Plug-in and Play: the verdict (Audi A3 etron)

When it comes to electric vehicles, there is an uncertainty about what to buy at this stage, thanks to all of the negative speculation surrounding them. Unlike a conventional car, it is more difficult – or so it seems – for people to go out and test these vehicles, getting a feel for EVs in real-world conditions. To address this, New Mobility is committed to bring you reviews across all variations of electrified powertrains, from completely electric vehicles to plug-in hybrids. Being in a transitional period, a lot of development is still needed to comfortably live with an EV, whether that is the technology itself or the supporting infrastructure, such as charging stations. This has created a grey area in car buying, with people waiting for a significant shift where EVs take the market share from petrol and diesel alternatives, which is still some way off. So what’s the short-term answer? We believe that this could be plug-in hybrids.

This month, I got my hands on Audi’s A3 etron plug-in hybrid, the automaker’s latest attempt to combine a 75 kW electric motor with a 1.4 litre TFSI petrol engine. Originally released in 2014, Audi’s first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle has been redesigned to promote mobility without compromise. Through a week of real-world testing, I got an idea of what it would be like for the everyday driver to live with.

Now, if you’re expecting to be blown away by futuristic design and features, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Inside, you wouldn’t notice anything different from a normal A3 until ‘etron activated’ appeared on the digital display and a few graphics of battery power features popped up across the dashboard interface. On the outside, you’d once again be fooled, with electrification only identified by the etron badges on the rear, side panel and grille. Although, if you look closer at the aggressive front end, between the four rings, you will spot a small hidden latch that slides the badge across and exposes a chargepoint – which I think is a nice touch. However, the lack of flair isn’t necessarily a bad thing and, in my opinion, the ‘surprise’ of normality impressed me the most. Driving off the lot, the car is completely silent as you sit back comfortably in Audi’s class-leading interior, which will be more appealing for buyers when looking at the choices of EVs in the market today. In terms of driving experience, such as ride and general feel, there isn’t much difference to the brand’s conventionally-fueled A3. Audi may have created a great allrounder which could convince consumers to switch over from other variants in the future.

e-tron

Too expensive?

Of course, this does come with a hefty price tag of around £38,000, but this has come to be expected with the premium German brand. You are, after all, getting a beautiful interior, a highly connected interface and a comfortable ride. To help combat the high price tag, government incentives have been introduced over the last few years which have helped push the sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids, applying more benefits for customers willing to make the switch. Not all electric or hybrid vehicles are eligible for a grant – only vehicles that have been approved by the government, which includes this particular Audi. These incentives have been established by several national and local governments around the world, showing the continued support for the rollout of electrified powertrains, through tax exemptions and credits. In terms of charging costs, you are looking at approximately 10p per kWh at home depending on the location, speed and time of day. This works out at around £2.37 to charge fully, which is another benefit.

What range issues?

The most obvious advantage of a plug-in hybrid is the use of two fuels, meaning that you can achieve far superior range to a completely electric vehicle and more efficiency than a petrol or diesel alternative. But what I find most impressive, was that I only filled up the tank once in over a week of vehicle testing, which is reflective of the everyday usability of the etron. A lot of the testing involved short trips in dense urban areas, something that a typical EV driver would be doing, which saved a lot of money in terms of filling up. The etron always starts up in EV mode, however it allows drivers to push a button and instantly switch over to the use of fuel, meaning that you can save your electric range for driving around in the city emissions-free.

The 29 miles of electric range does mean that you have to charge it a fair bit if you’re looking to travel further distances on the battery alone, but this won’t be much of a problem for most due to the combined range of 580 miles. However, the novelty of plugging in your car did wear off very quickly and become a bit tiresome, especially when you had to keep nipping in and out of the house. This does show that the biggest pulling factor for choosing a plug-in hybrid over a fully-electric EV is that extra bit of range. In my opinion, I think this is a great stepping stone on the journey to electrification, although we are already seeing certain EVs moving very close to the important 300 mile range mark. You may wonder how long hybrids will last, although I see them as a pillar to the success of EVs.

audi-ss

Where to plug in?

As we know, the charging infrastructure in the UK is still in early development, meaning that drivers can feel deserted, even more so over long distances. Luckily, I have a drive that I can park on and a plug socket right outside my front door, which meant that I had no problem charging whenever I was back home. This isn’t the same case for most Londoners, who typically live in properties with no front of house. I can’t see any time that I would enjoy giving up half an hour of my day to recharge.

Even though I had charging accessibility at home, the standard domestic charger takes double the time of a seven-point charger, which is fine for overnight rejuicing, but it does get a bit tiresome constantly plugging it in every time you get back from the shop or the office. The heavy charging cable also added to the inconvenience, but maybe I’m just being picky?

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