The Last Audi A3 Plug-in Hybrid Concept Before Production Starts
Electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid prototypes are not exactly new at Volkswagen. There have been so many of them over the years—at motor shows, demonstrations, and media events in many different countries. But the only place where nobody has seen a plug-in Volkswagen is at a VW dealership. That's about to change.
It can change now because the MQB platform has been launched. That was one of the biggest news stories last year. Car manufacturers have been sharing chassis and engines for years—the Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird may be the most famous example—but Volkswagen's going one step further with its MQB. The Modularer Querbaukasten (Modular Transversal Matrix) will allow Volkswagen to build the Golf (a compact) and the Passat (a sedan) out of the same parts, in the same factory. The modular platform is also incredibly accommodating when it comes to power and drive systems. It's now much easier, and less costly, to build electrics, hybrids or even natural gas versions with their big bulky tanks.
The VW Golf and the Audi A3 are both built on the MQB platform. A production version of an electric Golf has already been green-lighted—the e-Golf should appear later this year in Europe. And now here's a plug-in hybrid from Audi, with the same gas-electric plug-in technology eventually finding its way into a Volkswagen model. It carries again the e-tron moniker, but this is a bit confusing as we've seen that name on EVs and plug-in hybrid prototypes. Let's hope the group will decide to clear up the nomenclature before the cars are brought to market. There's still time for this task, as this A3 e-tron is again a concept. (It's very, very close to a production model but it isn't one quite yet.)
The A3 PHEV is not an extended-range electric car like the Chevrolet Volt. It's more like a hybrid. Top speed requires the gas engine on, and range in electric mode is quite short. Like most hybrids, the most impressive feat is the tight integration of all components in a compact package.
The gas engine is a small tech unit. With turbocharging and direct fuel injection, the little 1.4-liter makes 110 kW (150 hp), and it works in tandem with a 75-kW electric motor. This unit is fully integrated within the transmission, which is a newly designed six speeds e-S-Tronic. Total power available to the driver is 150 kW (204 hp), with 258 lb-ft of torque, which sounds good for a compact. Top speed is 138 mph with the gas engine running, and 81 mph without it. That speed was not chosen by chance. It's the maximum legal speed in several European countries. Range in electric mode is 31 miles, but Audi doesn't reveal any of its battery's characteristics. EV fans would have hoped for more range with the gas engine, but German engineers will be happy saying their car has twice the range of the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid.
There's no official word about making the concept a production model yet, but most industry watchers believe the go-ahead decision has already been made. With the MQB platform making it easy to put a battery in the rear floor and the electric motor inside the transmission, Volkswagen has what it needs to mass-produce plug-ins at a reasonable cost. This Audi A3 e-tron goes from 0 to 62 mph in 7.6 seconds, and in the flawed European method of calculating plug-ins fuel consumption, it's rated at 156 mpg. There will be buyers for the Audi e-tron plug-in hybrid.
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