2016 Audi A3 e-tron: First Drive Page 4

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In Drive, you can pull the left paddle-shifter once, to add more regenerative braking (the process also typically conjures a downshift from the DSG gearbox, so they’re almost one in the same). It times out after ten seconds. Or you can select ‘S’ to keep the gasoline engine on and simultaneously order up more brake regen.

Inside, the e-tron has all the hatchback goodness you’d expect to find. Backseat space is good enough for a couple of adults in the outboard positions (it’s too narrow to fit three adults across); but headroom is just fine and legroom is adequate as long as those in front don’t have the seats pushed back all the way.

Separately, Audi Drive Select lets you toggle between Auto, Comfort, and Dynamic modes for the steering boost and throttle tip-in. Magnetic suspension isn’t currently available, but it’ll likely be offered in the future. And farther in the future, Audi is working on an all-wheel-drive system—with rear wheels electrically driven, as in this past year’s TT concept. That should help take care of the portion of the U.S. market that wants a far tighter footprint yet all-wheel drive.

Front-wheel-drive, but AWD e-tron in the works?

When Audi launches the A3 TDI next summer, it’s also once again planning to have it be front-wheel-drive-only for the U.S. The e-tron should arrive in late spring or summer of next year, with the Sportback TDI models also arriving next summer. They’ll both likely enter the market as 2016 models.

How does that position the A3 e-tron in the market? Admittedly, it’s quite the about-face from the all-electric e-tron prototype we drove a couple of years ago. But compared to the Chevrolet Volt and the Cadillac ELR, or Ford’s Energi plug-in hybrids, it’s by far a more engaging, direct, communicative driving experience. It doesn’t feel like you’re driving ‘by wire,’ via a complex set of electronic controls and wizardry. While in truth the e-tron might have plenty of that, it does feel first and foremost like a relatively quick, sporty hatchback.

And if it convinces those who might not have considered a plug-in to go for it, that’s mission accomplished.


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