2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron Road Test

I’d like to say that most of us are greening sufficiently to consider a plug-in for our next vehicle, but sales stats don’t agree. As
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
The new A3 Sportback e-tron is one good looking plug-in hybrid. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
of the close of calendar year 2016, which saw a new record for PHEV and EV sales, plug-ins amounted to just 0.57 percent of total global auto sales. I suppose we’ve got to start somewhere, and with respect to Audi that somewhere is the new A3 Sportback e-tron.

The A3 Sportback e-tron, which debuted for the 2016 model year but has been updated with sharp new styling and improved interior features along with the entire A3/S3 range for 2017, is a PHEV, or rather a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle, rather than an EV, which (as you probably can deduce) stands for Electric Vehicle. Toyota’s Prius, the world’s most famous electric, is mostly sold as an HEV or Hybrid Electric Vehicle, a term normally shortened to hybrid. Hence, in the name of
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
With sporty five-door styling, the A3 Sportback e-tron is as attractive as it’s practical. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
verbal laziness we now refer to PHEVs and EVs as plug-ins, although there are important differences.

First off, EVs (also called BEVs or Battery Electric Vehicles) run solely on battery power and therefore need to be recharged regularly in order to go anywhere. To do so you can either plug them into your 120-volt household socket (which will take most of, if not all night to top up) or connect them to a quick charger either purchased from a given EV manufacturer and mounted to your garage wall or found just about anywhere else these days, from outside a local shopping mall’s front door to hotel parking lots and in front of government buildings, not to mention curbside in most urban centres. Depending on jurisdiction quick charging is mostly free (for the foreseeable future), takes an average of two and a half hours
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
A more chiselled horseshoe grille, revised headlamps, and a new lower fascia with LED driving lights make up the majority of 2017 changes. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
depending on the size of battery (you normally are asked to unplug in four hours), and oftentimes even includes free parking.

Yes, just some of the perks that come with owning a plug-in. Having previously tested numerous PHEVs and EVs, and being a card-carrying member of ChargePoint (one of the organizations managing public charge stations), I immediately took the new A3 Sportback e-tron to a local shopping centre to recharge, and slotted it next to a row of empty Tesla chargers on one side and a Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul EV, and BMW i3 on the other, and must admit to looking a bit green while trying to find its socket. A quick search on my smartphone showed it hidden behind the brand’s four-ringed badge on the front grille. You’d never know
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
LED elements enhance the standard HID headlights. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
it was there unless instructed how to find it, the e-tron a PHEV sleeper if there ever was one (a standout electric icon-like the Leaf-it’s not, despite being a handsome looking five-door).

A quick twist of a rotating release lever within the second ring pops the badge outward and to the left, revealing a standard 32A socket that was ripe for a free recharge. I plugged it in and proceeded to the food court to get some work done while stealing free Wi-Fi (the life of an auto journalist… always on the take for gratis handouts).

Of course, an A3 e-tron owner doesn’t need to recharge unless they want to, so therefore
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
New 15-spoke 17-inch alloys come standard on both trims. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
“range anxiety”, a new term for those concerned about being stranded on the side of the road without power, should only worry those who forget to fill the tank with unleaded. When the 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery is low the e-tron works like a regular hybrid, the 150 horsepower 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and additional kinetic forces, such as brake regeneration, adding electrons to top up the battery which then provides energy to the 75kW electric motor and assistance to the internal combustion engine (ICE) or, if full enough, deliver occasional EV propulsion all on its own.

Empty is how Audi delivered my tester’s battery due to circumstances beyond anyone’s (but the previous driver’s) control, hence my immediate run to the mall to
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
LED rear lights trim off the e-tron’s hind end design nicely. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
top up its resources. Audi claims the A3 e-tron will provide an EV-range of up to 35 kilometers in optimal conditions (25 km is more likely) and an ultimate range of 500 km when its battery is fully charged and 40-litre tank topped off with gas, meaning this is an electric that can get you back and forth to work under clean, ultimately-efficient EV power during weekdays while providing worry-free long-range road trips on weekends. The ski hills are beckoning.

