Driving Audi's A3 e-tron Electric Car in Manhattan (Review)

Audi recently gave us the opportunity to get a quick drive behind the wheel of a prototype of its upcoming A3 e-tron electric car.

Audi A3 e-tron
The Audi A3 you see here may look just like the standard A3 sitting in your neighbors driveway, but if you look closer you’ll notice the large “A3 e-tron” decals on the side of the car. The “e-tron” decals mean one thing, this is not a standard A3. Audi recently gave us the opportunity to get a quick drive behind the wheel of a prototype of its upcoming A3 e-tron electric car. The car won’t be out for two years and won’t even look like this when it’s released (see all-new A3), but its electric powertrain is a preview of Audi’s future.

Our drive around Manhattan also gave us the opportunity to grill Audi’s Director of E-Mobility, Jeff Curry about the A3 e-tron and Audi’s future e-tron electric lineup. Currently the electric car segment is largely dominated by the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. Ford just released its electric Focus, but soon there will be even more electric models to choose from. Audi’s A3 e-tron will be released in 2014, but Curry confirmed that the first production Audi e-tron will be the R8 e-tron, later this year. Audi has announced that the electric R8 e-tron will be powered by a 308 horsepower electric motor and a lithium-ion battery that stores up to 53 kWh of energy. Following the release of the R8 e-tron and A3 e-tron models, Audi will also release e-tron versions of the A4 and Q7.

Audi A3 e-tron

How Does it Look?
Now back to the A3 e-tron. When the A3 e-tron is released, it will look identical to the other all-new A3 models, which was unveiled earlier this year at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. The A3 e-tron we drove was still cloaked in the older A3’s clothes. Audi chose to develop an electric version of the A3 rather than an all-new dedicated model like the Nissan Leaf, which doesn’t share its body with any other models in the Nissan lineup. Jeff Curry stated that Audi’s research told them that Audi buyers still want an “Audi.” So don’t expect Audi to follow BMW’s direction with its new i3 and i8 electric cars.

The Audi A3 e-tron that will be released in 2014 will not be a full electric car like the Nissan Leaf, but a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt.

Audi A3 e-tron

What’s it Got Under the Hood?
The A3 e-tron is powered by a electric motor with 134 horsepower and 199 lb-ft. of torque and a 26kw lithium-ion battery. According to Audi it has a range of approximately 90 miles and a top speed of 90 mph. Jeff Curry revealed that the electric motor is actually lighter than the A3’s gas and diesel engines, but the battery adds about 500 pounds to the overall weight of the A3 e-tron. But either way, the A3 e-tron should have a better weight-balance, since the extra weight has been added to the rear of the electric car. The best thing is that even with its different powertrain and large lithium-ion battery, the A3 e-tron still has the same interior and cargo space as the other A3 models.

Audi A3 e-tron

How Does it Drive?
Unfortunately our drive only consisted of a few miles through the insane traffic in Manhattan, but the good news is that the A3 e-tron drives pretty much the same as the other A3, just a bit slower. Slamming the pedal to the floor yielded about the same response as a standard compact car, but it definitely was not quite as fun or powerful as the turbocharged A3. Audi estimates that the A3 e-tron can reach 0-60 mph in about 11 seconds. Since the A3 e-tron has an electric motor, the normal engine sounds that we are accustomed to aren’t there (Audi is reportedly working on an artificial sound for its electric cars).

On the interior the only other big change is that the standard tachometer has been swapped out for a new gauge that shows you how much battery power you are using. The A3 e-tron also allows gives the driver the ability to adjust the amount of regenerative braking, which can be selected with the steering wheel mounted paddles. Drivers can also select between efficiency and dynamic modes, although we didn’t notice that much difference between the two.

Audi has already announced the specs for the A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid, which will be powered by a 1.4L four-cylinder engine with 211 horsepower, that will be mated to a 20 kW electric motor. The plug-in hybrid A3 will have an electric range of approximately 31 miles.

Audi A3 e-tron

Would We Buy One?
The A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid will be a great competitor to other plug-in hybrid models like the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius. What the A3 e-tron brings that those two models don’t, is a higher level of luxury and the clout that comes with the Audi badge. Jeff Curry did not give any pricing details, but he did reveal that it will be priced at the higher end of the A3 lineup. So you can expect it to start in the high-$30k range. Audi has not decided if the plug-in hybrid e-tron powertrain will be available in the upcoming A3 sedan.