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Audi A3 e-tron petrol-electric concept revealed

Plug-in hybrid A3 unveiled at Shanghai motor show

Following on from this year’s Geneva Motor Show, Audi has chosen Auto Shanghai 2011 to reveal a second A3 saloon concept. But the big news this time is the plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Audi A3 saloon plug-in hybrid e-tron concept

The new Audi A3 hybrid concept was showcased in Shanghai 

Audi A3 e-tron: plug-in hybrid

Audi already unveiled a at the Geneva Motor Show. However, that car was powered by a 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol TSI engine, not a hybrid system.

Like all plug-in hybrid concepts thus far, the Audi A3 e-tron combines a petrol engine with an electric motor powered by lithium-ion batteries that can be pre-charged via the mains electricity supply.

This gives the A3 e-tron a theoretical range of 34 miles before the petrol engine even needs to be started – more than enough to take care of many urban journeys. And although Audi isn’t yet being specific, the hybrid nature of the vehicle should also help improve fuel economy and emissions when the petrol engine is required.

Read our guide to hybrid technology

Turbo petrol produces 208bhp

Audi A3 saloon plug-in hybrid e-tron concept

This is the second Audi A3 saloon concept shown in 2011

And what a petrol engine it is. Although the unit is just 1.4 litres in capacity, the latest turbocharging technology means it produces a claimed 208bhp – as much as the current Volkswagen Golf GTI achieves with a 2.0-litre turbo petrol. Combined with the 26bhp electric motor, this means the A3 e-tron can reach 62mph in 6.8 seconds, and hit 144mph.

Further efficiency measures include start-stop, brake energy regeneration and a highly optimised body structure that includes doors, bonnet and tailgate made from aluminium, plus carbonfibre-reinforced plastic in other areas. Despite this, the A3 e-tron still tips the scales at a hefty 1,720kg – which just goes to show how much plug-in hybrid battery technology actually weighs. For comparison, the current A3 Sportback estate weighs as little as 1,225kg with a conventional 1.6-litre petrol engine.

Read our full review of the current Audi A3 here

Comfort and style

Looking beyond the aggressive styling and enormous 20-inch alloy wheels, and there are a number of other standout highlights on this latest Audi concept.

The four-seat interior benefits from the car’s long wheelbase, making it roomy and offering the opportunity for improved ride comfort (whether Audi’s engineers will resist making it overly firm in the pursuit of sportiness is another matter…). And the saloon body creates space for a 410-litre boot.

Audi A3 saloon plug-in hybrid e-tron concept interior

Inside, the Audi A3 saloon is brimming with technology

Touch control and pop-out speakers

Also on the inside, you’ll note the usual Audi design cues, but with a few particularly intriguing tricks. The high-powered stereo, for example, features speakers that pop out a few millimetres when it’s switched on. And there’s a new version of Audi’s MMI infotainment interface, including a touchpad built into the control knob that will be making its way into production vehicles.

The seven-speed S tronic gearbox is operated via touch-sensitive buttons, rather than the usual lever – though it still offers both automatic and manual control. And the RS3 Sportback hot hatch-derived chassis promises plenty of driving enjoyment.

Other details include next-generation LED headlights, a ‘power meter’ in place of the usual rev counter, and on-board wireless internet access – perfect for the iPad holders built into the back of the front seats.

Click here to read our guide to car features

Just a concept…?

The Audi A3 e-tron is only a concept. But it’s fair to say Audi is taking the idea of building a saloon version of the forthcoming third-generation A3 very seriously indeed. We wouldn’t be surprised to see plug-in hybrid technology make an appearance in the Audi range very soon.

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