By on April 4, 2016

2016 Audi A3 Sportback E-tron Exterior Front 3/4, Image: © 2016 Alex L. Dykes/The Truth About Cars

Emissions legislation politics is a hairy subject at the company holiday party. But there are some unexpected benefits regardless of your take on California’s ZEV mandate or the EPA’s CAFE standards.

Without this legislation we may never have seen Audi’s smallest station wagon return to America. Yep, Audi’s first plug-in hybrid comes in the form of a small hatchback-cum-station-wagon. That means if you want an Audi plug-in, a compact wagon is in your future. If you want a compact wagon, you aren’t going to get one without a plug.

Fortunately, the Audi in question is the tasty new A3 Sportback E-tron.

While Audi’s plug-in hybrid isn’t as bonkers as Volvo’s turbocharged, supercharged, all-wheel drive, plug-in hybrid, the Europeans certainly know how to throw different technologies into a blender. The oddly named A3 Sportback E-tron uses a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, and a dual-clutch transmission (instead of the planetary gearset style hybrid system found in Toyota, Ford, GM or Chrysler hybrids).

TheA3 E-tron uses the same 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the Jetta Hybrid. Tuned for maximum efficiency, it produces 150 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque. Although the system is similar to the one used in the Jetta, the engine is the only common part. Instead of the Jetta’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, Audi uses a six-speedDCT and couples it with a 102-horsepower AC motor that’s nearly four times as powerful as the Jetta hybrid. On top of that, a battery pack that’s 800-percent larger than the one found in the Jetta stores the A3’s electrical go-go juice. Just don’t expect to get 252 horsepower from this puppy. The engine and motor don’t produce peak power at the same time, so combined output is rated at 204 horsepower and 258 lbs-ft of torque.

If you drive the e-Tron gently, you’ll get 16 miles of EV range out of the 8.8 kWh battery. The resulting 83 MPGe EV efficiency rating is below the Volt’s 98 MPGe and well behind the i3 BEV’s 124 score. Once the battery is depleted it’s a similar story with the e-Tron system delivering 35 MPG average which is behind the Volt’s 42 combined figure but similar to what we got in the i3 REx last time we tested it. This isn’t surprising for a plug-in hybrid. Remember that EV efficiency will be hampered by the extra weight of the gasoline engine while hybrid efficiency is hampered by the added weight of the battery and large AC motor.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback E-tron Exterior Charging Port, Image: © 2016 Alex L. Dykes/The Truth About Cars

For better or worse, there is little standardization when it comes to certain aspects of EV design. Simple matters like “where does the plug go?” vary from car to car — and that’s before we even discuss Tesla’s “off the reservation” charge connector. Audi hides the e-Tron’s receptacle behind the Audi logo on the front grille, opened by turning a small knob to open the panel. (Don’t worry, the panel locks with the car.) While this design cue is certainly discreet, bugs crusted the entire area by the end of the week. Squeamish shoppers should pack some gloves.

As we’ve seen in other plug-in hybrids, Audi skipped any form of DC fast charging in the A3. While I have heard grumbles about this, it honestly makes little sense to quick charge a plug-in hybrid when you can just stop at the gas station and fill up the tank in minutes. The on-board charger is a 3.3 kW unit — which is on the smaller side for a pure EV, but average in the plug-in segment — and it will charge the battery in 2.5-9 hours depending on your power source. In an unusual step, Audi includes a dual-voltage, portable, electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) charger that can charge at 3.7 kW from a 240V dryer plug. Although you may still need an electrician to provide the proper outlet in your garage, it’s about a $600 value that you don’t even see in pure EVs.

If you’re the kind of person that likes interesting trivia, the E-tron uses the same liquid-cooling loop to cool the AC motor and the water-to-air intercooler.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback E-tron Interior Dash, Image: © 2016 Alex L. Dykes/The Truth About Cars

I’ve been a fan of Audi’s simple and elegant interior since the A3 sedan landed a few years ago, and that translates wholesale into the E-tron. The only real changes are an extra button that allows you to change the hybrid system’s drive modes and a power gauge that replaces the tachometer. That means we still get the same comfortable front seats, same Volvo-esque pop-up nav system, and the same lack of driver’s seat memory. The A3 cabin is clean, attractive and without question designed by an engineer that understands that Americans like cup holders, but has no real idea what we do with them. The Diet Pepsi slots are large enough to hold your super-sized McDonald’s Coke but positioned such that your drink bashes your climate control buttons.

