Used Audi A3 e-tron buying guide

All you need to know about buying a used Audi A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid, produced from 2014 to 2018

Arguably it was BMW that launched the premium small hatchback segment with its Compact in 1993. But that car never really captured buyers' imaginations and it was the Audi A3 of 1996 that really put the sector on the map.

That first Audi A3 came in three-door hatchback form only, but in the intervening years Audi expanded the range to encompass five-door, cabriolet and saloon models.

The range also grew to include a wider range of powertrains than ever, with petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid all offered – the latter arriving in 2014 as the Sportback e-tron.

History

April 2011: An Audi A3 e-tron four-door saloon concept is unveiled at the Shanghai Motor Show.

September 2012: The first UK deliveries are made of the third-generation Audi A3 hatchback, but at this stage in three-door form only. At the same time, the five-door A3 Sportback is unveiled ready for the first UK deliveries in spring 2013.

March 2013: The A3 Sportback e-tron makes its debut at the Geneva Motor Show. Using the five-door A3 Sportback as its basis, the e-tron is fitted with a 148bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine mated to a 100bhp electric motor to give a peak power output of 201bhp.

July 2014: The A3 Sportback e-tron goes on sale in the UK, priced from £34,950 before Government incentives are applied. Because a £5,000 grant is available, the A3 Sportback e-tron can be bought from £29,950. The e-tron is the first electrified Audi to be offered in the UK and all cars come with four driving modes ranging from pure electric to petrol only. In between are modes that allow the battery to be recharged with maximum regenerative braking, although the effect of this can be increased or reduced.

September 2016: An updated A3 Sportback e-tron reaches showrooms. The key upgrade was the availability of Audi's 12.3-inch digital instrumentation display, known as Virtual Cockpit, which allows the driver to customise the display. There was also a redesigned navigation for the infotainment system, extra driver assistance systems, plus matrix LED headlights were now optional in place of the regular LED units.

Which one should I buy?

All A3 Sportback e-trons are the same mechanically, as they came only in six-speed S tronic automatic form, with an 8.8kWh battery pack to give a theoretical maximum range of 584 miles using petrol and electricity together.

There's also only one trim level, which means all e-trons come with 17-inch alloy wheels, navigation, an eight-speaker hi-fi with DAB, sports seats, dual-zone climate control and a multi-function steering wheel. Also included are powered windows front and rear, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers.

The only standard colours were white, black and red, but there were 15 extra-cost metallic and pearlescent hues available including silver, red, blue, green, grey, black and white. Inside, all e-trons came with cloth trim, but leather or leather and Alcantara trim were offered for extra cash.

Other extra-cost options included heated seats, electric lumbar adjustment and electric adjustment, all for the front seats only. Other options that you might want to home in on include a fixed panoramic glass roof, a Bang & Olufsen hi-fi, cruise control (with adaptive cruise control more money again), privacy glass, a rear parking camera and front parking sensors.

Alternatives

The closest rival to the Audi A3 e-tron is the Volkswagen Golf GTE, which is essentially the same car underneath. There's little to separate them in terms of the driving experience, both come with very high-quality interiors and running costs are likely to be broadly similar.

If the hatchback configuration isn't essential you should take a look at the BMW 330e or Mercedes C 350 e, both plug-in hybrids, which in the case of the BMW comes in saloon form only; the Mercedes is available as an estate, too. As you'd expect from their respective brands, these cars are great to drive, beautifully made and easy to live with.

Another BMW that's worth considering is the i3, which comes in pure-electric or range-extender form. The latter pairs an electric motor with a small petrol motorbike engine to give a range of up to a claimed 206 miles; the electric-only model cuts this to just 125 miles.

Verdict

The Audi A3 is one of the slickest cars in its segment – perhaps even the slickest of all. Audi was never going to compromise by introducing a plug-in hybrid which wasn't as impressive as all of the other models in the A3 range. As a result, you can be assured that the A3 Sportback e-tron will be a pleasure to own, even if it's not the cheapest choice out there.

Indeed, as with any plug-in hybrid, you pay quite a premium compared to an equivalent petrol or diesel-engined alternative from the A3 range. Whether the premium is worth it or not only you can decide, because as our sister title Auto Express said when it first reviewed the A3 Sportback e-tron: "the hybrid setup feels less well resolved than rival range-extenders, while the batteries’ extra weight blunts the drive. Finally, if you use the car for long journeys, fuel economy suffers, too."

Checklist

•    A free app is available that connects owners with their e-tron. This displays the current charge level within the battery pack, as well as fuel-consumption details, plus it allows a smartphone to be used as a remote control to set the climate control ready for departure. It's also possible to remotely set charging.

•    The A3 Sportback e-tron is a plug-in hybrid, so it has a bigger battery pack (8.8kWh) than a regular hybrid. As a result, it can travel up to 31 miles in electric-only mode.

•    A full charge of the A3 Sportback e-tron is claimed to take three hours and 45 minutes from a standard domestic socket, or two hours 15 minutes from a wallbox.

•    An active bonnet is fitted, which means in the event of a collision with a pedestrian it pops up to create a cushioning effect. Unfortunately, it can also pop up if an animal is hit, leading to a hefty bill to put things right.

•    The e-tron comes with two charging cables as standard, so make sure the car comes with both of them. One is for domestic charging and the other is for when you're using public charging points.

•    The e-tron's boot can hold 280 litres with the rear seats up and 1220 litres with them folded. That compares with 380 and 1,220 litres for conventionally powered A3s – which also get 50 or 55-litre fuel tanks compared to the e-tron's 40-litre item.

Recalls

November 2017: The rear hub carriers could fail because of a manufacturing fault.

February 2018: The passenger airbag could fail to inflate in an impact.

November 2018: Some cars were delivered with faulty rear headrest mountings.

Running costs

•    Insurance groups: 29-33

•    Average mpg: 166-176

•    CO2 emissions: 37-39g/km

Although the A3 Sportback e-tron came only with a three-year warranty for the car as a whole, the battery pack has an eight-year or 100,000-mile guarantee. The service schedule is set at 12 months or 9,000 miles, alternating between minor and major. At the time of writing (October 2019) these were priced at £170 and £335 respectively, with a brake fluid change also required every other year at an extra £65.

The 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine at the heart of the e-tron has a cambelt, which has to be replaced every five years or 140,000 miles, for which an official Audi dealer will charge a surprisingly hefty £725.