Ion, man

Sparky A3 e-tron pre­mieres Audi’s petrol-elec­tric tech

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - CRAIG DUFF DUF craig.duff@news.new com.au

EV­ERY­MAN now has ac­cess to Iron Man’s elec­tri­fy­ing set of wheels — sort of.

The Audi A3 Sport­back e‒tron may not look as sexy as the elec­tric-pow­ered R8 su­per­car Tony Stark drove in Iron Man 3 but the petrol­elec­tric hatch­back doesn’t re­quire a bil­lion­aire’s budget to buy one ei­ther.

Cars­guide be­lieves the A3 will be the most con­vinc­ing hy­brid on sale when it ar­rives in Aus­tralia early next year priced about $60,000, which is less con­vinc­ing.

How­ever, that’s the price early adopters pay for the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, be it in a mass-pro­duc­tion ve­hi­cle or a be­spoke su­per­car.

What the A3 shares with the R8 e-tron are the in­no­va­tions in bat­tery pack­ag­ing and elec­tric mo­tors that Audi plans to roll out across its range.

Hy­brid driv­e­trains are the fo­cus, given they negate the “range anx­i­ety” of pure EVs (that is, “How far can I go be­fore the charge runs out?”) and let buy­ers de­cide whether to use the elec­tric mo­tors for good or evil.

In the case of good, the bat­tery pack in the A3 will pro­vide elec­tric­ity for up to 50km. Those with a more ag­gres­sive driv­ing style can com­bine petrol and elec­tric propul­sion to hit 100km/h just 7.6 sec­onds af­ter take­off with fuel econ­omy still ri­valling that of a small-dis­place­ment diesel.

For those with their heart set on em­u­lat­ing their Marvel su­per­hero, Audi plans to build “on de­mand” pro­duc­tion ver­sions of the elec­tric-only R8 early next year.

Range is said to have been boosted to more than 400km and the sprint to 100km/h is said to be in the low 4-sec­ond bracket … which should suit wannabe su­per­heroes.

For those with less lofty as­pi­ra­tions, the A3 Sport­back e-tron hides its many tal­ents un­der a reg­u­la­tion A3 ex­te­rior.

Dis­creet e-tron badg­ing, sub­tle changes to the front end chrome­work and a ridicu­lously low fuel use sticker on the wind­screen of the five­door hatch are the only in­di­ca­tions this ve­hi­cle is a petrol-elec­tric plug-in model.

VALUE

At an es­ti­mated $60,000, the Audi will be on par with the Holden Volt and about $8000 cheaper than the fu­tur­is­ti­cally styled BMW i3 hy­brid. That’s com­mend­able. Less so is the e-tron’s $17,000 pre­mium over a con­ven­tional 1.8-litre turbo A3 with com­pa­ra­ble per­for­mance.

As a re­turn on in­vest­ment, the price dif­fer­ence equates to a life­time of fuel. That doesn’t fac­tor in the en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­van­tage, given most city dwellers will com­fort­ably reach work — even make the round trip — be­fore the bat­tery charge is drained and the petrol mo­tor kicks in.

TECH­NOL­OGY

The elec­tric mo­tor, like the en­gine,_ drives through the sixspeed dual-clutch au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. The Audi uses en­ergy re­gen­er­a­tion to help charge the 8.8kWh lithium ion bat­tery pack nes­tled un­der the rear seats and boot, in the­ory ex­tend­ing the range be­yond the claimed 50km.

It will also de­cou­ple the rive train when it de­tects the driver is coast­ing and doesn’t re­quire mo­tive power. The power and fuel sav­ings are mi­nor in isolation but, abet­ted by com­po­nents such as low rolling-re­sis­tance tyres, they quickly add up.

The com­bined out­puts of en­gine and mo­tor are 150kW/350Nm.

DE­SIGN

For all vis­ual in­tents and pur­poses, the e-tron is a reg­u­lar A3. The grille sur­round is matt black with 14 hor­i­zon­tal bars and forked chrome struts spread across the air in­lets.

Down back, the ex­haust has been hid­den. That’s about it.

Changes in­side in­clude new dis­play graph­ics to show bat­tery charge and en­ergy use and a but­ton that tog­gles be­tween the var­i­ous hy­brid modes, from pure EV to au­to­matic to hy­brid charge (the en­gine feeds the bat­tery) and hy­brid hold (bat­tery charge is pre­served un­til the A3 gets off the free­ways and en­coun­ters ur­ban driv­ing).

Re­lo­cat­ing the 40-litre fuel tank un­der the boot re­duces cargo vol­ume by 100L to 280L.

SAFETY

As an A3 vari­ant, it in­her­its a five safety stars. It’s the top­scor­ing small car( 36.41/37) in ANCAP’s data­base, marginally ahead of the Mazda3. Seven airbags are stan­dard and op­tions in­clude lane de­par­ture and blind spot warn­ing.

DRIV­ING

There’s a de­gree of irony in the fact the added mass of the e-tron setup — high­lighted by the 125kg of bat­ter­ies mounted above the rear axle — makes this the best-han­dling A3 by off­set­ting the reg­u­lar car’s nose-heavy at­ti­tude.

Weight dis­tri­bu­tion is 55-45 (as op­posed to 60-40) and it shows in the more en­thu­si­as­tic turn-in to cor­ners and the way the car sits flat around bends.

This is a gen­uinely sporty car, if not a hot hatch in the vein of Audi’s S3.

It is also the best-tran­si­tion­ing hy­brid Cars­guide has driven — the shift from mo­tor to en­gine and back is heard rather than felt, even un­der the hard ac­cel­er­a­tion needed to en­cour­age the petrol donk to fire up when the bat­tery is charged.

For those who can com­mute on elec­tric power alone, recharg­ing the bat­tery takes less than four hours from a reg­u­lar house­hold socket.

There will doubt­less be an op­tional fast-charger in the Audi cat­a­logue but most own­ers won’t need it un­less they are be­sot­ted by the idea of elec­tric-only driv­ing and want all the bells and whis­tles that come with it.

That will in­clude the smart­phone app to mon­i­tor the e-tron’s state of charge and to de­ter­mine when bat­tery charg­ing starts, as well as pre­heat­ing/cool­ing the car.

VER­DICT

The A3 is the most el­e­gant ex­e­cu­tion of plug-in petrol­elec­tric tech­nol­ogy. Still too dear , it demon­strates how the two means of propul­sion can be in­te­grated to en­hance driver en­joy­ment and re­duce en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

Stark plug: For well­heeled would-be su­per­heros, Audi will build elec­tric R8 su­per­cars, as driven by Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man 3

Graphic and novel: The read­outs show bat­tery charge and there is a tog­gle to se­lect elec­tric-only mode

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