2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron

Starting MSRP: $37,900 - $46,800

Estimated MPG: 35 city / 35 hwy

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron Review

Audi ventures into the plug-in hybrid world with the 2016 A3 Sportback e-tron. Using the popular Audi A3 as its base, this hatchback combines compact luxury with an electrified and performance-oriented drivetrain.

By Zac Estrada
Last Updated 04/18/2017

The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron is a plug-in hatchback and an all-new model for 2016. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine and an electric motor are standard, and teamed with a six-speed automated manual transmission and front-wheel drive. The A3 Sportback e-tron seats five and is offered in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige.

Exterior

Exterior
9

Those who think an electrified car should look substantially different than one with a traditional internal-combustion engine will be disappointed with the A3 Sportback e-tron. Aside from the fact it’s a hatchback, it looks like any other Audi A3 on the market now.

That said, the A3’s crisp lines and tidy details are certainly fashionable these days. The optional full LED headlights add to that look, while the charging port for the battery is cleverly hidden behind one of the Audi rings in the grille (another way the A3 e-tron conceals its EV status).

Models with the available Ultra Package can be equipped with wheels as small as 16 inches, which likely improve ride and efficiency, but look far too small on a car like this.

Interior

Interior
8

Like the outside, the A3 Sportback e-tron’s interior is all about the fine details. There are few buttons and knobs on the dash, as most functions are performed using Audi’s MMI system, with a large knob between the front seats directing a bright screen that rises from the dashboard. The system seems daunting at first, but you’ll soon figure out enough shortcuts to perform common tasks, such as adjusting the radio, easily.

The quality of all of the buttons and switches is very high, as befits an entry-level luxury vehicle. The doors close with the satisfying sound of a much larger vehicle.

Where the A3 loses points, however, is with space. Even after accounting for the fact the A3 is a compact car, there isn’t a lot of room when more than two people get in. Headroom is modest in the rear seats, and the sloping roofline also limits the space for tall items in the cargo area.

Performance

Performance
9

The 2016 A3 Sportback e-tron has a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that’s mated to an electric motor for a combined output of 204 horsepower. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed automated manual transmission are standard. The A3 e-tron provides ample power in hybrid mode, and useful thrust in EV-only mode.

Using a button on the dash, you can select how you’d like the A3 Sportback e-tron to operate. It can be configured to run on electric power only, as a hybrid, or using the gas engine to conserve the battery. A charge mode is also available, which uses the gas engine to charge the battery. In electric mode, the A3 e-tron was good for between 20 and 25 miles of electric-only range. It doesn’t sound like much range, but it’s surprisingly usable. From empty, charging the battery using the 110-volt charger included with the car takes seven-and-a-half hours, but only two-and-a-half from a Level 2 or public charger.

In hybrid mode, the transitions between gas and electric power are acceptably smooth, but the brakes are aggressive. The six-speed dual-clutch transmission knows how to tap into the power. It also makes a far more pleasant sound than the continuously variable transmissions found in other hybrid vehicles. The A3 e-tron feels perky to drive, rather than outright sporting, but it’s still a step up from most electrified cars.

The EPA rates the A3 e-tron at 35 mpg combined when driven as a hybrid, or 39 mpg combined with the Ultra package. In EV mode, the EPA says that the A3 Sportback e-tron can travel up to 16 miles on a fully charged battery and gets an estimated 83 mpg-equivalent when running solely on electric power.

Technology

Technology
8

The powertrain technology you use in the A3 e-tron is mostly satisfying, but the technology you actually see is also impressive. Observers will be impressed with the cool LED headlights that come on the midlevel Premium Plus model, as well as the Google Earth on the navigation screen with its Wi-Fi hot spot. These features also work very well in practice. The Technology package includes the navigation system and a touchpad to enter addresses, as well as a six-month trial to Audi Connect services that include the hot spot (rates vary once the six months are up).

Right now, however, the A3 e-tron doesn’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and relies on a proprietary cable (optional on base models) to charge a phone. A USB port isn’t here yet as it is in some other Volkswagen and Audi models.

Safety

Safety
8

The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron comes standard with a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, anti-lock brakes, stability control and a suite of air bags.

The Technology package includes blind spot monitoring, which is included with the top Prestige trim, along with driver assistance features like lane departure warning and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.

Cost-Effectiveness

Cost-Effectiveness
7

The A3 Sportback e-tron qualifies for a $4,158 federal tax rebate. It doesn’t get the full $7,500 because it can’t go as far on electric power alone as models like the Chevrolet Volt, for example. Some states may kick in more incentives – California offers $1,500 in tax credits if you don’t exceed certain income restrictions.

However, after tax credits the $46,100 A3 e-tron Premium Plus I tested is still a $40,000-plus vehicle, and A3 e-trons with features like adaptive cruise control and 18-inch wheels can eclipse $50,000. The interior isn’t much nicer than a less-expensive Volkswagen GTI and it lacks the usable space of a Mini Clubman. Additionally, a larger Audi A4 will probably lease for just a little more per month.

Ultimately, the A3 Sportback e-tron is still expensive for what you get, and you have to factor in the available EV incentives and your driving habits to see if it works for you.

Overall

Overall
8

The A3 is a pleasant package on its own, and the Sportback e-tron version only enhances its appeal. In many respects, it’s an ideal blend of normalcy in a car that many people may drive entirely in EV mode on daily commutes. Yet it looks and operates so slickly that tradeoffs in terms of handling and overall space will seem worth it.

If only it weren’t so expensive before discounts.