8
Largely impressive plug-in hybrid set up with all the usual Audi design and build quality. Harsh ride spoils an otherwise smooth operator
20 December 2020

What is it?

No one could accuse Audi of scrimping on choice when it comes to the A3. Hatchback, saloon or cabriolet; petrol or diesel; plug-in hybrid with 201bhp or 242bhp; five trim levels; hot RS or warmed-over S… Save for a dog-friendly Avant in fuschia, there is literally something for everyone.

The most recent to launch is this 40 TFSIe Sportback and the clue as to how this is partly powered lies in the ‘e’: electricity. Yes, this is a plug-in hybrid and has a 1.4-litre petrol engine producing 148bhp and an electric motor adding an additional 107bhp and 243lb ft. All in, it’s good for 201bhp and 258lb ft, the latter from a usefully low 1550rpm. 

The 0-62mph sprint takes 7.6sec, so not quite up there with the Mercedes-Benz A250e, but then the Merc does have more muscle, at 258bhp. A truer Audi rival to the Stuttgart car will arrive next year in the form of the 45 TFSIe.

The Audi’s electric motor remains where it was on the last plug-in A3, integrated into the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox housing. Powering the front axle, either solely or in conjunction with the petrol engine, the electric motor on its own is good for an 87mph top speed and a range of up to 40 miles (our S line trim should manage 37 miles).

The 13kWh battery is located under the back seat, but don’t go thinking that means the boot floor is at a normal height. The fuel tank has been shoved back there, so the boot remains an adequate but not cavernous 280 litres. For reference, the regular diesel A3 has 380 litres, thanks to a fuel-tank-free boot - quite the difference.

Elsewhere inside, it’s the clichéd Audi design and build quality. There’s a touchscreen… obviously… but there is a physical button down by the stubby gearlever that lets you control volume, skip forward/back and mute. If I’m honest, I never used it. The steering wheel controls are far easier. Maybe the dashboard one is just for passengers. 

The heater is also controlled with buttons and the way they’ve crafted the screen, climate control buttons, vents and dials together is lovely. It’s a harmonious place to spend time and you can tell designers have obsessed over the little details. Even the door handles look crafted. 

What's it like?

The car starts automatically in electric mode. Although the claimed range is 37 miles, ours read only a theoretical 25 with a full battery. Maybe blame the time of year and the cold weather. However, in reality, we managed to eke out a couple of extra miles of electric only, so it wasn’t all bad news. 

Back to top

The electric motor is as you’d expect - smooth, full of torque and perfectly happy to live with other traffic up to the national speed limit. The regen braking is strong, but not so much that you can one-pedal this A3. You will need to touch the brakes. 

It’ll stay in EV mode under all but the hardest acceleration and, when the petrol engine is running, it does a really good job of filling in the torque gaps. This is not a slow car and feels faster than the 201bhp would suggest. 

When the battery does eventually run out, the petrol engine kicks in incredibly smoothly, to the point that you have to check whether the green EV dash light has gone out. So far, so good.

Here’s the but. The smoothness of that electric motor does throw up a few issues. The first one is road noise. The A3’s tyres aren’t massive (225/40 R18) but the chunter you hear as the car passes over the UK’s broken Tarmac is in stark contrast to the whisper-quiet motor. 

The same criticism can be levelled at the ride quality. It’s not uncomfortable, per se, but the suspension bobbles away over sharp bumps. And we all know how many of those we’ve got on UK roads. 

In isolation, none of these is a huge issue. But combined, and given how smooth the powertrain is, it leaves the car feeling a bit confused as to what it really wants to be.

Back to top

Should I buy one?

So much is right with this A3. The design of the interior is spot on (leaving aside any gripes around a touchscreen) and the quality is as good as ever. Quite how Audi keeps turning out interiors like this is beyond comprehension. 

The way the plug-in hybrid integrates with the petrol engine is largely flawless as well, adding a useful element to an already impressive line-up of A3s. If only the ride and road noise could be improved: they’re too harsh for what is otherwise a relaxing car.

Join the debate

Comments
10
Add a comment…
Justintime 7 January 2021

Had a look at the latest Audi A3 and Q5 in a dealership recently. Big drop in quality, scratchy plastics and bland design. I think because of previous high quality Audi interiors, some reviewers are blind to quality shortcomings now. A lot of reviewers think Mazda interiors are better than Audi's. They are certainly a lot  plusher and more interesting.

Bimfan 21 December 2020

I don't see anything better here than the much cheaper Seat Leon or larger Skoda Octavia versions of this PHEV apart from four ringed blindness.

Aerial 21 December 2020
i get that the bonnet ridges are a VAG group "thing" but must they add them to every single vehicle they produce?