After my experience with the Tesla Model S, I was especially looking forward to a short test drive with the Audi A3 e-tron. Thank you once again to the fine folks at Audi Zentrum Landshut for this opportunity.
I started the drive with an almost fully charged battery, which meant an indicated range of 37km. Which is somewhat less impressive than the Tesla, but is offset by that 1.4l petrol engine, which leads to a combined range of up to 940km.
As my wife and I use a 1.4 petrol A3 already, I was mainly interested in the electric driving aspect of the e-tron.
Perfect for doing daily chores throughout the city, the “EV” mode of the car allows you to use only the battery while driving, unless you kick down or shift the gear lever in S-mode.
This is quite an experience, as you silently pull away from your parking position, wander through city streets barely making a sound, and almost drive over unwitting pedestrians crossing the streets because they never heard you coming. Okay, I guess people need to learn to expect silent electric cars in the future (or we add artificial noise to them, which kind of defeats one purpose of this technology).
And it’s no slouch either - 330NM of electric torque are at your disposal from the get go, perfectly sufficient for city touring.
Add the fact that this is still an Audi A3, in every guise a pretty perfect compact car (now with a little less luggage space, because, battery), and you have quite the selling point. For quite a price, which you will only partially get back through saved fuel.
But…I drove the Tesla two days before that.
Before the Tesla, I very much considered such a plugin hybrid for my next car, seeing it just as the Audi execs seem to do - a perfect intermediate technology before we all have batteries good for ranges of a 1000 miles and recharging in ten seconds or less.
Now though, I wonder if this isn’t a bit half-baked. And I notice things like the electric range not caring at all for your driving style, because why bother, you always have the petrol engine as well.
The Tesla offers you a realistic range based on your driving, and that’s what you need in an EV.
Nissan will probably offer a Leaf with 300 mile range and autonomous driving in 2018. When Audi will just start to offer the probably very nice, but also probably very expensive Q6.
I bet they will have nothing to offer in the compact car range that compares to the new Leaf.
And I think the emphasis on “intermediate technologies”, instead of going all-in, will be to blame for that.
Because what the Tesla, and even the current Leaf, or the BMW i3 show - a petrol car turned hybrid, or even turned EV, will never be as good an EV as one built from the ground as such.
Will never have the upsides of EV construction (more luggage space, for example).
The A3 e-tron, with its little electric helper engine, therefore is more a sign of a carmaker not wanting to go all-in. Calm reassurance for all those hesitating that yes, it is okay to hesitate. But is it?
Upsides? Hybrid cars help finance the important research in future batteries, certainly a core technology for automakers.
Also, the electric motor, as mentioned, is perfect for preserving the petrol engine while you go on these short drives during a shopping tour. Silent, too.
And you don’t have to do anything different from a normal car when going for a longer drive. Where you may even save some petrol.
Most importantly, this is still an A3. Which is an extremely good car. Now with an interesting twist.