Audi rolls out new hybrid e-tron range
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New Zealand has claimed a position near the (yes, pun intended) front of the grid as Audi rolls out the electrification of its car line-up under the e-tron brand.
Very close to 80 per cent of New Zealand's electricity is generated using renewable sources.
The statistic piqued enough interest from Germany to secure the early presence of four Ingolstadt-registered, left-hand-drive A3 e-trons for training and promotions work - well ahead of a February 2015 on-sale date.
It means an early starting position for New Zealand in the global e-tron launch programme - certainly ahead of largely coal-dependent Australia launching the car.
Audi allowed journalists a 600km drive in the A3 e-tron to showcase not only the technology and driving experience, but the generation facilities which allows e-tron partner Mighty River Power to generate 98 per cent of its electricity output from renewable sources at nine hydro and five geothermal plants.
So what exactly is an Audi A3 e-tron?
Ignore the signwriting on these cars and from the outside there are only detail styling changes to differentiate the A3 e-tron from a conventional TFSI petrol or TDI diesel-powered A3 Sportback five-door hatch.
Under the bonnet the 1.4-litre TFSI petrol engine producing 110kW and 250Nm gets shifted across slightly and is partnered by a parallel hybrid electric motor with 75kW and 330Nm outputs.
Plug-in capability allows mains charging of the 8.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack and Audi talks of an electric driving range of up to 50km.
Fully charging the A3 e-tron - the four-ring badge in the grille pivots outwards to reveal the plug - from a standard three-pin, 10-amp wall socket takes an estimated 3 hours 45 minutes. Audi recommends the installation of a 16-amp supply - similar to a spa pool or caravan plug - which speeds up charging to 2 hours 15 minutes.
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The battery pack weighs 125kg and has a 160,000km/eight-year warranty. It has 96 individual cells with sophisticated cooling and control systems and in the event of a technical issue the cells can be replaced individually.
In terms of performance the A3 e-tron responds like you'd expect of a front-drive hatchback boasting a maximum combined output rated at 150kW and an impressive 350Nm of torque. It uses a modified version of the six-speed dual clutch S-tronic transmission and has 0-100 km/h acceleration in a brisk 7.6 seconds.
The A3 e-tron accelerates strongly and the immediate 330Nm electric motor torque delivery from standstill gives it impressive response. The top speed in electric mode is 130 km/h and 222 km/h in hybrid mode.
Audi's launch event differed from other electric and hybrid vehicle events I'd been involved with - which have offered a drive in tightly controlled surroundings.
The launch drive was an Auckland-Taupo return run, the logic for the destination being to view the year-old Ngatamariki geothermal power station near Taupo and a visit to Lake Karapiro.
A key part of the e-tron strategy is a partnership with Mighty River Power and retailer Mercury Energy to make sure all the power used to charge the e-tron can be generated from its renewable sources.
There will be a 30 per cent discount offered for off-peak (11pm-7am) overnight charging which means a full charge will cost about $1 (including GST). A smart meter will provide a separate record of electric motoring costs.
So what about the driving reality?
There's very quiet running in electric mode and easy to read info displays to keep track of energy use and the four driving modes.
You can select from electric mode, hybrid auto mode which includes recuperative charging, a charge mode - which recharges the battery using the engine while driving - and hold mode which lets the e-tron run on petrol and save its battery charge for later in the journey.
I began a morning run from Taupo with a fully charged battery and our route used a significant proportion of open highway running - climbing in altitude - to reach the Ngatamariki power station.
Using the Hybrid Auto mode the petrol engine started up just short of 36km. On a city commute without the long gradients and not as much 100 km/h open-road running that distance should increase a little.
Along with the dollar-a-day appeal, also high on the list of the e-tron benefits is the avoidance of so-called "range anxiety" - being stranded at the roadside because a dedicated electric car has flat batteries.
When some unexpected extra driving is added to a daily sub-50km routine you can still travel as far as a 40-litre tank of fuel will take you.
The evidence from last week's media drive indicates a highway fuel consumption figure over a 300km journey of about 5.0 litres per 100km is realistic (including a full battery discharge). Conventional A3 Sportbacks are rated at 5.0L/100km for the 1.4 TFSI models, 4.5L/100km for the 2.0 TDI and 5.6L/100km for the 1.8 TFSI.
So e-tron's benefit is greatest to drivers who do a lot of short journeys.
If longer and mainly open-road journeys are the common use then petrol or diesel remains a more effective A3 solution.
There is an element of "beating the system" at work as well. Any driving in EV mode means avoiding the road-user charges associated with a diesel car and which are loaded into petrol prices.
So are there any serious compromises? The e-tron is about 300kg heavier than the lightest 1.4 TFSI A3 Sportback and you also lose about a quarter of the load space (a 100 litre reduction to 280 litres) because the battery and fuel tank locations are configured differently.
And the price? Audi New Zealand is indicating a $74,990 pricetag for the A3 e-tron ahead of the early 2015 launch.
The conventional A3 Sportback models of similar performance are the 2.0 TDI and 1.8 TFSI models, both priced at $55,900. But the A3 e-tron specification includes many features from the $3500 S-Line package and also the $3500 Technology Pack which are optional on an A3 Sportback.
That means the spec level includes 17-inch alloy wheels, Xenon headlights, front and rear park aid, reversing camera, 5.8-inch colour MMI display, dual zone air conditioning, sports seat, sports steering wheel with paddle shift.
Initial sales volumes are difficult to pinpoint but it's fair to say Audi has looked at the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV numbers as a gauge and figured 80 vehicles next year is a realistic target.