Unlike the C-Max and original Prius-with-a-plug hybrids, Audi modified the E-tron’s structure to make its battery placement more efficient. Audi ditched the spare tire well and filled the void by jamming the gas tank and battery aft of the rear seats. This means that, aside from the missing spare, the A3 E-tron has the same cargo capacity as a standard A3 wagon.

Although full of unintuitive menus, MMI has probably one of the most advanced feature sets on the market, and one of the most attractive navigation maps thanks to a well-executed integration of Google’s satellite imagery. MMI even displays Google’s Street View images so you can “creep” your neighbors. On the downside, the Google map function requires a $15-30 per month subscription after the first few years for the built-in cellular modem, and the system has troubles downloading maps fast enough when traveling at freeway speeds, leaving you with a blank screen at times. If you prefer the simple life, navigation is optional, and the entire screen can hide within below dashboard while you drive.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback E-tron Infotainment Display, Image: © 2016 Alex L. Dykes/The Truth About Cars

If you hadn’t thought of it yet, the motor’s placement between the transmission and engine is essential to understanding how the car drives. When accelerating in EV mode, the DSG shifts through the six ratios just like a gasoline-only A3, albeit one with only 102 ponies under the hood. The experience is entirely silent since the e-Tron will heat and cool the cabin without involving the engine. Once you either deplete the battery or select a hybrid system mode that preserves battery charge, the system starts the engine and blends the power sources just like the Jetta Hybrid. Zero-to-60 acceleration in EV mode clocked in at a leisurely 11.1 seconds, about 3.0-seconds longer than a dedicated EV such as the Kia Soul EV. When in hybrid mode, however, the sprint drops to 7.9 seconds, putting it half way between the 1.8T and 2.0T versions of the A3 sedan.

As we see in the Chevy Volt, Audi provides a “charge” mode that will charge the battery to near full capacity. For many drivers, this is nothing more than a novelty. But if you live in a mountainous area, it may make sure that you have all 204 horsepower still available 3/4 of the way up the continental divide.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback E-tron Exterior Side Profile, Image: © 2016 Alex L. Dykes/The Truth About Cars

Braking is one area where EVs and hybrids still have room to improve. When decelerating, power flows in the opposite direction from the wheels through the six-speed DSG to the A/C motor to recharge the batteries. Ponder that for just a moment. As you slow from 60 mph to zero, the transmission shifts backward from sixth to first gear. Right before you finally stop moving, it shifts to neutral. The car’s electronics coordinate the actual amount of friction braking required, which obviously has to momentarily increase as the transmission shifts gears and then modulate from gear to gear. How well VW’s software engineers handled this complicated dance on a technical level impressed me. However, the brake feel ranges from unusual to decidedly odd depending on the situation, especially when quickly transitioning from mild to moderate braking.

The hybrid system adds pounds to the otherwise lightweight A3. On the bright side, much of it is over the rear axle, which improves the weight balance versus its sedan counterpart. Unfortunately, the ultra low rolling resistance 225/45R17s tires give up long before the A3’s suspension. Although Audi does offer an optional summer tire, they drop the size to a 205/55R16 in the process to keep fuel economy figures the same.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback E-tron Exterior Rear, Image: © 2016 Alex L. Dykes/The Truth About Cars

Starting at $38,825, the E-tron is $7,000 more than a base A3 sedan. If you live in California, the joint federal and state tax credits can cut this delta to just under $1,400, placing it firmly between the 1.8T and 2.0T models.

Comparisons as a plug-in hybrid get complicated. Every brand has a plug-in, but none of them are the same kind of car. BMW gets the closest with its i3 with range extender that undercuts the A3 slightly if you qualify for maximum credits. The A3 E-tron can drive almost 400 miles on a full tank of gas and a full battery while the i3 can drive only 160 miles tops. The A3 drives just like a regular hybrid after the EV portion of the battery is depleted, but the i3 drives very differently. The Audi looks and feels just like a regular car. The i3, not so much.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback E-tron Exterior Front, Image: © 2016 Alex L. Dykes/The Truth About Cars

As a luxury upgrade from a 2016 Chevrolet Volt, the E-tron makes sense. The MSRP starts around $6,000 higher, but the A3 delivers a more premium experience, more sorted handling, better steering feel, a more usable back seat and a more practical cargo area.