And yes, along with its commendable fuel economy that equals 7.2 L/100km in the city, 6.6 on the highway and 6.9 combined when cruising in conventional hybrid mode, or 2.8 Le/100km in mixed city/highway combined EV/PHEV driving, the A3 e-tron gets the Sportback moniker, which is Audi-speak for extremely versatile
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Topping up a plug-in’s battery is easy and free at charging stations throughout most urban areas. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
five-door hatchback. It’s shaped more like a wagon, as was its gasoline- and TDI diesel-powered predecessor, and while compact in size is nevertheless big on the inside.

This can be said for the aforementioned Prius and its plug-in Prius Prime counterpart, or for a more directly competitive Toyota, Lexus’ CT 200h hybrid. No, the long-in-tooth Japanese model doesn’t offer a plug-in variant (and we shouldn’t expect one based on the CT as something similar to the UX crossover concept will likely replace it soon), which means that so far only the i3 offers hatchback plug-in competition in the Canadian premium small car sector; Mercedes sells a B-Class EV in the U.S. Move up a notch to the D-segment as well as the compact luxury
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
A nifty pop-out Audi badge hides a standard 32A socket. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
SUV class and Mercedes offers its C 350e PHEV and GLCe PHEV, BMW has its 330e, and (fingers crossed) Tesla will soon arrive with its Model 3, while above these there’s a plethora of plug-ins, many of which are extremely utile SUVs of which Audi’s own Q7 e-tron should soon compete.

As it is, the A3 e-tron offers up a roomy cargo hold with the advantage of 60/40-split rear seatbacks made better by a large centre pass-through (a 40/20/40-split is the most flexible seating/cargo arrangement, but this will do). In comparison the CT 200h only offers a 60/40-split with no pass-through, and the A3 e-tron is much more accommodating for rear passengers and cargo with the latter
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Audi provides a stylish high quality interior that can’t be beaten among compact plug-ins. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
measuring 386 litres (13.6 cubic feet) when all seats are available for use and 955 litres (33.7 cubic feet) when laid flat. That’s about 100 litres (3.5 cubic feet) less cargo capacity than in the conventionally powered A3 Sportback due to no hidden storage under the floor, but that model can’t be purchased here so it’s a moot point.

I should mention the e-tron’s cargo compartment is as nicely finished as in other Audis, with high quality carpeting on the load floor, seatbacks and sidewalls, plus chromed tie-down hooks at each corner, grocery bag hooks at each side, good lighting, and in my tester’s case, a very handy elasticized netting to keep smaller items from becoming projectiles during sudden stops.

2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Even this just-above-base Progressiv trimmed e-tron provides an impressive array of features. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
quality theme is even more apparent in the passenger compartment thanks to the same level of attention to detail as in the A3 Sedan and Cabriolet cabins, including a nice mix of premium soft touch synthetics in key areas, aluminum trim and switchgear accents, plus supple leather upholstery, while my particular example featured beautifully buffed silver-grey coloured carbon fibre-look inlays across the instrument and door panels. The interior design is classic Audi minimalism, which means it looks great, the leather-wrapped steering wheel near perfection in shape and feel with nice narrow spokes filled with high-quality switchgear, the primary gauge package boasting a mix of analog dials over colourful digital backgrounds and a large colour multi-information display at centre. The leftmost dial includes expected hybrid info, the e-tron featuring a white needle that points to green “CHARGE” and “EFFICIENCY” sectors or a yellow “BOOST” indicator when heavy on the throttle, yet unlike most electrified rivals it actually acts like a tachometer as well, spinning clockwise when engine revs climb.

2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
A hybrid info-filled tachometer gives key information on Progressiv trimmed models. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
vents circled with knurled aluminum rotating bezels dot the dash, while just above the centre two is a crisp and clear infotainment display that powers up out of the dash top upon startup, and can be powered back down to reduce distraction, especially nice during nighttime driving. If lowered it automatically powers back up when reversing, the rearview camera with active guidelines assisting in such situations, and then when finished backing up it automatically disappears once again. I like this alternative to a fixed infotainment display, which is becoming more common across the industry, but of course such things cost more to employ so enjoy this sophisticated bit of A3 kit while you can.

