Audi's experiments with electric cars started out a long time ago, yet they remained only experiments. Now it seems that it's show time for Audi.

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The last thing that you might remember was the Audi R8 e-tron. It was interesting and, like A2, it felt years ahead of its time. But it was better in concept than execution. It is only now that a superior version of the electric R8 e-tron has hit the market, one which makes the hype into a reality, though it is only slightly more technologically advanced than the first version, less of a leap forward than you might expect.

But it's not that simple. Audi's development of the electric car started a long time ago. Much of what was developed for the R8 e-tron of the time was used in the racing R18 e-tron and its predecessors (and vice versa), which achieved the desired goal — winning the 24 hour-long race in Le Mans. The second goal was to offer an electric car on the market. As some technology and knowledge had already been accumulated, they decided to unite it in the R8. Now this new car has already been tested. But, as always, the problems arose with the final price. Audi knew how much the components and the development would approximately cost, yet it was expected that, during the years of development, progress would also be made in battery prices. But this was not the case. Batteries have long been the weakest link of electric cars, and their price has not gone down. Audi thus put everything on hold. Well, not completely, for the first buyers will be able to get one this year, after all, naturally with a lot more range than that of the prototype: the 462 horsepower R8 e-tron has a range of around 450 kilometers. But more about it in the following issues of this magazine, after we get some driving done.

While the electrical components in the cars still excelled, they were slowly picked up by other cars, and the electric story in the Volkswagen group today is diverse and varied, as can be seen throughout this issue. Porches and Volkswagens are available in electric models, and it's about time for electric production Audis, too.

The first real attempt is the A3 Sportback e-tron. The car was not born yesterday. Audi has been developing it for years. The first time we saw it, it seemed like science fiction: in the era of terribly-designed hybrids, the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron looked like a normal car. Inspiring. It was clear at the time that people would eventually start caring about what the car looked like, and not only whether it was electric, or at least a hybrid. Audi's development has foretold that someday there would be cars on the streets that look like normal cars, yet are green-powered.

It would be foolish of Audi to develop something completely new, and so we talk about the same technology that can be found in cars like Volkswagen's plug-in hybrids, Golf and Passat. In the latter, it is adjusted to a bigger car, whereas in the A3 Sportback e-tron, it corresponds to that of the Golf GTE. So, the turbocharged TSi, with 150 horsepower and a synchronous electric motor with 102 horsepower, are combined which, just as in the Golf GTE, ensures 150 kW or 240 horsepower system output. The lithium-ion batteries save 8,8 kilowatt hours of energy, and are recharged in two hours, when charged at the special socket (wallbox), and in a little more than three hours in a domestic outlet (220V). Charging can be time-lagged, and the car can, therefore, be charged when the electrical power is cheaper (at night). The performance is also similar. Top speed is the same, yet the A3 Sportback e-tron accelerates faster, to 100 km/h in 7.6 seconds, which is 0.4 seconds faster than the Golf GTE, probably due to the weight — Audi has been famous for its lightweight construction for years, and the A3 Sportback e-tron is 60 kilograms lighter than the Golf GTE.

Everything else is more or less the same. Under ideal conditions, temperature, speed and with electrical loads turned off (especially the air conditioner), the A3 Sportback e-tron has an all-electric range of 50 kilometers, and reaches up to 130 km/h. The reality, however, is quite different. All the factors count, including weather, temperature and moisture, as was obvious after our 100 kilometer-long norm lap, during which electrical consumption was monitored. The first time, 4.2 l/100 km were used up on average, and the conditions were wet and damp. The second measurement was carried out during dry and warm (but not hot) weather, and there was less consumption, 3.2 l/100 km, which is about the same as with the Golf GTE. When the battery was fully-charged, the consumption meter showed that there was enough electricity for 42 kilometers. The remaining 8 of the total estimated 50 are gained through regeneration of electrical energy while reducing speed.

The transmission is not continuously variable, as in most hybrids, but rather dual clutch, as it is in regular Volkswagen cars. When you take your foot off the gas pedal, the transmission sets the car into a "coasting" mode, which saves the battery and electricity. Audi's A3 Sportback e-tron offers an excellent point of entry into the world of mobility. With a few improvements, better batteries and a lower price, such cars will become available even to those who haven't thought about plugin-hybrid vehicles until now.

Drive PHEV Power 150kW 0-100km/h 7.6s Battery Li-Ion, 8.8 kWh Electric range 50km
Oct. 21, 2015 Driving photo: Saša Kapetanović

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