There’s just one problem: The A3 sedan. Audi’s starter sedan is more nimble, can be configured with AWD, and really isn’t much less efficient. The last time we drove the A3 1.8T, it averaged 29 mpg even when equipped with AWD. Our running total with the e-Tron after a week and nearly 700 miles was 35.5 MPG when in hybrid only mode and 38 MPG when taking into account the five complete battery charges that were consumed during the week. Obviously the shorter your commute and the more you can operate in EV mode the better your numbers will be.

Politics of plug-ins and EVs aside, it would take more than the average lease period to break even on the E-tron. While my inner-nerd loves the E-tron as the embodiment of a wheeled gadget, I suspect most shoppers would be better served by the A3 sedan.

Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review. 

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.0 seconds

0-60: 7.9 seconds

1/4 mile: 16.1 seconds @ 89 mph

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29 Comments on “2016 Audi A3 Sportback E-tron Review – eWagons Ho!...”


  • avatar
    VoGo

    Good review. But as I listened, I could not help but think that a 2013 C-Max Energi for $13K is 80% of the car, for 40% of the money.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      And 129% of the grilles!

    • 0 avatar
      Conslaw

      VoGo, when I saw your post, I thought you were crazy. No way, you’d get a 2013 C-Max Energi for $13k. But then I checked and found that there are numerous 2013 CMAX Energi SEL (leather, etc) with 100,000 miles more or less for under $10,000 at cars.com. Since hybrid car miles aren’t directly equivalent to IC car miles, that would be similar to 50,000 mile depreciation on the average car. That’s 1/3 the original MSRP for a 50,000 mile (equivalent) car. I bet a lot of these 100,000 mile cars were driven as UBER or LYFT rides, or maybe just by people with long commutes.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        “Since hybrid car miles aren’t directly equivalent to IC car miles, that would be similar to 50,000 mile depreciation on the average car. That’s 1/3 the original MSRP for a 50,000 mile (equivalent) car.”

        That is an -awfully- big conclusion to jump to. Are you sure about that?

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          EV miles are like dog years, everybody knows that.

        • 0 avatar
          kwong

          Many car value estimators do not account for mileage depreciation very well. It was for this reason that I was able to buy a 4 year/80K mile old 01 VW Golf TDI for $9,500. 12 years later, it has 285K miles on it and still running like a champ.

          I also bought my wife’s 07 Lexus Rx400h with 80K miles at a bargain price. 80K miles later, we’ve only had to replace the timing belt, 12V battery, and general maintenance. It pays to do your research on model specific forums, a shop manual, and vehicle specific diagnostic software to estimate the lifespan of the car and likely problem areas.

          It allows you to find a potentially great car for pennies on the dollar.

    • 0 avatar
      vtnoah

      Or you could just get one fully loaded out the door for a lease payment under $200. That’s what sealed the deal for me. The other thing to note is the C-max plug in’s electric range is 20+ miles vs. the Audi’s 16.

    • 0 avatar
      kwong

      I’m a sucker for used cars that aren’t too complicated to maintain. 4-5 years old car with 80-100K miles is my sweet-spot because it’s perfect time to replace the timing belt, bushings, and suspension components. You can usually buy such a car for 60% off the original MSRP and get another 200K miles out of it. Don’t know about this Audi, but my 01 VW Golf TDI has 285K miles on it and drives better than new…it’s been upgraded over the last 12 years.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “bugs crusted the entire area by the end of the week. Squeamish shoppers should pack some gloves.”

    And salt, tar, slush, and all the other BS that gets on the front of your car. A side location seems very preferable. Plus that logo tilted and to the side is just -begging- for a jerk teen to rip it off while you’re at the vegan grocery.

    And style note: Audi is slowly migrating away from gaping maw, as that black plastic middle bit is nearly bumper – separating the two grilles (like in 2004-06)
    See?
    http://starmoz.com/images/audi-a8-2006-17.jpg.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “While this design cue is certainly discreet, bugs crusted the entire area by the end of the week. Squeamish shoppers should pack some gloves.”

