Audi scrapped the A3's five-door format when the current generation of its entry-level car arrived last year. Now, it's reviving the sportback, but only with its e-tron plug-in hybrid drivetrain. Audi executives say the A3 e-tron will appeal to previous-generation A3 owners and those eyeing other plug-in hybrids, or upscale hatchback shoppers, with conquests expected to account for most sales. It's the first electrified Audi to arrive stateside and will pave the way for at least three other electrified vehicles by the end of the decade, giving its launch outsized importance.
- Powertrain: Plug-in hybrid combining a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder with 75 kW electric motor, delivering a total of 204 hp and 258 pounds-feet of torque to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission
- Technology: 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Google-powered voice search and smartphone app to set charge time, monitor charge status and see parking position
- Safety: Standard backup camera, optional lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control from 0 to 95 mph, automatic emergency braking
- Target: 5,000-plus sales per year
- Competitors: BMW i3, Cadillac ELR, Lexus CT, Chevrolet Volt
- Strengths: Smooth transitions from gasoline to battery power; four drive modes, including electric-only and battery-recharge modes; sporty yet comfortable suspension tuning; well-built interior
- Weaknesses: No awd, limited battery-only range, austere interior for price
- Bottom line: Audi's first plug-in hybrid is unexceptional in almost every way. It's not the most efficient plug-in hybrid, or the longest-range or the most affordable, which is fine. The A3 e-tron is a practical car with the suspension and interior refinement one expects from Audi. It also happens to be a plug-in. If Audi intended the A3 e-tron to serve as a placeholder while it readies larger-volume electrified vehicles, then it fits the bill.