Published on August 18th, 2015 | by Zachary Shahan


Audi A3 e-tron Test Drive Review

August 18th, 2015 by  

Originally published on EV Obsession.

Right after test driving the Renault Zoe, I had the opportunity to test drive an Audi A3 e-tron. It offered me a good chance at an acute view between a fully electric and a plug-in hybrid electric car.

My first car was an Audi. I like the design/look of Audis. And, knowing the A3 e-tron was supposed to be quite sporty, I was very excited to test drive the car. I expected to like it more than the Zoe.


Audi A3 e-tron

For sure, the A3 e-tron (base price of $37,900 in the US, before any federal, state, or local incentives) has a sportier general feel and handling, and the interior was a little more “plush” than in the Zoe, but man, plug-in hybrids don’t compare with fully electric cars. (I’ll reserve my judgement for extended-range electric cars until I drive the Chevy Volt.) I’m not sure if it’s the engine kicking in a little when you “step on it,” if it’s something to do with the small battery, or what, but the A3 e-tron (like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV) didn’t have the spunk and clean, smooth, powerful initial acceleration the Zoe (or Leaf, e-Up!, i3, Model S, etc.) had. It wasn’t as lame as the Mercedes A180, Mercedes C180, and BMW 320i that I had recently rented (and I was quickly reminded of that when I got back into my A180 rental and when renting a C180 again today), but it clearly wasn’t on the same level as a fully electric car.

Specs certainly don’t tell everything. A BMW i3 apparently has 170 horsepower while the A3 e-tron has 204 horsepower but the i3 feels much, much better off the line.

Yes, I’d choose an A3 e-tron over any comparably priced gasmobile in a heartbeat, but no, I don’t think I could ever buy or lease a plug-in hybrid.

The difference genuinely came as a bit of a surprise to me. I expected basically the same experience when driving on electricity as with a fully electric car — not a muted experience. I know a number of our electric-driving readers have emphasized the difference between plug-in hybrid acceleration and fully electric acceleration (like when I wrote up this comparison of the quickest accelerating electric vehicles), but I thought the distinction was mostly important to them because of the implied emissions. Now, I’m not so sure… maybe it was mostly about the performance.

A3 e-tron


I do think the A3 e-tron is still a great option for someone who doesn’t feel like they can make the full leap to a 100% electric car just yet, especially for those living in Europe without good Volt options. It is sporty, comfy, fairly affordable, and looks good. It’s just not for me.

Stepping away from the driving experience, I have to admit that the visualizations/infotainment were less than I anticipated as well. No default backup camera. No cool visualizations like I’ve seen in nearly every other EV I’ve driven. In all honesty, it seems like Audi didn’t care too much to highlight or enhance the new electric driving experience. I often wonder if efforts like this aren’t more counterproductive than if the automaker (in this case Audi) hadn’t built the plug-in hybrid model at all. The stark contrast between other electric models and this one left me feeling like the A3 e-tron was nothing special… and maybe that’s Audi’s aim.

As far as comfort goes, the front seats were more comfortable than the seats in the Mercedes A180 I had rented, but probably comparable in quality to the Mercedes C180 and BMW 320i (but a bit different, so it would depend on personal taste). They were not as comfy for me as the very basic but well designed seats in the Renault Zoe — but like I said when reviewing that, perhaps that is due to my particular body type.

The A3 e-tron comes with 3 driving modes. On on, you just drive on gas; on electric mode, you “just” drive on electricity (but with support from the gasoline engine at certain speeds and I think when accelerating in some cases); and on the hybrid mode, the engine recharges the battery while you drive on gas.

Of course, the A3 e-tron comes with regenerative braking, but there is only one mode and it’s really weak. I couldn’t even feel it in action! I much prefer the multi-mode options available in the i3, Outlander PHEV, VW e-Up!, and some other models, and I hugely prefer the stronger options, with the A3 e-tron falling on the opposite end of the scale.

You could add on Audi side assist, adaptive cruise control, active lane assist, and a panoramic sunroof for some extra cash, which I’d say is a strong + with the e-tron. It didn’t have parking assist by default but that could be added on as well.

