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Audi A3 e-tron: First Ride

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author photo by Nick Chambers June 2011

After launching the e-tron brand a couple of years ago with the R8 e-tron supercar, Audi has produced a steady stream of electric prototypes in an increasing number of categories. The company's latest electrified venture is an all-electric version of the A3, which was available to media for test rides during the 2011 Michelin Challenge Bibendum in Berlin, Germany.

Although the A3 e-tron is technically a prototype, extended interaction with it suggested a vehicle that was nearly ready for production. Audi's Mike Bochman, who was on hand at the Bibendum, explained to AutoTrader that the company's current plans call for producing the smaller plug-in hybrid A1 e-tron for a European market beginning in 2012. The A3 e-tron – based on an updated version of the A3 set to arrive in 2013 – will go on sale sometime in 2015 or 2016.

According to company spokesman and prototype driver, Rob Kunst, Audi's goal with the A3 e-tron was to build a car that was entirely indistinguishable from a conventional A3 except for the electric drivetrain. In this respect the A3 e-tron is a resounding success. Featuring the same high-quality interior, smooth ride and excellent handling Audi is known for, the A3 e-tron was not your run of the mill prototype.

With 26.5 kilowatt hours of available electrical capacity, the A3 e-tron can travel between 100 and 125 miles on a full battery. The prototype has one motor mounted up front that is connected to the wheels through a three-speed transmission. Most electric vehicles have only one speed, but according to Kunst, the addition of three speeds allows for more efficient driving and better acceleration. Indeed, acceleration in the A3 e-tron was smooth and fast, and the gear changes were imperceptible.

Like the prototype electric Golf unveiled last year by Audi's parent company Volkswagen, the A3 e-tron features on the fly regenerative braking level selection – something that no other manufacturer has yet adopted. Regenerative braking turns what would normally be wasted energy during braking into electrons to recharge the battery. The selectable feature on the A3 e-tron prototype allows a driver to tailor the driving experience to their style by setting the regenerative braking at four different levels from strong to light.

Given that the launch of any A3 e-tron is at least four years away, Audi representatives were unable to say exactly where the vehicle would be sold, only committing to the European market at the Michelin Challenge Bibendum. However, representatives at the event strongly hinted that there was no reason why the vehicle shouldn't reach the US, as well.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Audi A3 e-tron: First Ride - Autotrader