New car report; Two cars in one
The hybrid is evolving, with the new generation of plug-in models having the ability to separate electric and petrol modes for real world driving styles now offering plenty of torque and usability when in zero emission EV (Electric Vehicle) mode, while having the flexibility and range to go wherever you want, whenever you want when the petrol engine kicks in. It's like having two cars in one.
Conventional hybrids don’t have the ability to drive in electric mode with any real gusto, and when they are used in EV mode, speed, acceleration and range are severely compromised, meaning the petrol engine fires up at the smallest of throttle openings. Hence, the abundance of slow-moving hybrid taxis in our inner city environments; their drivers gingerly crawling away from the lights trying to prevent the Atkinson cycle petrol engine from firing up and burning precious, costly fuel.
Pedal to the metal ability without burning a drop
With the plug-in jobs, the electric motor can be used with all the enthusiasm you like, with the Audi A3 e-tron having a theoretical range of up to 50km without burning a drop of fossil fuel or emitting any C02, although in real world conditions and with real world drivers, probably 30km to 35km is nearer the mark.
Nevertheless, for most motorists this is more than adequate range for the daily commute to and from work without burning any fuel, plugging into the wall socket at night when power is at its cheapest rate, while weekend trips away are still able to be completed with ease, as with any petrol-powered car.
So until we get pure EVs with a longer range than the present limitation of around 100 to 150 or so kilometres, the plug-in hybrid offers a good workable solution, if still a bit of a compromise.
Audi’s A3 e-tron which we recently had the opportunity to drive from Auckland to Taupo and back is one such offering. Regardless of the setting the driver chooses, whether it’s electric only; solely with the petrol engine or a combination of both, the e-tron is lively and nimble. With the battery pack being mounted low and rearward, the A3 e-tron feels well planted, arguably even more so than a conventional A3 Sportback, with the extra 300kg of battery weight firmly anchoring the compact hatchback to the road, resulting in impressive handling.
With a 0-100km/h time of 7.6 seconds it’s no slouch, being powered by a modified version of the 1.4 litre TFSI petrol powerplant, developing 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque, in conjunction with a 75kW/330 Nm electric engine. The electric motor is integrated into the re-designed 6 speed e-S tronic transmission.
With peak torque produced by the electric motor from zero to 2,000rpm, it’s no wonder it has decent get-up-and-go off the line.
More Audi e-trons coming
While the A3 Sportback e-tron, due for New Zealand launch early in 2015 will be the first Audi we’ll see with this technology, e-tron is a brand in itself and other Audi e-tron models will follow. We’re told a Q7 e-tron is likely to be next off the blocks.
The liquid cooled 8.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack is located in a crash-protected aluminium encased housing in the floor, beneath the rear seat. It consists of eight modules with a total of 96 individual cells which can be separately diagnosed and changed if the need arises. An eight year, 160,000km warranty applies to the battery.
Charging can be completed in under 4 hours using a conventional 10A home wall socket, although the preference is to have a 16A socket installed which reduces charging time to 2 hours 15mins. The charge cable also comes with a plug commonly used for caravan power connections, so should you go camping it can be connected at the campsite.
It’s estimated that a full charge will cost between $1.00 and $1.40 at current rates, with New Zealand’s predominantly clean, green geothermal, hydro and wind power generation adding environmental benefit justification to the cost-saving argument.
To give us some insight into New Zealand’s power generation, which rates as one of the most sustainable in the world, our drive programme took in visits to New Zealand’s newest and most hi-tech geothermal power station, Ngatamariki, which is located 17km north of Taupo and the Karapiro hydro station.
In contrast to Australia’s 10% renewable resource power generation, on this side of the Tasman 80% of our power comes from renewable resource, with a target of 90% by 2025.
With electric cars, hybrids and plug-in hybrids gaining in consumer acceptance, the A3 e-tron seems to be the right product at the right time. Being based on a conventional A3 Sportback, there’s nothing weird looking about it, so while some competitors’ products may be a bridge too far for the mainstream consumer at present, this could be the stepping stone that crosses the divide between “normal” cars and environmentally-friendly cars for the future.
Audi New Zealand General Manager Dean Sheed says he expects to have cars in New Zealand showrooms early in 2015, with an estimated retail sticker of $74,990.