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2015 Audi A3 Sportback eTron – hybrid motoring done with style and effect [Review]

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The recent furore over the Volkswagen group diesel fraud hasn’t removed the fact that the German group has been doing some solid work on hybrid and low MPG technology in general, as we’ve seen from our reviews of recent Golf products. The cars we’ve looked at, including the all electric and hybrid Golfs, provide practical efficient motoring at a reasonable price, and so it is with this new hybrid from Audi.

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The Audi A3 Sportback eTron doesn’t just feature a cool Sci-Fi name, but also offers a really impressive implementation of hybrid battery/petrol technology which, although based on the same gear as in the Golf GTE hybrid, seems to improve on the experience quite considerably. See our video below for our hands on test.

First impressions
The car as tested featured a bunch of optional extras, including swank alloy wheels, a panoramic glass sunroof, parking assistance, fancy leather seats and other bits and bobs, which accelerated the on the road price to £40,485, but the base price of £34,665 before grants is not outrageous. The A3 Sportback has an interesting shape, somewhere between an estate and a saloon, but it definitely doesn’t look stodgy or plain in real life. In fact it looks quite cool.

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In use
We spent our time with the car trying to see how it compared with the Golf GTE we had previously tested, and whether the differences were significant or only cosmetic. Surprisingly enough, although the two cars share the same power-train, the experience is quite different. The differences are subtle though.

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At first glance you get the distinctly Teutonic feel of the cockpit, with everything where it should be and no extravagance to be seen. Even the satnav is discretely hidden until the car is switched on, at which point it pops up out of the dash, like a Star Trek movie. OK, maybe a little bit of extravagance. But everything else is as you would expect, in its place and very familiar. Like the Golf, the only indications that this is a hybrid comes from the discrete battery charge dial on the tacho, and the extra options on the 6 speed auto gearshift housing.

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Again, as with the Golf, you get two modes of traction. The first is conventional D for drive, which smoothly slips up and down the gears as needed. Flip the lever over to the left, however, and you get manual mode, where you can shift gears yourself for a bit of extra sporty oomph. The second mode is S (for special?) which gives you regenerative braking, grabbing back some power from your deceleration to recharge the battery.

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It worked, but not as well as we expected. We found the BMW i3 modes to more effective. But hey, different horses and all that. What we did like from the get-go, was the smoothness of the ride and the gear changes. Like the Golf you get a choice of driving modes, ranging from Comfort to Sporty, so you can set the car suspension up exactly as you prefer, which makes for a nice customization option if you’re fussy. As with all these things we suspect many people will be happy with the defaults.

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Interio space and capacity overall are actually not as generous as you would imagine from the exterior look of the car. There’s definitely enough space in the rear and enough luggage space with the seats down, but you will need to plan ahead a little if you need to carry large suitcases for a family sized trip. The charge cable bag, while a nice touch, does grab a fair amount of space in the boot too. Good job it’s squashy!

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The drive
But these quibbles aside, it drives really nicely. Smoother than the Golf, and easier to control the hybrid/petrol modes. The result is you should be able to easily achieve some very impressive MPG figures if you’re careful with the right foot, which after all is one of the main advantages of hybrid. The practical 20+ miles of all electric range is also great for around town and traffic jams, since you’re really helping the planet and your wallet at the same time.

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Rather like the Golf GTE we wouldn’t call the performance blistering, but it’s definitely swift enough on acceleration to satisfy most people, especially city dwellers. and while we didn’t get the time to do any extensive rural testing, from what we did, the road holding seemed very competent indeed. No wallowing with all that extra battery weight in the rear.

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As you’ll see from our video, we managed to achieve a very credible 50 MPG from one of our around town jaunts, which included traffic jams and highway type speeds, which we think is a definite win for a car of that size and weight. Of course, different conditions will deliver different results, but it’s indicative that overall you can expect to enjoy the kind of frugal motoring hitherto only available to the now discredited diesel drive-train. Maybe it’s time for cheaper hybrids to take over?

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We managed to complete a couple of plug-in charges (supplemented by in-drive top ups) and they took a reasonable amount of time. Three hours to full from almost empty, and a 30 minute top up is good for a jam busting distance depending on how you drive, so you definitely can take the benefits of electric when available. As we’ve said before, when hybrid range reaches 50 – 60 miles and more, these cars will be superb alternatives to crusty old ICE powered beasts, which are starting to seem very old fashioned suddenly. Once you drive electric you seldom want to go back.

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Conclusion
We were genuinely surprised by how much we liked this car as a practical transport. Its smooth, frugal, roomy enough and eye catching too, which covers most of the hit points. You may be paying a premium for the Audi badge, but that’s to be expected nowadays, and the choice is yours. If you’re in the market for a new car and you fancy dipping your toe into hybrid technology, then this is definitely a model you should look at, if your budget stretches. More city friendly than a Passat GTE (which we also really like) and definitely a smoother ride than the Golf GTE. Nice!

Price: From £35,340

Technical Specifications
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Nigel is the managing editor of the Red Ferret, as well as a freelance columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper in London. Loves tech and fancies himself as a bit of a futurist, but then don’t we all?

Nigel – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.


  • MusicalBox

    Dear Lord really ? ETRON ? I’m sure it is a nice car. But I sincerely hope Audi will find another name for this vehicle when they advertise it for the french market.

    • Ahh…you know something we (and Audi’s marketing team?) don’t? :)

      • MusicalBox

        Ok mister Powell, you asked for it :)
        I’m sure you already Googled for a translation, but let’s pretend you didn’t. ;)
        If you are French and own an Audi Etron, it would be the equivalent of owning a car named Audi Turd in England or in the U.S. of A.
        Imagine the fun the neighbors will have when they come admire your new shiny car :)

    • Bob

      Maybe it’s a reference to their emissions testing?

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