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The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron matches the performance of its gasoline-only powered brother. (Audi)
The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron matches the performance of its gasoline-only powered brother. (Audi)

Road Test

Audi A3 hybrid compact the best of the eco-friendly bunch Add to ...

The gas-electric hybrid vehicle might seem like the best solution right now, but it faces stern opposition from all sides.

Depending on who’s talking, the modern hybrid is too heavy, too expensive, too slow, unproven or not environmentally-friendly or forward-thinking enough.

But even if hybrids are nothing more than a stop-gap solution, the 2015 Audi A3 e-tron is one of the best.

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This compact hatchback, slated to arrive in Canada in the second quarter of 2015, is the end result of a great deal of research into electrified vehicles by Audi. From 2009 on, the manufacturer has shown a variety of concept vehicles, all bearing the “e-tron” name, a few all-electric in nature. This one is the first production e-tron and it’s a plug-in hybrid.

Consumers largely understand the concept of the modern hybrid and have expectations of its performance. The hybrid must deliver better fuel efficiency than its fossil fuel-powered counterpart and the powertrain must switch between all-electric and internal combustion modes seamlessly. In certain cases, the hybrid version should be faster. In all cases, the customer would be comforted by a healthy warranty on the battery pack and an MSRP that doesn’t offset annual savings at the pump. The A3 e-tron ticks the boxes in most of these key respects; the value equation is still being calculated as pricing has yet to be determined.

The strength of this particular hybrid is the driving experience. The time to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h is 7.6 seconds and top speed rolls in at 222 km/h.

This sprightly performance is matched by the handling of the little hatchback; the A3 is one of the best handling cars in its class and the hybrid version maintains this standard through some innovative engineering. The lithium-ion battery pack is mounted under the rear seat to keep the centre of gravity low and the car tips the scales at 1,540 kilograms – reasonable for a compact car, let alone for a compact hybrid.

On country roads on the outskirts of Vienna, the Audi proved its mettle: the combined power was sufficient to make the front wheels chirp their displeasure, the ultra-light steering made light work of the turns, and the dual-clutch automatic transmission and paddle shifters kept the drive experience engaging from first to sixth.

While the sport mode is the most enthusiastic of the five available, it’s also the thirstiest. In the all-electric setting, the A3 e-tron is capable of 50 kilometres of tailpipe emissions-free driving and a top speed of 130 km/h, both figures in line with better hybrids on the market. In the European driving cycle, consumption for the electrified sportback is rated at 1.5 litres/100 km; on the 100-kilometre drive route, we recorded a dismal 5.2 litres/100 km.

The 2015 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron is a well-sorted car that won’t make the driver yearn for the non-hybrid version. The only question is whether it will be worth the money when it arrives.

Ratings

Looks: The sportback is arguably the most appealing silhouette in the A3 fleet.

Interior: A clean design, a well-finished space.

Performance: Sporty driving dynamics and the option for emissions-free motoring.

Cargo: Despite the battery pack, cargo space is identical to the regular sportback.

Infotainment: The Audi MMI system is great and the e-tron apps make it even better.

The Verdict: 8.5 - For right now, this is a dynamite little car.

_____________________________

Tech Specs

2015 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron

Type: Plug-in hybrid compact car

Base price: N/A

Engines: 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder plus 75-kW electric motor

Horsepower/torque: 204 hp / 258 lb-ft (combined)

Transmission/drive: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic/front-engine; front-wheel drive

Drive: Front-engine / Front-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 1.5, EU cycle; combined driving

Alternatives: BMW ActiveHybrid 3, BMW i3, Chevrolet Volt, Honda CR-Z, Lexus CT200h, Toyota Prius c

You’ll like this car if:

  • You like your motoring to be as compromise-free as possible.
  • You want your street cred to have some green cred.
  • You have quick access to a fast charger.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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