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Test Drive: Audi A3 e-tron Prototype

A funny thought occurred to me while driving the Audi A3 e-tron experimental electric vehicle: It’s a lot like driving a regular old A3. In fact, if it weren’t for the Audi A3 e-tron badging all over it, you’d never know from the outside that there was anything different about this car.

Frankly, there’s not much on the inside to distinguish it, either. There’s a different instrument cluster that replaces the tachometer with a gauge displaying a percentage of power you are using, but the A3 e-tron’s interior is largely the same as its gasoline-powered counterpart. That, according to Jeff Curry, Audi of America’s director of e-mobility, is the point. Curry tells me that Audi’s clientele don’t want a car that looks and drives like an electric-powered box of wheat germ (I’m paraphrasing here); they want an Audi. That means a car with sporty handling, a luxurious interior (lots of leather; diffused, high-tech lighting; performance-oriented steering wheel and shifter), and a sleek, no-nonsense exterior (except for the decals, of course).

Open the hood, however, and everything’s different. Where there would normally be hoses, belts, fans, a radiator, and, oh yes, an internal combustion engine, there is what can only be described as a miracle of cable management—wires wrapped in bright orange braided sleeving, running from one neatly packaged box of electronics to another, terminating in an 85-kw electric motor that resembles a shiny steel drum. You can’t exactly see it in the, er, engine bay, but at the other end of that circuit of wires is the 660-pound 26.5-kwh battery pack that runs down the center column of the car. That’s where the rear driveshaft for the Quattro system would otherwise go (for now, the A3 e-tron is front-wheel drive). Those batteries make the e-tron heavier than a standard A3, but they also have the advantage of locating the weightiest part of the vehicle down low and dead center, rather than over the front axle as in a gasoline-powered car.

Read more: Test Drive: Audi A3 e-tron Prototype – Popular Mechanics
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