I hesitate to write much about the sales experience since that can vary so much from person to person, and the salesman had only been on the job for one week, but there are perhaps a few things worth noting. The car had almost no charge when I got there (despite the fact that I reserved the test drive a day before) and was nearly out of gas as well. The salesman started out the test drive by driving it up and down the road himself in hybrid mode in order to put some juice in the battery. The gas light eventually started blinking since it was almost out of gas, but whatev…. I expressed my preference for the fully electric drive quality during and after the drive, and the salesman (who had before told me he didn’t know much about electrics) said he didn’t really think the infrastructure was fully ready for fully electric cars. Given Audi didn’t have one to sell, I wouldn’t expect much more and will give him a pass there, but he didn’t try particularly hard to follow up and sell me on the A3 e-tron. Generally, he didn’t seem to care a great deal about electric driving (whether it was a fully electric or PHEV), but maybe it’s just that he got the sense I wasn’t going to choose the e-tron. Or maybe he just needs to learn and experience a bit more.

The Audi A3 e-tron website has some nice features. In the UK, it noted that the average trip is just 7 miles, while the electric driving range of the A3 e-tron is rated at 21 miles. The US site I’m looking at right now shows that it’s quicker to charge an A3 e-tron than a laptop or tablet:

Audi A3 e-tron charging

In the end, my take is, if you want a lunchbox with a nice package and electric capability, an A3 e-tron is a good option; but if you want a lunchbox with electric capability and a really good lunch inside, go 100% electric.

Top Images by Robert Basic (CC BY-SA 2.0), Bottom Image by Audi

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • bruintoo

    I did an extended test drive of the i3-REX for 3 days commuting from Long Beach to Downtown LA. This is how I would describe the experience: if BMW finallly makes a mini-van this is probably how it should drive. Peppy engine but the motoring experience is akin to driving a golf-cart with mini-van seating position on steroids. Even with the range-extender, every morning I would get range anxiety since I did not plug at home and charging stations in DTLA is scarce and inconvenient. You have to pay the parking gararge in addition to paying to charge.

  • Mike333

    If you’re worried about reducing “risk”, you’d better jump on this car now. As the author states EV’s drive better, meaning longer range EV’s will force these off the market.

    If you want the risk reduction of having a gas option, you’d better buy it now.

    • Good point. 😀

    • Mike333

      What am I saying, this is America, We don’t reduce risk, we wait till it’s too late and then address the after-effects of the disaster.

      Just like global warming, we’re going to ignore it till it kills us: USA-USA-USA.

      • Haha. Sadly, very true.

      • Adrian

        What was it Churchill said? “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing. Once they’ve exhausted all other options.”

      • jeffhre

        Don’t forget to mention the part about when we do finally recognize the need to address the disaster; that it will quickly be deemed imperative to toss the proverbial baby out with the slightly used bathwater.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Falling battery prices will likely kill PHEVs.

      >200 range and ‘supercharger’ availability for the same or less purchase price of a PHEV and PHEVs are likely not going to find enough buyers to stay in production.

      I can see how, over the next five years or so, they may serve as EVs with training wheels for those who want to drive on electricity but are not risk takers. Five years from now most people will likely know multiple people who drive EVs with no problems.

      • Mike333

        Yes, fast charging will finally kill the ICE solution.

        But, I live less than 50 miles from a nuclear plant, so, always in the back of my mind is, I need a vehicle I can get out of Dodge with, and not wait.

  • Adrian

    How does it compare to it’s sister, the VW Golf GTE?

    • Underneath the surface, everything is basically the same, so I’d guess it feels exactly the same, but I haven’t driven the Golf GTE yet.

  • Kyle Field

    The difference in the volt is that it’s essentially an electric car with an integrated generator charging circuit. meaning…that you get the drive feel of an EV with the longer range / ease of refuelling that gas offers.

    • Yes, that’s what I’ve gathered. Can’t wait to drive one.

    • Adrian

      That said, the Volt’s throttle response gets “weird” when the range extender is running. If you step on it the car takes a moment to adjust clutches and change modes before full power is delivered. In EV mode it “just goes” with the typical direct EV accelerator response.

      It’s a better car when in EV mode.

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      • TedKidd

        These tiny details are really helpful to know. Wonder if that will be true of the ’16.

        • Mark Renburke

          Likely not, as rather than using a planetary gearset like the Gen 1 (the reason for the wierd delay being the main electric motor has to spin up to match speed before clutch to engine can disconnect), the Gen 2’s two motors and engine are all in series physically, so any can power the car more instantaneously, that’s my understanding, that they engineered out this little “bug required for greater cruising efficiency”.

      • Mark Renburke

        “It’s a better car when in EV mode.” Any plug in is, but I get it, and the point of ER mode is to get the best mpg possible not have the same quiet, smooth, driving experience anyhow.

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