    I’d be more worried about winter when the front of the car is sand blasted with road salt. hopefully it seals good and tight when closed

  • avatar
    Notadude

    OOO-ooo, not if you was the last immigrant wagon on Earth, HONEY! My Golf TDI , which looks so much like this Audi, just got towed because of some electrical snafu. No more VWAG!

  • avatar
    redliner

    A review of a plug in hybrid that makes no mention of EV range? What is this?! *waves hands in psuedo-italian anger*

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “As we’ve seen in other plug-in hybrids, Audi skipped any form of DC fast charging in the A3. While I have heard grumbles about this, it honestly makes little sense to quick charge a plug-in hybrid when you can just stop at the gas station and fill up the tank in minutes”

    The beauty of a car like the Volt. I couldn’t tell you where a public charger is in the Twin Cites because I don’t use/need them. And I’ve been getting by fine with charging mine on 115 VAC at home and even then I’m usually on the default 8 AMP charge versus the 12 AMP.

  • avatar
    RS

    The minimal MPG benefits from the hybrid systems still make them look like a solution in search of a problem.

    Not having a spare tire (like so many are doing these days) may cause spare tire anxiety. I don’t know if I’d like a vehicle that wasn’t equipped with one. Does the manufacturer supply some Slime and an inflator with the car?

  • avatar
    fdawg4l

    “There’s just one problem: The A3 sedan. Audi’s starter sedan is more nimble, can be configured with AWD, and really isn’t much less efficient. The last time we drove the A3 1.8T, it averaged 29 mpg even when equipped with AWD.

    Politics of plug-ins and EVs aside, it would take more than the average lease period to break even on the E-tron. ”

    Need more data. Why is the A3 1.8T nearly as efficient? What is your metric for efficiency? MPG? If it’s MPG, the expected MPG for the Etron isn’t listed in the article.

    Also, what’s the math behind breaking even over a lease period? What numbers are you using?

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    They should have made this a sexier Kammback like the A5 5 door or the A7. As is it looks like a cynically rebadged Golf.

    I’m also wondering how much better this would have been with a smaller battery (maybe about 1/3-1/2 the size of this one) just as a mild hybrid.

  • avatar
    Fred

    This review makes me miss my 2007 A3.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I guess what I don’t understand is this…

    “The A3 E-tron can drive almost 400 miles on a full tank of gas and a full battery while the i3 can drive only 160 miles tops.”

    OK, let’s look at a similar compact wagon, a Mazda 3 (yes, I could talk about the Golf or Jetta wagons, but I think we’re all Pretty Much Done With VAG).

    The 3, with the 2.5 liter engine, is rated for 40 mpg on the highway and has a 13.2 gallon tank. So, even if the EPA is WAY off – let’s say your actual mileage is 32 on the road, which seems low – then your range is 422.4 miles. And a 3 would run maybe $27,000, with every option.

    I don’t see the point.

    And, Alex, what kind of EV-only range did you see? I’d liked to have known about that.

    • 0 avatar
      Alex L. Dykes

      My apologies, somehow I edited out a paragraph that addressed that. I stuck it back in. We did get about 16 miles without issue and the hybrid only average was right about what the EPA says you should get.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Thanks, Alex.

        And, with that, I’m absolutely certain I don’t see the point of this!

        (Seems like the Volt does it way better, if you’re into this kind of car.)

    • 0 avatar
      Der_Kommissar

      Real world, best I get out of my 2.5 Mazda 3s automatic is 380 miles to a tank or so. I average 347 per fill up, but the meter goes to zero with well over a gallon left in the tank, making the effective tank capacity really about 12 gallons. One of my pet peeves about the car is the small fuel tank.

  • avatar
    ScarecrowRepair

    “Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.”

    How’s about updating this for e-reviews :-)

    “Audi provided the vehicle, insurance, one battery charge and one tank of gas for this review.”

  • avatar
    NickS

    If I am not mistaken, the e-tron also has a very innovative system of wheel vanes that depending on driving conditions close up to reduce air turbulence, or open to increase venting for the brakes. From the pictures I can’t tell, but if the review is omitting this, I am assuming they did not include this feature in this market.

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