As the Audi plug-in vehicle stable grows and grows – there are now multiple versions of the original all-electric R8 e-tron, the A1 e-tron, the A5 PHEV and the e-tron Spyder – it was only a matter of time before we got an up-close-and-personal look at the A3 e-tron. Our chance came last week in Berlin at the 2011 Michelin Challenge Bibendum
Just like at last year's Bibendum, Audi wasn't looking to hand over the keys to an expensive test vehicle. It was more like, you can just plunk down there, buddy, and enjoy the ride. Well, enjoy we did. The A3 e-tron is, like all the others in the e-tron family, just a prototype. But what a prototype. When you get in, you instantly notice that the seats are softly comfortable and then see that the whole interior breathes quality. None of this is surprising – it is an Audi, after all – but it's also not exactly something we're used to in the plug-in prototype business.
Once we were nicely settled in, our driver told us that Audi's idea with the A3 e-tron was to make a perfectly normal car with all the common comforts (e.g., air conditioning and cruise control) that happened to be electrically powered. He also bragged that he can get 200 kilometers (roughly 124 miles) out of a full charge when he drives carefully; the average driver should expect around 160 km (100 miles) from the 26.5 kWh lithium-ion battery. Continue reading...
For now, Audi has chosen to control the level of brake regen that the A3 uses through paddles on the steering column. This is a method that we haven't seen used before, and it seems potentially very smart, since we're in favor of drivers having as much control as possible over how their plug-in vehicle operates. The paddles can apparently set five differential levels of regen grip, with the lightest allowing some coasting at speed. Whether or not this sort of test vehicle quirkiness makes it into the production version is unclear.
Speaking of which, there are, sadly, no plans to put this particular A3 e-tron into production even though the A3 hatch is an entirely practical electric vehicle, with room for 4-5 people plus luggage. The good news is that this is in part because the current A3 is being phased out, and a new version is scheduled to debut next year. When the A3 e-tron does go into production (it's gotta be when, right, not "if"?), it will be based on the new version. We'll wait patiently, as long as we get access to some other member of the e-tron family in the meantime.
Our travel and lodging for this media event were provided by Michelin.