OF THE MYRIAD of new models on the way from Audi, the A3 e-tron has been for me one of the most intriguing and anxiously awaited vehicles. As I have a PV Solar System, charging is a freebee, and my commute is only 12 miles. For Audi, this is their first true plug-in hybrid, gaining on the engineering and production experience of the entire VW group and all of their electric products, such as the Jetta Hybrid, VW Golf E, and Q5 Hybrid. With a base price of just under $38K, just $1500 more than an e-Golf SEL, it is easy to see that this is competitive with the Chevy Volt and Ford C-Max, and yet it is an Audi!

The e-tron body is based on the latest generation A3 five-door Sportback. A combined system potential of 204 hp and 258 lb-ft torque is created by a 1.4 liter TFSI four-valve DOHC engine with 150 hp and 184 lb-ft torque, coupled to a 75 KW (102hp) and 243 lb-ft torque electric motor. Due to electric motor cooling limits, electronic controls, as well as limits on battery draw-down current, the electric motor is conservatively run, hence the de-rating of the combined total system power. Total curb weight of the A3 Sportback e-tron is 3,395 pounds. The electric motor is a permanently excited synchronous machine. It weighs 75 pounds and is liquid-cooled via a cooling jacket in the stator. The electric motor is located behind the engine’s dual-mass flywheel and includes a de-coupler. The combustion engine is started by the electric motor via the clutch. Once it reaches the same speed as the electric motor, the clutch closes. This happens smoothly within a few tenths of a second.

The electric motor/de-coupler unit is integrated into a newly designed six-speed S{tronic which transfers the power to the front wheels. The dual-clutch transmission features a threeshaft layout. Its two subsidiary transmissions are served by the multi-plate clutches K1 (K for Kupplung-or Clutch) and K2, which are immediately downstream of the de-coupler K0. Gears are shifted by switching the clutches. This takes just a few hundredths of a second and occurs with no detectable interruption of propulsive power. Acceleration is quoted by Audi as 0-60 mph in less than 7.5 seconds, and in full electric mode 0-37 mph comes in just 4.9 seconds. The lithium-ion battery stores 8.8 kWh of energy. Driving range on EV is about 31 miles, with all the caveats of speed, road incline, traffic, air conditioning, headlights, etc. that will affect the actual range.

Additional components to the electric motor, battery, power electronics and charger are provided to support electric driving. The air conditioning compressor uses an electric drive integrated into the high-voltage electrical system. A thermoelectric heating element provides the cabin heating system. An electric brake servo supports braking in the A3 Sportback e-tron. The generator enables the recuperation of braking energy in all situations. The brake management system supports this by precisely coordinating hydraulic and electric braking. Like the propulsion systems, the braking systems are seamless and provide a secure and easy-to-modulate pedal feel.

Installed under the rear seat, the flat battery is extremely well protected in an area where the high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel components of the occupant cell form an especially strong structure. The die-cast aluminum housing is bolted to the vehicle floor at five points. In the event of a crash sufficiently severe to trigger the belt tensioners or airbags, the system is disconnected from the power supply. The 12-volt battery for the low-voltage consuming electronics and the 10.6 US gallon fuel tank are located over the rear axle. The 39.6 cubic foot luggage compartment is spacious and flat.

Over a period of five days, I drove the e-tron all over Los Angeles as well as in the San Gabriel Mountains on Angeles Crest and Angeles Forest Highway. I used the car as if it would serve me in my daily life. The interior as well as all the infotainment is identical to the A3 sedan, with Audi LTE connect, Google Earth Navigation, and real time traffic information. Nobody beats Audi on their interiors, and the etron is no exception.

Right off the bat within the first few miles, I realized that this is not a commuting appliance, like the Prius. this is a full-fledged luxurious Audi, with superb driving manners much like the A3 1.8 TFSI sedan, except with even more torque-like the two-liter. With the battery low in the back, the weight distribution seemed very well balanced. I explored the four different driving modes, and discovered ways to increase the EV range by using the engine on long uphill grades and extended freeway driving, and using the regenerative braking on long downhill grades.

While the top speed in EV mode is 80 mph, in Hybrid mode it is electronically limited to 130 mph. I even charged up Angeles Crest in EV mode to see what this puppy could do, and was very impressed. Acceleration in EV only mode is smooth and fast enough for urban driving.

While in one of the Hybrid modes, at about 30 mph and driving electrically, I pressed the accelerator pedal to the floor and the gas engine would instantaneously spring to life and rocket forward, as if driving an A3 2.0T. My commute is about 12 miles, downhill in the morning, which used only three miles of battery charge, due to regenerative braking, as well as the superb gliding mode (much like freewheeling). Coming home, is all uphill, so the Hybrid mode was used for the four mile freeway stretch, and EV thereafter. No problem for this commute. Unlike pure electrics, range anxiety does not exist in the e-tron. This is important for me as running errands around SoCal occurs frequently during the normal work day. There is a mode that charges the battery while driving, and another mode to hold the charge while relying on the 1.4T engine.

I cannot get over how seamless the engine and electric motor work together, with different modes switched between with negligible effect on the driving quality. Same goes for the brakes, which will regenerate power and bring you to a stop with excellent pedal feel and a seamless transition between the different electric and hydraulic systems.

In Los Angeles, most of the Whole Foods Markets have free Level 2 charging stations, as well as in Pasadena, Burbank, and Santa Monica at public parking lots. Finding charging stations is getting easier by the day. You can expect to get a full charge in a few hours. The supplied charger using 115V, fully recharged the battery by early morning.

Bottom line, I love this car and could easily see it in my life. Congratulations to Andreas Pfaller, e-tron Project Leader, and his entire team of engineers. For full technical and driving impressions on the e-tron see www.audiclubna.org.