Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff collection of impressions, jottings, and marginalia on whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron.
A couple weeks ago, I suggested that a vacation on the Florida coast is not the time to borrow a Chevrolet Camaro. As it turns out, that's precisely the situation in which to borrow an Audi A3 e-tron, which has nothing to do with being trapped in a video game and everything to do with a five-door A3 hatchback with a downsized motor, 750 lbs. of batteries, and a cute electrical socket hidden behind the grille's quad-ring emblem. The charger port on the Tesla Model S pops open with authority and pulses when it senses the proximity of electron delivery, like some succubus in a Ken Russell movie. Twerk open the flimsy plastic tab on the e-tron's port and it flops to the side, like a cheap closet door about to fall off its track in a Sixties dingbat apartment. It's details like this that really emphasize the "near" in "near luxury."
Stick the prong into the port, and then plan on sticking around for six or eight hours (admittedly much less time if you’re not using a household outlet and Home Depot extension cord, like I was) and those weighty batteries will fill with wizard juice, providing what in my best run amounted to 26 miles of electric-only power. Granted, I was going under 35 m.p.h. the entire time, as that was the highest speed limit on the whole island. (The lowest is 7.5 mph, to keep the coral dust down on the local gravel roads.)
Also granted: That charge wasn’t enough for a full round-trip to the Mucky Duck to watch the sunset and eat mediocre fried food. The engine kicked on just a mile from the house on the return, which was unfortunate not just because it was the first time I’d ever actually tried to accomplish an actual goal with an electric vehicle for the purposes of a review, but also because the engine produces a heaving mewl that sounds like an air conditioning compressor switching on.
But it's not all floppy plastic and running out of juice. In what other almost-luxurious, plug-in hybrid hatchback can you, at the touch of a button, silently sneak up on plucky ibises, endangered gopher tortoises, senescent golfers, and manorexic joggers, all while producing zero tailpipe emissions and looking like you might have the means to live on this fancy, WASPirational island but also be young enough to not know who Lawrence Welk is?
The answer is the BMW i3, which I would buy over this admittedly charming lump any day, and in the process gain a minimum of 50 miles of EV range, a more practical and attractive package, and sportier driving dynamic.
2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Powertrain: 1.4 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder: 150 hp / 184 lb-ft; 8.8 KWh lithium-ion batteries: 102 hp / 243 lb-ft (non-linear system total: 204 hp/258 lb-ft).
0-60 mph: 11 seconds (electric motor only) / 7.5 seconds (hybrid power)
Price (as tested): $37,900 ($43,400)
EPA Mileage Rating: Meaningless
EV Range: Not quite one round-trip to Mucky Duck