Andy Palmer tells us more about the car Aston will race in Le Mans’ new top class
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£35,635 when new
How’s this for a line-up? Audi offers the A3 as a 2dr cabrio, 3dr or 5dr hatch, or 4dr saloon, as a manual or auto, front- or all-wheel drive, petrol or diesel. And now this: the plug-in hybrid e-tron, ironically only available as a 5dr Sportback with front drive and an S tronic ‘box. Want yet more choice? Try the myriad driving modes offered by this petrol-electric e-tron, which melds a 148bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine with a 99bhp electric motor, shoehorned into the gearbox itself. Total system power is a VW Golf GTI-nudging 204bhp and 258lb ft, a good deal of which is on demand instantly, thanks to the electric motor. Electric-only mode offers up 31 miles or 80mph in theory, though it hates bitter winter weather. Our fully charged test car was travelling about 11-12 miles on e-power alone. You maximise urban range with Hybrid Hold mode, which saves the batteries for when you’re shuffling in traffic, while best-of-both-worlds Hybrid mode combines the two power sources, and Hybrid Charge mode uses the engine to charge up the battery on the move. Or you can plug it in for around four hours.
Too complicated? Actually, no. This is a brilliantly engineered machine, which could genuinely bring electrification into the lives of plenty of regular A3 drivers without too much compromise. Unlike cousin Golf GTE, the e-tron isn’t trying to be an eco-GTI - it’s just an accomplished family hatch that, if driven in a manner than plays to its strengths (in town), costs next to nothing to run. Open-road runs mean about 50mpg.
Ask for max power, and it’s not quite hypercar-style torque-fill - the 1.4 turbo motor is on the thrashy side and with 125kg of batteries on board, there’s more pitch and heave during direction changes and braking than in other A3s. There’s also a touch of interference from the brakes, due to the need to generate extra leccy when slowing, but it’s better than Lexus’s efforts. It’s pricey at S3 money, but if you’ve shied away from the BMW i3 for being too radical, and too range-hamstrung, the A3 e-tron offers a neat alternative.
£22,790 – £35,980
Not-quite replacement for the 1M Coupe is fast, fun to drive - and a whopping £10,000 cheaper
£22,855 – £39,200
Merc’s hot hatch has had a revamp. Now even more of a monster
£18,325 – £33,785
It was already great. Now it's even better. It's easy to see why this is many people's default hot hatch