A6 L e-tron: One small step toward zero emissions

Audi A6 l e-tron front motionAudi likes to talk about building electric cars, but they are only one facet of its green strategy. The German company has shown a couple of concept cars, and is testing an electric A3 hatchback, all under the e-tron banner. In the meantime, Audi is showing the A6 L e-tron, a plug-in hybrid version of the A6 sedan, at the Beijing Motor Show. This hybrid was designed with Chinese customers in mind, but that doesn’t mean Americans will be left out.

As the name implies, the A6 L e-tron can charge its batteries with power from its internal combustion engine, or through an outlet or charging station. The car’s electric motor generates 95 horsepower and is powered by a liquid-cooled lithium ion battery pack. The bulk of the A6’s power comes from a 2.0-liter TFSI four-cylinder gasoline engine, which makes 211 hp. The A6’s electric motor can also work with the gasoline engine, giving the car a combined 306 hp.

Audi would not give a fuel economy estimate. It did say that the A6 L e-tron can travel up to 50 miles on electricity alone, but only at a maximum speed of 37 mph. In comparison, a Chevy Volt can only go 35 miles on pure electricity, and Ford says the 2013 Fusion Energi will go 21 miles. However, the Fusion will probably be able to go faster on electricity; the regular hybrid version can hit 62 mph on volts alone.

The plug-in A6 gets a few styling cues to differentiate it from less green models. The headlights, grille, and rear air diffuser reflect those on the e-tron Spyder concept, as do the 21-inch wheels. Since this car is supposed to appeal to Chinese buyers, it is a long wheelbase version (hence the “L” in the name). In China, rear legroom is a top priority for new car shoppers.

Since this is a Chinese-market A6 L, Audi made sure to add some amenities in the back. The rear seats are ventilated, and come with massagers. The back half of the cabin also has its own air conditioner with an ionizer. That’s classy, but it probably hurts the e-tron’s fuel economy.

Just like other hybrids, the A6 L e-tron lets the driver monitor the batteries’ charge, and what motor is actually powering the car at any given moment. Instead of a tachometer, this A6 has a “powermeter,” which measures the car’s power on a scale of zero to 100. It sounds like a mix between a Toyota Prius’ mpg readout and a Rolls-Royce’s “Power Reserve” gauge. There is also a gauge that displays the batteries’ level of charge.

The A6 L e-tron is technically a concept, although Audi did discuss selling a production version in China. With its long wheelbase and traffic-biased hybrid system, the A6 should be a good fit there. Overall, it seems like Audi is taking a shotgun approach to lowering emissions. First there was the series of all-electric e-tron cars, which will hit showrooms in the near future. Then there was the Europe-only A8 hybrid, and the A8 diesel that will take its place in Audi’s U.S. lineup. With all these different powertrains, it seems like Audi has its bases covered.