Audi wants you to stop talking about diesels and look at its electric plans – The Verge

Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2015

There is nearly no downside to the powertrain except one: added weight. A lot of it. Nearly 1,000 pounds. And additional weight is the enemy of efficiency. And yet on a 100-mile loop, in which I drove hard on the highway, switched into sport and dynamic modes on switchbacks, and crept through towns under all-electric power, I still saw an average of 35 mpg. If I’d driven more gently, I would have got at least another 10 mpg.

The A3 e-tron, meanwhile, is a mixed bag. There’s a lot to like about its peppy nature and throw-back form. It’s the only A3 now available as a five-door wagon, since the current generation has turned into sedan-only. I miss the wagon, and it makes me happy to have it back.

So too is the idea of a plug-in A3 highly appealing — at least until you hear the miserly electric range of 17 miles. The e-tron model starts at $37,900, versus some $31,000 for the regular base, and the Prestige hybrid with additional standard equipment stretches to $46,800. There’s still the federal income tax credits of about $4,000, but the price point and range will give true believers a definite pause. The latest Chevy Volt, by comparison, starts at $33,170 and has an electric range of more than 50 miles.

The A3 is Audi’s base model, and the interior shows it. Even less impressive is the plug-in process: the port for the charging cord is hidden behind the Audi logo on the grille. Release a plastic nut and the four rings slide to the side. You need both hands to close and lock it, and it feels like it would break in months. Less than luxurious.

While the A3 isn’t really that quick to 60 mph (7.6 seconds), the 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder is feisty and fun — and even better when you smash the gas and demand that the electric motor (a 76-kW unit) chime in. Total output is 204 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. In particular, the electric motor’s torque makes it snappy up to about 35 mph, so you bullet away from green stoplights. Since the 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack sits in the rear, initial traction is good and there’s very little torque steer.

Will the A3 turn the discussion away from diesel? Not a chance

All of which encouraged me drive it like a hooligan, catapulting around traffic circles and treating it like the happy sport wagon that it really wants to be.

Will the A3 change the public’s current perception of Audi, turning the discussion away from diesel? Not a chance. The release of the Q7 hybrid and all-electric SUV simply can’t come soon enough.

But as Audi executives say, it’s a start — and a promised shift to a new, electrified future for the brand.


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