A particularly upscale knurled metal rotating dial on the lower console controls the MMI infotainment system. It’s surrounded
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
The Progressiv’s infotainment display powers up out of the dash top upon startup. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
by a gorgeous set of aluminized rocker switches and buttons, while a handy knurled metal audio volume knob sits right beside. An electromechanical parking brake replaces the old handbrake, and in this e-tron it’s a welcome addition.

Everything already noted comes standard in the e-tron, this special model expected to sell in fewer numbers than its four-door sibling and therefore limited to just two well optioned trims. Base models get the Progressiv name in Canada, and despite a reasonable $40,900 price tag come equipped with a good assortment of standard features such as 15-spoke 17-inch alloys on 225/45 Continental ProContact all-seasons, auto on/off Xenon plus all-weather headlights that do a better job of illuminating the area in front of the car, LED daytime running
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Dual-zone auto HVAC is standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
lights, LED rear lights, heat-insulating side glass, high-gloss exterior trim, anodized aluminum roof rails, heatable power-adjustable side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers with heated washer nozzles, proximity access with pushbutton ignition, doorsill scuff plates, enhanced ambient lighting, a leather-wrapped three-spoke multifunction sport steering wheel with shift paddles, aluminum interior trim, Optic Titanium Grey 3D-design inlays, leather upholstery, heatable powered front seats with four-way powered lumbar support, illuminated drink holders, dual-zone auto climate control, auxiliary electric heater, Bluetooth, MMI radio plus, satellite radio, a panoramic glass sunroof, electronic immobilization, an alarm, all the usual active and passive safety gear plus rear side-thorax airbags and Audi pre sense basic that preventatively closes windows and pre-tenses the seatbelts
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
A3 Sportback e-tron interior detailing is very nice. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
in emergency situations, and finally Audi Drive Select that defaults to Auto mode for everyday driving with a nod to optimizing fuel economy (this is a PHEV after all), or can be set to Comfort mode for those nasty inner-city back lanes, the road to the cottage or ski hill, or any other ill-kempt surfaces, Dynamic sport mode that combines all of its electrical and gasoline-powered resources to achieve those aforementioned performance numbers, and lastly Individual mode that let’s you preset something totally unique.

As you might expect the A3 Sportback e-tron is an Audi first and a PHEV fuel-miser second, or rather the car feels like a well-sorted sport wagon instead of a doddering hybrid. It’s not only quick off the line as noted, but the way it goes about accelerating is more like a conventionally powered Audi than anything hybridized
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Knurled aluminum gets used to trim the infotainment controller and audio volume knob (behind). (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
thanks to 258 net horsepower and what feels like more than 184 lb-ft of peak torque. Or maybe it’s how immediately all its twist comes into action that results in the potent slap on the backside as the front wheels spin, plus instead of the hybrid sector’s usual CVT-strangled pull off the line (or lack thereof) the A3 e-tron’s six-speed dual-clutch gearbox actually knows what to do when its paddles get yanked. This is a hybrid that’s fun to drive, and believe me Audi backed up its accelerative forces with good steering wheel feedback, excellent turn-in, plenty of grip through the corners, and no shortage of high-speed highway composure that’s even eerily silent when cruising along at 120 km/h (or potentially higher) in emissions-free EV mode.

2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Standard leather upholstery is a cut above its closest Lexus challenger that only gets leatherette. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
course I didn’t drive like it was stolen during my entire test, but rather enjoyed its smooth, linear, quiet EV performance at moderate city speeds more often than not. Of note, the e-tron power unit can be switched between individual hybrid modes as needed, the first being regular Hybrid mode as explained earlier, the second being Charge Sustaining mode in which it relies on the combustion engine for motive power and saves full EV-mode via the battery for later (ideally useful during fast-paced highway driving that depletes the battery quickly), and the third being Charge Increasing mode that uses the ICE to replenish the battery. Normally I really enjoy playing around with these types of features and eking the most from a given charge (and tank of gas), but I must admit the A3 Sportback e-tron was too much fun.

