Skip to main content

First Drive: 2015 Audi A3 sportback e-tron

The beautiful interior and exterior design of the A3 Sportback e-tron coupled with its ingenious plug-in hybrid powertrain make it one of the most efficient and livable electrified vehicles on the planet.

There are two things I dislike about my job: enduring clunky hybrid drivetrains and driving in Los Angeles.

When Audi asked me to drive its all-new A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid at the 2013 LA Auto Show, it saddled me with both.

Even though I love Audi – and the new A3 – I paused a moment before I agreed. “Do I really want to drive the e-tron that bad?” I wondered to myself. Eventually, I conceded I was in fact that eager to drive the e-tron and I agreed to a time and date for the drive.

First drive video


Let’s get something straight. Although I am a big fan of vehicle electrification, I’ve not always been sold on the idea of plug-in hybrids. I felt, like communism, plug-in hybrids worked best in theory.

Take the Prius Plug-in for example. It’s $5,500 more than the standard Prius but only goes 15 miles on the initial electric charge. Add that together with the gasoline/hybrid system onboard and the Prius Plug-in is only rated at 95 MPGe, which is not very good.

Step outside the relative inefficiency of the thing and the rest of the Prius Plug-in is a bit nightmarish. It’s not very usable inside, as none of its dimensions quite fit a real human body. It’s loud on the road and its drivetrain is jittery. If the Prius Plug-in is our example, you really pay at every level (sticker price, comfort, etc.) for the ability to plug your hybrid in at night.

Delightfully, there are at least a few alternatives to the dreary Prius Plug-in. The newest of which is the Audi A3 e-tron. And it, as I would discover on the mean streets of downtown LA, just might be the best plug-in hybrid to-date.

Behind the wheel

I met the Audi folks on the morning of my drive in their booth on the LA Auto Show floor. They offered me espresso, and when I declined, hurried me out to the car, which was waiting for me curbside.

They introduced me to my drive partner and Audi engineer, Jens van Eickels, and waved cheerful goodbyes, as to say, “OK please start driving now.”

2015 Audi A3 sportback e tron driver side
Image used with permission by copyright holder

I hastily punched the ignition button on the little, bright red e-tron and whizzed off into LA Auto Show traffic.

As I tried to pay attention to the cars surrounding me on the road and the driving directions, van Eickels began to explain to me the details of the e-tron and how it worked. He nervously glanced down as his cheat sheet and mumbled numbers at me.

Inner workings

The A3 Sportback e-tron is powered by a 1.4-liter TFSI four-cylinder gasoline engine that is mated to an electric motor, which is powered by an 8.8 kWh onboard lithium-ion battery pack located beneath the rear seats.

Working together to turn the front wheels through a six-speed e-S tronic transmission, the engine and motor together make a total of 204 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

The e-tron will jaunt up to 62 mph in 7.6 seconds. It’s most impressive acceleration numbers, however, are between 0-37 mph, which is achieved in only 4.9 seconds. From there, the little e-tron will reach a top speed of 137 mph.

2015 Audi A3 sportback e tron lef
Image used with permission by copyright holder

On the charge stored in the onboard battery, the e-tron can travel 31 miles. Utilizing both the onboard electricity and the fuel tank and it will go 584 miles. Recharging the onboard batteries only takes 3.75 hours on a standard wall socket. Hook it to a 240-volt and recharge time drops to around two hours.

This isn’t the only way to recharge the e-tron’s batteries, though. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

The most impressive number associated with the bubbly little Bavarian is its MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) number: 156.

Remember the Prius Plug-in’s 95 MPGe rating?

Interpersonal skills

After van Eickles had given me his little spiel, and read to me all the figures from his fact sheet, he nervously settled back into the driver’s seat and continued to give me fumble-y driving directions, as Los Angeles drivers ripped their cars around us from all directions, as if they wanted us dead.

I cracked a few jokes about LA drivers and van Eickles sat silently, looking straight ahead.

