Replica of The Thinker, Vienna2015 Audi A3 e-tron
2015 Audi A3 e-tron
2015 Audi A3 e-tron
2015 Audi A3 e-tron. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

Vienna, Austria – Rodin’s The Thinker sits in contemplation as we walk out to select our vehicle from the row of gleaming red 2015 Audi A3 e-trons. Is this the way of the future? Or just another compliance vehicle to meet ever-more-suffocating emissions and fuel-consumption regulations?

No doubt the latter question is the shove that is driving many manufacturers into the electric vehicle game, but Audi’s electrification and sustainability programs go slightly deeper than that. There are more efficient ways to jump into the electric vehicle game than the stillborn R8 e-tron. Audi’s dominance at Le Mans (yes, they won again this year) demonstrates the performance potential and durability of hybrids as it did with diesels before them. This is the payoff. This is the real-world car for right now.

Pure electric vehicles still come with either range limitations or prohibitive costs, though they are starting to turn the corner. Hybrids are a fair middle ground to wean us off pricey and finite resources with a variety of choices in various price points. Shoestring budget with a priority on practicality? Look at the Prius line with small (C), medium (original) and large (V) sizes for various needs. Want something with a bit of design flair and a bit more driving engagement without getting too steep in price? Try on the Volkswagen Ford Fusion Hybrid or plug-in Energi, or even the Accord Hybrid. Serious about maximizing EV operation but still need a one-car-fits-all application? Chevrolet’s Volt is not out of reach.

However, the luxury market are where things are really heating up. Almost every major luxury brand has delivered a new hybrid or electric vehicle recently; BMW the i3, Lexus adding the NX300h to its stable of hybrids, Infiniti their core model Q50 gaining the hybrid treatment, and Acura, um, well, still working on their NSX hybrid supercar, so the RLX Hybrid will have to do for now (the ILX hybrid didn’t work out so well) – oh wait, that’s not available yet, either.

Audi has chosen to enter the market with the smallest car in its North American lineup, the A3, but with a twist. Where the previous generation A3 arrived on our shores exclusively as a Sportback (Audi-speak for hatchback), the recently launched A3 is primarily a sedan offered with three conventional powertrains (two turbo gas models and one turbodiesel) while the Sportback body style is reserved only for the E-tron plug-in hybrid. If I were running the show, it would be the diesel I’d ship to North America in hatchback configuration, but I guess Audi actually want to sell their diesels. Will the diesel-wagon (manual all-wheel drive, of course) set make the leap to hybrid hatches? They always end up buying Miatas anyways, so no point catering too much to them.

Back here in the real world, this is the hybrid we get from Audi, and it is a good one. It takes the strong, compact dimensions of the A3 sedan and adds a well-proportioned roofline and hatch, adding to the utility and the style. This thing is downright sexy. I dig it.

2015 Audi A3 e-tron engine bay2015 Audi A3 e-tron front seats2015 Audi A3 e-tron rear seats2015 Audi A3 e-tron cargo area
2015 Audi A3 e-tron engine bay, seating, cargo area. Click image to enlarge

While hatchback styling may not be for everyone, you can’t argue with the utility. Audi cites cargo space as 280 L in the trunk and 1,210 max, but it is at least the equivalent of the C-Max Energi, which is claimed at 544 L and 1,211, and slightly wider and deeper than the BMW i3, estimated at 260 L and about 1,100. Heck, even the Golf is endowed with 640, and this platform mate isn’t far off in most dimensions, though cargo space is down 100 L due to the hybrid running gear’s batteries (conventional European Sportback models are listed at 380 L to the E-tron’s 280). As with the sedan, passenger space in the front row is acceptable, but legroom and headroom in the rear is on the tight side, and materials are top notch, with one of the models we sampled sporting alcantara seat inserts.

Those batteries are lithium-ion, housed in a 96-cell array under the rear passenger seat with cooling packs nested between the modules. They offer a total of 8.8 kWh of energy storage, and can be charged in 3 hours, 45 minutes using European household current or a Stage 2 charger. North American households with 110V will likely take approximately 8-10 hours, though Audi did not have exact numbers. Audi has a sleek, glossy black charging station, though pricing is not yet available for the vehicle itself, never mind accessory equipment.

2015 Audi A3 e-tron rear axle showing battery pack2015 Audi A3 e-tron dashboard
2015 Audi A3 e-tron rear axle showing battery pack & dashboard. Click image to enlarge
Connect with