Audi A3 40 TFSi e (PHEV) Sportback Review

The new Audi A3 is the best-looking it's ever been, but does the plug-in hybrid appeal?

6d ago
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This is the Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e - let me translate that for you: it's the A3 hatchback with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine producing 150bhp,though that’s not it's only power unit. As the 'e' in the title signifies, this is a plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) which also packs an 85kW electric motor integrated into the six-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox producing 107bhp.

But through some alchemy the combined total is quoted as 204bhp and there's also 258lb ft of torque driving the front wheels. That's good for acceleration from rest to 62mph in 7.6 seconds and two quoted top speeds: 87mph in electric-only mode and 141mph overall.

It should be economical too, though the 280mpg quoted is a utopian dream - my experience suggests 45mpg in the real world. And CO2 emissions are quoted as 25g/km, though you won't achieve as low as that on this particular test car which, being the S Line, sports 18-inch alloy wheels instead of the regular 17s. Believe it or not that increases emissions to 29g/km (the EV range also reduces slightly from 40 miles) which impacts business use tax - though the smaller wheels are a no-cost downgrade option.

It would not be unreasonable to suggest this is a Volkswagen Golf PHEV in a posher suit and, I'd argue, a more charismatic one - with sharply tailored lapels up front and beefy shoulder pads stretching over the extended wheel arches. Possibly the best-looking design in the A3 lineage so far.

There was a PHEV offered in the previous generation A3, by comparison the new car has a bigger 13kWh lithium-ion battery, and that sees boot space compromised, losing a 100 litres of capacity compared to a petrol or diesel version's 380 litre capacity. Although it remains reasonably usable for a car of this size and during regular use you won't necessarily lament the missing litres.

Prices start from about £33k but as ever with German cars, that’s never what you’ll actually pay. The test car for example was just under £35k including delivery. Add in the Turbo Blue finish at £575, digital matrix headlights (£675) storage pack, ambient lighting and heated seats and you're up at £37k already.

Squeezing into the back, it's unsurprisingly a little tight for this tall tester, particularly with the front seat set at my driving position. It should be fine for four regular sized adults, especially thanks to scooped-out seatbacks for added knee room.

Up front there are no issues regarding space and you're greeted not just by a typically high-quality interior finish laid out with unfailing German logic, but also some signs of Italian flair as the dashboard takes a few styling cues from Lamborghini (owned by Audi). The two vent pods perched on either side of the instrument panel are meant to make you feel like a supercar driver.

That's a short-lived delusion though. You do sit relatively upright as befits a car of this type. And while the faired-in centre screen looks slick, the rest of the fascia and switchgear would be familiar to traditional Audi users.

Being a plug-in hybrid this Audi gives you a choice of motive methods: drive it as an EV (while the battery lasts), as a hybrid, or hold battery charge for when you need it (i.e. in urban and residential areas rather than on dual carriageways). This seems to be a clever idea, especially when combined with a Sat Nav that, once programmed with your destination, can work out by itself where and when best to deploy petrol and battery charge.

On the go, this car is plenty quick enough, whilst not exactly hot-hatch hot, over 200bhp is not inconsequential in a car of this size. Audi claims sharper steering and more responsive handling than the previous A3, largely due to a wider track and what is dubbed the ‘modular dynamic handling control system’ which is basically a computer that tries to anticipate the car’s movement according to steering input and then setup the damping accordingly.

Though this equates to good body control, it does not necessarily translate to the comfiest ride around. It’s not jarring or uncomfortable, but every now and then does take you by surprise particularly on well rutted city roads. Yet another reason then it would be prudent to opt for the smaller 17 inch wheels.

Aside from that, it’s a classy and comfy thing with good agility and size for city chores and enough maturity for distance drives, even if the hybrid system doesn’t entirely make it as economical as you’d think.

Returning again to the electrified aspect of the car, the greater cost of purchase, the complexity of working out which mode to drive it in and how and when to charge it, as well as a growing suspicion that the too-rigid ride has to do with the extra batteries and hybrid systems, takes the shine off the appeal of a PHEV.

The A3 in general though is another great offering from Audi now evolved to its most eye-catching stance yet. There should be no hesitation in recommending it in its regular flavour. The hybridisation is less convincing value however.

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