Audi readies a plug-in hybrid for America, and a way to time traffic lights
Audi’s motto, “Vorsprung durch Technik,” may not roll off the average American’s tongue, but those are some hallowed words in Audi’s hometown of Ingolstadt. In English, they mean “Truth in Engineering,” and at this year’s Audi Future Lab media program held at Berlin’s famous Templehof airfield, the facility that served West Berlin during the Berlin Airlift, Audi took the opportunity to show us some of the ways it is putting its money where its mantra is.
The rollout focused on four complete, nearly complete or stillborn cars that contained innovative electrification or alternative fueling features, including the sensational but stillborn R8 e-tron supercar (click here for a full report), the A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid, the A3 g-tron gas/CNG bi-fuel vehicle, and a prototype of its glorious, LeMans-winning R-18 e-tron quattro hybrid racecar. Audi also brought along the A1 e-tron, another electrified runabout that won’t see the light of day but which had a working version of Audi’s upcoming traffic light information system that will soon start appearing in other production Audi models.
The only car that is certain to make it to American shores is the A3 e-tron, a plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid that functions somewhat like the Chevrolet Volt but looks, well, like the sexy Audi hatchback it is. In fact, Audi was emphatic about how much the A3 e-tron, which is based on the upcoming, all-new 2014 A3 Sportback, does not look like other hybrid or electric cars (only the badges and the chrome-trimmed grille will set it apart from other A3s). Of course, this may be a good thing or a bad thing to eco-minded customers, as some like to blend in, while others brandish their Priuses like green badges of courage.
Due in 2014, the A3 e-tron has a large, 8.8-kWh battery pack, which Audi claims can supply enough juice for about 31 miles of electric driving before the 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine fires up to propel you another 400 miles or so (perhaps 500 if you drive like the European fuel economy testers do). The combined power and torque rating for the two motors is 204 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is very close to the 2013 Audi A3 2.0T four-cylinder’s output.
Functionally, what sets the A3 e-tron apart from the Volt is the way it allows the driver to decide which fuel source it will use and when. With sufficient battery reserves, the default driving mode prioritizes the electric motor, locking the gas motor out until it is summoned by flooring the throttle. The driver can, however, lock the gasoline motor out altogether and drive purely in EV mode, say, in municipal zones with zero-emissions driving mandates (we don’t have many such areas in the U.S., but could soon). Alternatively, the driver can select a mode that locks out the electric motor in case you are approaching one of the aforementioned zero-emissions zones and want to save your battery reserves for that. And the driver may also choose a mode that uses the engine power to aggressively charge the battery in the event that you are nearing such an area with a low battery.