We were impressed by our first drive of the U.S.-spec 2016 Audi A3 e-Tron Sportback, enough so that it's the first of five nominees for our Green Car Reports 2016 Best Car To Buy award.

The compact hatchback is powered by a 150-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine combined with a 76-kilowatt (102-hp) liquid-cooled electric motor, sandwiched between the engine and a six-speed dual-clutch transmission.

It's not one of Audi's quattro models--it drives the front wheels only--but the package is both every bit an Audi and a decent first effort at a plug-in hybrid from a brand whose efforts at conventional hybrids have been minimal at best.

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Audi has high hopes for its A3 e-tron, and it could use a new advanced-technology halo car now that its TDI diesel vehicles have been pulled off sale until the various aspects of the sprawling VW diesel emission scandal are solved.

The company says it hopes to sell 200 or more of its first plug-in hybrid each month once sales are up and running.

2016 Audi A3 e-Tron Sportback, San Francisco Bay Area, Oct 2015

2016 Audi A3 e-Tron Sportback, San Francisco Bay Area, Oct 2015

And, Audi stresses that it's a 50-state vehicle,with 271 of Audi's 278 U.S. dealers already committed to sell the car, install the special equipment, and train mechanics and staff to handle it.

Laudably, Audi is the first volume carmaker whose portable charging cord includes interchangeable 120-Volt and 240-Volt cords, offering a single unit that can handle any kind of electricity aside from DC quick charging (which isn't offered).

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On the road, the A3 is pretty much what it looks like: a nice, competent European compact hatchback that's enjoyable to drive.

In most cases it would move away from a stop in electric mode, and an accelerator detent helped that process. We still get startled when a car in all-electric mode shifts gears, but the A3 e-tron is hardly the only car to do so.

2016 Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid

2016 Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid

Noise suppression is quite good, with whine only audible under full acceleration. Otherwise, the engine whirs remotely far up ahead when it switches on--and that process was only perceptible in the background

Our single quibble with the A3 e-tron is its limited electric range, which the EPA rates at 16 miles.

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That's now at the low end of ranges for plug-in hybrids, and with the 2016 Chevrolet Volt rated at 53 miles, we think Audi might have more of a guaranteed sale at double that number.

The 2016 Audi A3 e-tron Sportback starts at $38,825; that prices includes the mandatory fee of $925 for delivery.

It qualifies for a Federal income-tax credit of about $4,000 (the exact amount will be determined soon) along with a California purchase rebate of $1,500 and various other state and local incentives.


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