Inglostadt, Germany - Audi has finally bowed to the inevitable with the international launch of its first plug-in hybrid, the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, combining a 110kW 1.4-litre TFSI engine with a 75kW electric motor and a newly developed six-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission for a system output of 150kW and 350Nm.
The five-door A3 Sportback e-tron is now available in Europe and is currently under review for the South African market, with a possible introduction in 2016.
The 8.8kWh battery is good for up to 50km in pure electric mode - and can be recharged, says Audi, in a little more than two hours from an industrial outlet. A versatile charging system is standard, and a smartphone app provides for remote charging and precooling/preheating.
The A3 e-tron accelerates to 100 km/h in a claimed 7.6 seconds and tops out at 222km/h, although it's limited to 130km/h in pure electric mode. Fuel consumption, is quoted at 1.5 litres per 100km according to the ECE standard for plug-in hybrid vehicles, corresponding to CO2 emissions of 35g/km.
The driver uses the drive select control to choose between Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Sport or Individual modes. Generally speaking, unless the ambient temperature is very hot or extremely cold - or the battery charge is low - the A3 e-tron will pull away in pure electric mode.
Even at a steady 100km/h the car will usually cruise on electric motor only - until you put foot, at which point the combustion engine chimes in.
In Sport mode the two begin working together much earlier and, on the overrun, the system recovers power through energy recuperation. In D mode, however, the system switches off both drives and goes into 'glide' mode, getting the maximum rolling range out of the car's kinetic energy, although the driver can intervene at any time.
Audi's plug-in hybrid comes with its own charging station, including a control unit with a graphic display, a car cable and two power cables with the appropriate household and industrial plugs for your country.
Visually, the special status of the plug-in hybrid Audi is all in the details; the single-frame grille is matt black with 14 fine, horizontal chrome struts, forked chrome struts fill the air inlets, and it wears sporty bumpers and side sill trims.
At the rear, there's a special apron with a grey diffuser, two chrome-plated horizontal slats and two side reflectors - but no visible exhaust tailpipe - and of course there are e-tron badges on the grille, tailgate and fenders.
Inside you'll find standard A3 trim, other than the powermeter, which takes the place of the rev-counter in the instrument cluster and shows the system's overall output, as well as the status of the drivetrain and the battery charge.
And if you order your e-tron with the otional MMI navigation plus system, its monitor can also display sophisticated graphics to illustrate the energy flow in the hybrid system.