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Audi’s first plug-in hybrid is a pleasure to drive

California’s Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), is a scenic and spectacular road, extending more than 1,000 winding kilometres along most of California’s breathtaking coastline. Clearly, a convertible is the ideal ride for this backdrop.

But beggars can’t be choosers. My ride isn’t a roadster, it’s a hatchback. However, it does fit with California’s green philosophy, where gas-electric hybrid technology is gaining popularity as a means to improving the environment while reducing dependency on oil. And Audi has jumped firmly aboard that bandwagon with its first plug-in hybrid: the 2015 A3 e-tron.
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The A3 e-tron is a five-door hatchback with a 75-kilowatt electric motor coupled with a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine delivering a combined output of 204 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. An 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack is stored under the rear seat, but it doesn’t eat up valuable passenger or cargo space. There’s ample head- and legroom for rear-seat passengers who are six feet or taller. The hatchback design translates into excellent cargo space, too – 280 litres, which is more than enough for grocery and shopping bags.

Mated to the engine is a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, which is smooth and quiet – unlike the traditional continuously variable transmission often found in hybrids. This one is a refreshing change and a pleasure to drive.

Our route covers a portion of the PCH along Malibu Beach where I secretly wonder which house is used to tape the sitcom Two and a Half Men. Then it heads inland along twisty Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica Mountains. Travelling uphill, the A3 e-tron doesn’t struggle or feel strained. It’s agile and nimble – unlike like the typically boring granddaddy of hybrids, the Prius.
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