2015 Audi A3 e-tron Prototype Quick Drive
Combining Plug Sockets and Sportiness
It's no longer strange to mention the words "sporty" and "hybrid" in the same sentence, and that's exactly how Audi describes the 2015 A3 e-tron. Shortly after Audi showed off the plug-in hybrid hatchback at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, the automaker invited us for a quick spin in a prototype that is just a few tweaks away from production-ready. We first drove an A3 e-tron prototype following the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show, and Audi says the car's transmission has been tinkered with since then.
To recap, the A3 e-tron's hybrid system includes a 1.4-liter turbo-four gasoline engine rated at 148 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. An electric motor produces 55 hp and 243 lb-ft, while a six-speed dual-clutch automatic is tasked with putting that power to the front wheels. Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system won't be available.
Most of our time with the 2015 Audi A3 e-tron prototype was spent in and around Malibu canyons. We've driven many Audis through these roads, so it was a perfect spot to see just how sporty the A3 e-tron drives compared to some of our brand favorites including the S4. My driving chaperone -- Heiko Pabst von Ohain, head of product marketing for the A3 -- said that engineers still need to perform more tweaks to the transmission's software, and that became apparent twice during the drive. The incidents were nothing more than slightly rough shifts, including an upshift in pure EV mode and a jolting downshift when the gas engine and electric motor provided motivation up a slight incline in the canyons. Otherwise, the gearbox behaved admirably, providing the smooth and quick shifts we've become accustomed to in other Audis packing a dual-clutch unit.
The A3 e-tron's estimated curb weight is 3483 pounds, with 661 of them attributed to the 8.8 kW-hr battery and other hybrid components. That said, the automaker claims the hatch will run from 0-62 mph in 7.6 seconds, though the A3 e-tron felt much quicker. The torque-rich electric motor provides plenty of oomph before the gas engine is summoned.
Pressing the center stack's EV button cycles through three drive modes, with the first being an all-EV mode. On a full charge, EV mode provides a manufacturer-estimated 33 miles of range that increases or decreases depending on driving conditions. The gas engine will still kick in if needed, though it doesn't do so unless your right foot is essentially mashing the pedal. The second mode is called Hybrid, though it didn't seem much different from EV mode, especially during slow city driving. Finally, a Hold mode retains the battery's current charge and range.
After driving the A3 e-tron in Frankfurt, associate editor Scott Evans noted that the hatch appears to be in a balancing act between "pure efficiency" and a "sporty character." The hatch's dual-clutch automatic, for example, looks promising on paper, but anyone expecting the sporty and aggressive behavior from the S4's gearbox will be disappointed. Instead, the A3 e-tron is eager to upshift, even in S mode. Using the paddle shifters would be the obvious choice for canyon runs.
On the flip side, the A3 e-tron hatch's handling characteristics were better than expected. As previously reported, the battery's location beneath the rear seats improves the A3 e-tron's weight distribution, with the front end carrying 55 percent of hatch's heft. The A3 e-tron felt surprisingly neutral through the canyons, and we're eager to see how it performs on the test track. The hybrid system will still switch to EV mode even when driven aggressively. While the transitions between the two power sources are smooth and linear, hearing the gas engine shut off does take some of the sportiness away from spirited driving. Steering feels nicely weighted, though it could be sharper. The small hatch feels just as solid as the bigger Audis, while admirably soaking up bumps and road imperfections.
Compared to the outgoing model, the 2015 A3 e-tron's interior has a more minimalist feel with improved materials. The climate control stack has been simplified, while the infotainment screen now sits atop the dashboard and retracts at the push of a button. We didn't have much time to test out the MMI system, though the switches are improved and the top of the rotary knob can be had with a fancy handwriting recognition pad, similar to the one in the A8. Another neat feature is the circular air vents, which can be adjusted to provide either diffused or concentrated streams of air flow (Pabst von Ohain is unsure if this feature will make it to U.S.-spec cars).
With the addition of a plug-in hybrid system, the 2015 Audi A3 will have one of the brand's most varied powertrain lineups. The sedan, for example, can be had with two turbocharged gas I-4s or a diesel engine, while the high-performance S3 will get its own potent inline-four. Thanks to its combination of efficiency, comfort, and a relatively fun-to-drive experience, based on our short time driving the A3 e-tron, the car should be a solid seller for the environmentally-minded luxury audience.
|2015 Audi A3 e-tron PHEV Prototype|
|BASE PRICE||$42,500 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.4L/148-hp/184-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 55-hp/243-lb-ft electric motor; 201 hp/258 lb-ft comb|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed twin-cl auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3500 lb (est)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||169.7 x 70.3 x 56.1 in|
|0-62 MPH||7.6 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||N/A|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||2015|