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Steering, suspension and ride comfort

We’ve come to expect a meticulous, civilised drive from the MQB-based A3 – understated to the point of cheerlessness, perhaps, but well aimed and rounded enough to satisfy most of the people most of the time.

The e-tron, in the main, continues this short streak. It is exceptionally refined, decently comfortable and undemanding in a way that makes its amiable electric passage decidedly effortless.

The A3 e-tron's dynamics are marred by its added mass

Unlike its powertrain, though, this character can’t be tampered with significantly. Delve into the Drive Select menu and only the apathetic steering’s weighting can be adjusted.

Adaptive dampers weren’t an option in the past; instead, the 2016 facelift ensured it now fitted as standard. This they do with a heavy-set soft flex, responding compliantly to intrusions, albeit with a dullness that never entirely lets you forget the extra mass. 

In an effort to make a positive out of its onerous battery pack and relocated petrol tank, Audi points out that the e-tron’s weight distribution is a better-balanced 55 per cent front, 45 per cent rear, compared with a regular A3’s 60/40 front/rear split. Certainly, this does the Sportback’s dynamic equilibrium no harm, but it’s nonsense to argue that 400kg of mass is a boon to the handling.

The chassis copes manfully with medium effort, but push any harder and the chinks in the steering, brakes and suspension are clear. Where the standard A3 is grippy, failsafe and generally precise, its corpulent hybrid half-brother ties itself in ungainly knots when deliberately pushed hard.

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The problems start before a corner. The e-tron’s S-tronic ’box is far less snappy with its downshifts than Audi’s conventional dual-clutch units, and the car is less able to offer consistency through a brake pedal desensitised by regeneration. Despite the better neutrality offered by the rebalanced chassis, the e-tron would still prefer its turn-in speed to be well judged.

Anything less and you’ll be tempted to chivvy it along with the throttle, but doing so, on the standard 17-inch wheels, will almost certainly have you going straight on as the standard A3 front axle sags at the effort of dealing with considerably more torque than it’s used to.

Its efforts aren’t aided by pitch and lean being generated the moment the e-tron’s absorbent suspension is put under duress. A failure to properly incentivise any deeper prod of the e-tron’s potential isn’t necessarily any more damning than the inconsistency at full throttle, but it does consign the car to the usual hybrid caveat of satisfactory, not fun.