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A3 E-tron previews Audi electric car

Audi used the A3 wagon to test its electric power train, in what could be its first production electric car.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

Ever since 2009, Audi has been showing off enticing electric cars under the E-tron name, its brand for any electrified power train. I finally got to drive one during a green industry conference in San Francisco, but it was a far cry from the original sporty-looking E-tron concept. However, the A3 E-tron looks a lot more like a car that Audi would put into production.

Earlier this year I drove the Volkswagen eGolf, the electric version of the Golf, with which the A3 E-tron shares more than a few similarities. Both use a 26.5-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack and 85-kilowatt electric motor to drive the front wheels. With a single-speed reduction gearbox, that power train seems a lot simpler than the internal combustion engine that lives under a standard A3’s hood.

Audi A3 E-tron on the road (pictures)
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A bit more complexity comes from the battery cooling system, a dual liquid and air system needed to preserve the battery pack’s longevity. Audi also gives the driver five different brake regeneration modes, which the power management electronics have to implement.

With the A3 E-tron, Audi only promises 87 miles of range, a bit less than the 93-mile range VW gave me for the eGolf. The difference may have to do with the A3 being a heavier car, or that real-world testing of the power train showed a lower number.

Batteries rear and center
Next to an internal-combustion Audi A3, there is little difference on the surface. The A3 E-tron is still a premium wagon, albeit with manually adjustable driver’s seat. While the electric motor, gearbox, and other power train hardware sit under the hood, Audi put the lithium ion battery pack under the cargo area and in a T formation underneath the rear seat and up through the transmission tunnel. Splitting the battery packs in this fashion gives the A3 E-tron near 50-50 weight distribution, according to an Audi representative.

Shoving battery packs into the available spaces of a formerly internal-combustion engine-powered car is not the most elegant solution, but I understand the manufacturing efficiency versus building a low-volume, dedicated-electric car, where a flat battery pack in the chassis would make more sense.

Audi A3 e-tron

Part of the battery pack sits under the cargo area, seen here with an adapter cable for charging.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

When I turned the key of the A3 E-tron, a process which seemed quaint considering the car’s electric power train, the dashboard lit up and the climate control system began to blow air from the vents, letting me know the car was ready to go, absent the rumble of internal combustion. But when I put the shifter in drive (yes, it still has a shifter), the car sat still. In this prototype, Audi did not program in a creep function, so I had to push the accelerator to go.


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