitors how you drive and the conditions and then sets the engine use accordingly. You have additional control via one of four settings for exclusive or combined engine driving. And yes, there’s a sports mode for when you want to crank it.
And where it gets really cool and astonishing is that it’s still an open road vehicle. Audi’s chief driving instructor Steve Pizzati (yep, the host from Top Gear Australia) told us the A3 e-tron will deliver 4lt/100km fuel consumption on the open road, which means you’ll get between Melbourne and Sydney on a single 40-litre tank of fuel. Around town, expect 1.5lt/100kmh as the standard.
But if you’re a bit of a lead foot, there’s a couple of things you’ll love about driving an electric car. They’re actually quicker than petrol because the electric motor delivers maximum torque (330Nm) from the start (350Nm combined with petrol). If you’re keen to get to the next set of traffic lights before anyone else, the A3 Sportsback e-tron does 0-60kmh in 4.9 seconds, and 100kmh in 7.6 sec. Top speed is 220kmh, but there’s only a 200km stretch of the Northern Territory’s Stuart Highway where you could test that theory. The car runs on electric all the way up to 130kmh. The one thing everyone finds a little weird the first time they jump in an electric car is that it makes no noise – except it you hit the accelerator hard and make the tyres squeal.
So that’s the under-the-bonnet stuff. The bit that Business Insider loves the most is the phone app that allows you to control a bunch of things, most importantly, the ability to pre-cool the car on a hot summer’s day before you jump in it. The app’s climate control planning function can activate the air conditioning or the optional auxiliary heater on an ad hoc basis or timer schedule.
The other bit I love is the Bang & Olufsen sound sound system, especially when you crank it up.
You can also remotely check the status of the car for everything from battery charge and electric range, to the car’s location. Drivers can also manage charge planning remotely. You can also set charge times to use off-peak electricity. If you’re into stats, you’ll be able to dissect your car’s data, such as average electricity consumption or average speed, on the web portal.
A charge takes between 2 and 3.5 hours and the charger is portable, so you could be doing it at work, especially if you live in a terrace. As Pizzati pointed out, Australian cities are coming to the party: Sydney has been rolling out charging stations and a Brisbane-based company, Tritium, is building a network along a 430km corridor in Queensland’s south-east.
Audi has done a deal with GreenPower, so in terms of carbon emissions, you’re not swapping petrol for a coal-fired power station.
Steve Pizzati points to Norway as an example of what’s possible if a government gets behind the electric car industry. While all-electric cars can be more expensive than petrol-driven, Norway scrapped a bunch of taxes on the electric cars, so the prices are comparable. Even better, you can drive an electric car in the bus lanes, which cuts travel times by about 2/3rds, and there’s free parking too.
Not everyone’s happy about those incentives, but Norway leads the world in plug-in car market penetration.
When the Audi A3 e-tron hits Australia in March next year, the price is expected to be somewhere around the $60,000 mark. Audi is then looking at rolling out the plug-in technology through the rest of its range. It’s nice to see luxury and the environment can coexist.