Not only is the e-tron interior outstanding on a plug-in hybrid standard, it’s exceptional on an entry-level luxury car scale as well.

This is what is tough about interacting with German engineers. They’re obsessively nerdy, just like American automotive engineers. Unlike their American counterparts, however, they’re incapable of small talk. Jokes go right over their heads and rather than feign amusement, they sit quietly with folded hands.

They absolutely mean well, but have this innate ability to suck the liveliness out of a room – or small, plug-in hybrid car.

This gave me a moment to enjoy the interior around me. I have to say, not only is the e-tron interior outstanding on a plug-in hybrid standard, it’s exceptional on an entry-level luxury car scale as well.

Fit and finish is outstanding. Nothing looks or feels cheap, unlike so many hybrid interiors. Everything is well placed and formed from the highest quality materials. Audi added a cool, flat-bottom sport steering wheel and white accent stitching to the black leather interior. And just as a nice little accent, light green surrounds the gauges in the instrument cluster.

While the interior is top-notch, it’s the drivetrain that had me bowled over. Until that point, I had not yet driven a plug-in hybrid that didn’t suffer from drivetrain restlessness. The switch between gasoline and electric proportion, or between positive torque (acceleration) and negative torque (regenerative braking), is always a bit lumpy. It’s never quite smooth. Just like with the rest of its products, Audi got it right.

I could hear the gasoline engine rev up but I never felt it kick to life. I could see on the LCD screen that slowly rose from the dashboard at ignition that energy was being created and routed back to the batteries as we slowed to a stop. But I never felt it; my neck never went ripping forward, as the electric motor spun backwards.

German magnetism

“Now, is there a way to charge the batteries while driving?” I asked.

“Ah yes. You can push this button here and it will activate charge mode, which charges the batteries as you drive down the road in less than 20 minutes” van Eickles in a thick German accent.

I never got to feel this mode with the seat of my pants, as we were driving in the city. But it, aside from the swift all-electric acceleration, energy efficiency, interior quality, and drivetrain smoothness of the A3, was my favorite feature of the e-tron.

A partial day behind the wheel of the e-tron didn’t give me a full representation of its cunning. While I fully expected to like the e-tron, I figured I’d see find flaws quite quickly, as I had in the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid. From my short glimpse into the e-tron, though, I can say that I haven’t found a flaw.


  • Powertrain efficiency and smoothness
  • Build quality
  • Interior design
  • Hatchback versatility


  • No panini press

Editors' Recommendations

Nick Jaynes
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Nick Jaynes is the Automotive Editor for Digital Trends. He developed a passion for writing about cars working his way…
Audi’s stylish E-Tron Sportback will teach its other EV new tricks
2020 audi e tron sportback electric car 2019 los angeles auto show

Audi will soon start delivering the fastback-like 2020 E-Tron Sportback it unveiled at the 2019 edition of the Los Angeles Auto Show. The company's second series-produced electric car will begin arriving in American showrooms during the summer of 2020. When it does, it will teach the E-Tron it's based on a couple of new tricks.

Pricing starts at $77,400 before a mandatory $995 destination charge (think of it as shipping and handling for cars) elbows its way into the equation. To add context, the E-Tron carries a base price of $74,800. Keep in mind eligible buyers can claim a one-time $7,500 tax credit from the federal government, and some motorists might have the option of requesting additional incentives from state and local officials. All in, the Sportback starts at about $70,000.

Read more
Here’s how Audi increased the electric E-Tron’s driving range
2019 audi e tron electric suv review first drive press 1

Audi isn't resting on its laurels. Less than a year after it released the E-Tron, its first series-produced electric car, Audi made a series of hardware and software changes to the model's powertrain that unlock additional driving range.

“Residual brake torque” is one of the enemies of driving range, the German company explained. The term refers to the drag created when brake pads are positioned very, very close to discs. Rather than pushing the pads out, which would increase the E-Tron's stopping distance, engineers redesigned the braking system to reduce residual brake torque.

Read more
2020 Audi E-Tron Sportback is all about style, but still has substance



Read more