Audi's A3 e-tron, its first plug-in model for the US, is poised to hit dealers this October.
Chris PaukertFormer executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015.
Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
On the heels of Wednesday's global S8 Plus super sedan announcement, Audi has confirmed US pricing and availability for an important new model at the other end of its portfolio.
The 2016 Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid arrives in dealerships this October, and it will be the German automaker's first electrified car sold in America. Starting at $37,900 before incentives and government tax credits, the e-tron joins Audi's burgeoning A3 small car lineup, which consists of the A3 sedan , A3 Cabriolet , and S3 sport sedan. For the moment at least, the A3 e-tron will be the only Sportback (Audi-speak for "hatchback") model sold stateside.
The compact five-door marries the Volkswagen Group's well-regarded 1.4-liter TFSI four-cylinder engine with an electric motor to realize 204 horsepower and a healthy 258 pound-feet of torque. The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV, puts its power to the ground through the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. Audi's signature Quattro all-wheel drive is not available.
Audi says charging the 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery sandwiched under the rear seat will take around eight hours using a conventional 120-volt household outlet, but an optional Bosch 240-volt home charger can lower charge times to about 2.25 hours. EPA fuel economy estimates have not yet been released, but Audi says the car will deliver "an expected electric range of between 16 and 19 miles (final technical adjustments are being tested and implemented) from a fully charged battery," which is substantially less than a PHEV like the current Chevrolet Volt (much less the forthcoming one ).
Audi has been showing electrified concept vehicles under the e-tron banner since 2009, and green car fans have been waiting patiently for the automaker's alt-fuel initiative to bear production fruit. But the A3 e-tron enters the market at a difficult time for electric vehicles. Low gas prices and a glut of conventionally powered new crossovers and light truck models have been fueling strong post-recession vehicle sales, but electric cars and hybrid transactions haven't kept up. Car companies continue to roll out new plug-in models knowing they need to sell them in order to meet tough future fuel economy mandates, but sales of electrified vehicles last month were down across the board with few exceptions.
Fortunately for Audi, those exceptions seem to be happening at the premium end of the plug-in market, where the A3 e-tron will reside. Sales of the Tesla Model S, BMW i3 and Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric (the latter two of which figure to be key e-tron rivals) were up in July.
While the base A3 e-tron Premium is nicely equipped with Xenon headlamps, rearview camera and dual-zone climate control from $37,900, pricing can escalate in a hurry. The mid-range Plus model lists for $42,000, adding features like LED headlamps, heated seats and iPod integration. The top-shelf Prestige trim builds on the Plus model and incorporates such niceties as Audi's MMI infotainment interface, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system and active lane-keep assist. It commands $46,800 before extras (all models are also subject to a $925 delivery fee), and fully optioned, a Prestige model can nuzzle up against $50,000.
The A3 e-tron is now available for order in the UK from £35,340 on the road. Australian pricing is not yet available, but the standard gas A3 is priced from $40,536 on the road.
Company officials have not said how many A3 e-trons they hope to move in the US, but even with good looks, smart packaging and an efficient powertrain, it's likely to be tough sledding sales-wise for US Audi dealers for the foreseeable future.