2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron: A Plug-in Hybrid with a German Twist [Review]

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron (not factory color)

The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron has arrived just in the nick of time. With the diesel emissions scandal still looming overhead, Audi finally has an electric car that will hopefully convince more eco-conscious buyers to stay with the brand.

Although Audi has already featured several models with a hybrid powertrain, the A3 e-tron is the first EV to wear an Audi badge that can also be recharged by plugging in. The electric-only range is rather short at just 16-17 miles, but Audi managed to squeeze the battery and other hardware into the A3 without sacrificing any interior room or other functionality.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron

Like most hybrids, the A3 e-tron uses both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, although this powertrain doesn’t sacrifice performance to the degree that most hybrids do. The gas engine is a 1.4 L turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes a healthy 150 horsepower and 184 lb-ft torque, which is paired with a 75-kilowatt electric motor that is sandwiched between the ICE and an S-Tronic 6-speed dual clutch transmission.

By itself, the electric motor makes 102 horsepower and 243 lb-ft torque, which is enough to move the car quite briskly. Combine the gas and electric motors, and total power output jumps to 204 horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque — the result is a surprisingly satisfying amount of acceleration. Put your right foot to the floor and the A3 e-tron will easily squeal its front tires, as well as leave most other hybrids in the dust.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron

To help maximize both performance and efficiency, there are four drive modes: EV, Hybrid, Hold Battery, and Charge Battery. In EV mode, the A3 e-tron relies on the electric motor until the 8.8 kilowatt-hour battery is depleted. In Hybrid mode, the computer handles the task of blending gas and electric propulsion for best efficiency. Hold Battery prioritizes the gas engine while keeping the battery at its current state of charge, and Charge Battery uses the gas engine as a generator to recharge the battery.

Altogether it all works quite well, although the system could still use some fine-tuning. The accelerator is strangely non-linear, in that it takes quite a bit of pedal travel for things to get going, but then past a certain point, it comes on quite strong. This is less of an issue in EV mode, but when the engine and electric motor are asked to work together it seems rather unrefined.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron interior

Out on the road, the A3 e-tron is definitely more fun to drive than most hybrids. The car takes advantage of the excellent chassis it shares with the regular A3 and VW Golf, but the extra weight of the hybrid powertrain robs the car of the more playful, nimble attitude of its siblings. The A3 e-tron also offers Audi’s Drive Select feature, although it only seems to govern steering feel, which firms up a bit in Dynamic mode.

The Sportback design, which for now is unique to the A3 e-tron, makes for an athletic appearance while also offering some additional practicality. Unfortunately, the interior is quite compact, especially for rear seat passengers, and cargo space is also less than ample. Interior quality is up to Audi’s high standards, for the most part, but there are a few glaring ergonomic issues. There is a rather large hunk of hard plastic right where you would typically lean your right leg while driving; for any extended drive, this literally becomes a big pain in the leg.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron

The A3 Sportback e-tron starts at $38,825, which is quite reasonable given the level of technology, although the price easily goes up if you start selecting options. A well-equipped A3 e-tron starts to approach $50k very quickly, which is a bit steep for a compact car, even given the high-tech powertrain. The new Chevy Volt has almost three times the electric range and costs thousands less.

  • Lease itOn the TFLcar scale of:
  • Buy it!
  • Lease it!
  • Rent it!
  • … or Forget it!

Although the A3 e-tron is a solid product, the limited electric range, lack of powertrain refinement, and relatively high cost means we can only give it a ‘Lease it!‘ recommendation. Hopefully, with some tweaking to the powertrain, the A3 e-tron will become a more competitive product, and help propel Audi forward on the path to creating truly compelling alternative fuel vehicles.

Find out what makes this 2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron unique in this TFLcar ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know’ video.

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron Specs:

Base price $37,900
Price as tested $42,925
Powertrain 1.4L direct-injection turbocharged gasoline four cylinder, 75kW electric motor
Engine 1.4-liter, DOHC, 16-valve TFSI – turbocharged four-cylinder with Direct Injection
Power 150 @ 5,000-6,000 rpm
Torque 184 @ 1,600-3,500 rpm
Electric system power Permanent magnet electric motor – 8.8-kWh, liquid-cooled Lithium-ion
Power 102 bhp (75 kW)
Torque 243 lb-ft (330 Nm)
Transmission 6-speed S-tronic
Drivetrain layout Transversely mounted front engine / front-wheel drive (FWD)
Total system output 204 hp, 258 lb-ft torque
Curb weight 3,616 lbs
Acceleration 0-60 mph 7.6 sec (manufacturer estimate)
Battery electric range 16 miles
Manufacturer estimated fuel economy (city/hwy/combined mpg) 33/37/35
Manufacturer estimated ultra MPGe (combined city/highway) 83 MPGe
Combined range (gas-electric) Approximately 400 miles
Recharge time (L2 – 220V) 2.25 hours