Audi entered the plug-in hybrid market with its 2016 A3 Sportback e-tron, a Euro-styled, roomy hatchback the automaker has been selling in the U.S. since late 2015.
The vehicle's niche in the fleet world is still open for discussion, but it could see use by environmentally conscious technology companies in northern California, larger corporations seeking a "green" branded passenger car to send their sustainability message, or perhaps multinational firms based in Europe.
The A3 Sportback e-tron appeals to our greener nature with its four driving modes that allow the operator to set whether it functions in pure EV mode, hybrid mode to use the battery charge, "hold battery" mode to sustain the charge, or "charge battery" mode to increase the charge level.
These modes offer a level of interactivity not found in most hybrids, and allow the driver to customize the driving experience based on the trip. For city driving and short trips, the EV mode keeps the car at maximum efficiency, while for higher highway speeds, the charge battery mode restores precious charge. I used the hold battery mode for mid-range drives (of at least 40 miles) where I wasn't sure if I had a charging point.
The A3 e-tron also offers a Sport mode, which you can access by shifting to S via the MMI Interface. This mode will use all available power, and drain your charge quickly.
The vehicle is powered with a 1.4L TFSI engine that makes 150 hp and a 102-hp electric motor. A lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the rear seat provides 8.8 kilowatts per hour of energy storage. A 6-speed dual-clutch transmission directs power to the front wheels.
The A3 e-tron should provide about 16 electric miles with a total range of 380 miles, according to the EPA. I tested the EV range one way on a 23-mile commute, and I was down to one red bar on the charge indicator.
When you've spent the battery charge, find a 120-volt or 240-volt charger and head to the front of the vehicle. Twist a small dial, and the four-rings logo pops out and retracts to reveal a rubberized plug cover and several indicator lights. Plug in the charger here. A full Level I charge takes about eight hours, while a 240-volt Level II charge takes about 2 hours, 15 minutes.
The A3 e-tron provides plenty of comfort, and should be considered a top offering when compared to other hybrids and EVs that focus more on the technology that the creature comfort features. The A3 e-tron cabin feels roomy, even for a taller person. The buckets seats remain comfortable as the miles pile up. Cup holders are snug if perhaps a bit too far forward, and an adjustable arm rest provides support when needed.
The rear cargo area's 13.6 cubic-feet of storage fits more than you'd expect and should accommodate the needs of fleets with moderate hauling needs for sales collateral or other materials.