If you want even more excitement you can upgrade the e-tron with a $1,100 or $1,200
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Rear seat roominess is better than Lexus’ CT 200h too. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Sport package featuring a couple of stylish 18-inch rim options on 225/40 all-season tires as well as more heavily bolstered sport seats, glossy black interior detailing and a black headliner (the price difference depends on the chosen wheels); a $2,300 Navigation package with an upgraded infotainment system featuring MMI touch for tablet-style gesture controls as well as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, loads of apps such as Spotify, WhatsApp, Google Maps, and Apple Maps, plus a useful charge delay function to minimize electricity costs when recharging overnight (it takes about eight hours when hooked up to a household socket and 2.5 hours on a 240-volt charger); and $500 front and rear parking sensors.

Alternatively you can pay $5,000 to move up to Technik trim that adds those parking
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
A large sunroof gets a nice sliding sunshade. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
sensors, the upgraded infotainment display with navigation, a best-in-class-by-far fully configurable colour TFT “Audi virtual cockpit” gauge cluster, superb Bang & Olufsen 3D audio, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with integrated compass, a heatable steering wheel, Audi side assist that warns when approaching rear traffic comes into your blind spot, full LED headlights, and LED taillights with dynamic turn signals.

You can upgrade Technik trim with the same Sport packages as well as $200 auto high beams and a $1,400 Technology package that comes with adaptive cruise control featuring “Stop & Go” low speed follow functionality, Audi pre sense front autonomous emergency braking, and active lane assist that pulls the steering back into your lane if you drift to one side. Of note, with all active safety features added it qualifies for a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS.

2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
A very well finished cargo compartment reminds that the A3 e-tron is an Audi first and foremost. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
not matter the trim you can outfit your A3 Sportback e-tron in one of two standard colours or seven $890 optional metallic hues, while the interior can be done out in standard Black, Chestnut Brown, or Rock Grey (the headliner is always grey unless the Sport package gets added).

While a roomy five-door liftback design, it’s important to remember the A3 Sportback e-tron actually fights it out with entry-level luxury subcompacts and compacts sized below D-segment models like Audi’s A4, BMW’s 3 Series and Mercedes’ C-Class. Therefore, when the driver’s seat was set for my five-foot-eight frame the rear seating area provided less space than I’d normally like (granted I’d ultimately prefer a fully loaded A8L when someone else is at the wheel). Still, I had about three inches left over ahead of my knees and plenty of room
2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
This handy centre pass-through provides more flexibility than competitive 60/40-split seatbacks. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
for my feet, plus about three inches above my head, whereas my shoulders were about two inches from the door and I couldn’t complain about hip room. It would be possible to fit three across although it’d be tight, and you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the comfortable folding centre armrest with its cool pop-out dual cupholders. The front seatbacks get nice webbed pockets for stowing magazines, and there’s a 12-volt charger in back along with a set of rear vents, plus LED reading lights above, and all the pillars from front to back were fabric-wrapped for an extra level of premium pampering, but there were no heatable rear seats. On the positive, the panoramic sunroof is wonderfully large and comes with a stylish aluminum lever to move its high-end opaque woven fabric sliding sunshade back and forth. Truly, I can’t see an average-sized person being put off by the A3 Sportback e-tron’s rear quarters.

2017 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Audi leads the way in the entry-level compact luxury segment with an efficient plug-in electric power unit. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
Canadians have long loved versatile sport wagons and hatchbacks, and now with the A3 Sportback e-tron’s amalgamation of both body styles overtop a highly efficient plug-in hybrid drivetrain we should all be rejoicing as Audi makes going green fun and stylish. And while there’s a price to pay for all this go-fast green goodness, it’s a reasonable price that comes with a significant provincial government rebate if you happen to live in BC, Ontario or Quebec. Truly, after applying the deep discounts available, which include up to $2,500 off a PHEV in BC (you’ll need to buy a full EV to get $5,000 off on the left coast), up to $8,000 off in Quebec, and up to an $8,095 rebate in Ontario, you’ll be driving a much more appealing plug-in Audi for the price of that comparatively tepid Lexus mentioned earlier. It’s really no contest.
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