Recently, we surveyed plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles available overseas that American consumers probably want but can’t have. It’s about time to cross the 2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron off the list. The wagon-esque variant of the brand’s most affordable vehicle will indeed arrive at U.S. dealerships in October and, priced at $37,900 before considerable incentives, has the makings of a bona fide hit for Audi at the low end of the automaker’s range. There is currently no comparable vehicle on the market at this price point.
The automaker laid out the details in an August 5 release that was eye-popping for its price schema, but first a look at the specs. Matching a 1.4 liter TFSI engine to an electric motor, the A3 plug-in will produce a maximum of 203 horsepower and 248 pounds-feet of torque. Pure electric range is 30 miles on the European cycle but expected to get an EPA estimate between 20 and 25 miles before its release. In addition to the base Premium model ($37,900), Audi will offer the Premium Plus ($42,000) and Prestige ($46,800) models.
On top of the attractive specs, Audi’s A3 e-tron pricing is catching most people off-guard because its sticker in Germany costs the equivalent figure, except in euros — over $50,000 after converting to U.S. dollars. Furthermore, this plug-in will qualify for $4,168 in U.S. federal tax credits, bringing the end-cost to $33,732. If you live in one of the states with additional plug-in hybrid incentives, the number keeps dropping, which means Audi is selling a car that could avoid gasoline for the majority of trips at a premium of a few thousand dollars over the standard A3 ($30,900).
With that data in hand, Audi appears out for blood with its first electrified vehicle on the U.S. market. The only comparable vehicle in terms of cargo space and electric range is the Ford C-Max Energi, the plug-in that rates high in economy but low on style. EPA estimates for the C-Max are 19 miles of electric range, which should be near the A3 e-tron’s number. However, the similarities between Audi’s plug-in and the C-Max end there.
The C-Max Energi ($31,770), with 141 horsepower and 129 pounds-feet of torque, barely holds a candle to the A3 Sportback e-tron on the performance front. In terms of brand desirability and curb appeal, Audi’s plug-in also wins by a landslide. Ford’s Fusion Energi, which has more of a premium feel and more power along with 19 miles of electric range, is priced close ($33,900) to the A3 e-tron but still does not carry the cachet of Volkswagen’s luxury marque.
In effect, Audi has laid down the gauntlet for the premium plug-in segment with an smart pricing structure for its first EV on U.S. soil. Across the pond, European consumers have made the A3 e-tron No. 8 in sales among all electrified vehicles on the market with 4,554 units moved in the first six months of 2015 (per EV Sales), and it happened at a much higher sales price.
If Audi made the equivalent sales on the U.S. market, the A3 plug-in would have taken fourth place in American for the first half of this year, trailing only the Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, and Chevy Volt. As for the comparison between the Volt and the A3 e-tron, Chevy’s new plug-in will have 53 miles (more than double the Audi’s range) and be priced lower ($33,170).
Of course, if you wanted to make most of your trips on electric power and could get an Audi for a few thousand dollars more, would the Detroit plug-in hybrids command any of your attention? The verdict remains a mystery, but we can be certain Audi took the right approach its pricing its 2016 A3 e-tron.