It’s been over a decade since Audi Australia started sponsoring Hamilton Island Race Week. The week long event has become Australia’s largest offshore sailing regratta and Audi’s most important event of the year as they get the opportunity to showcase exciting new models to the perfect clientele. This year TVG was invited to the Audi A3 E-Tron launch at Hamilton Island to be among the first to drive the car in Australia and of course, indulge in the Audi lifestyle.
Following the relatively short flight from Sydney we landed at Hamilton Island airport and were whisked away in a fleet of Audi Q7s to the Hamilton Island Yacht Club for a presentation about the E-Tron and a spot of lunch at the club’s Bommie Restaurant.
There’s no arguing that Audi is killing it at the moment. The company has seen an 18% growth this year and a serious spike in performance variants with more S, RS and R8 models sold in the first half of this year than the whole of 2013. With 1800 cars sold in June alone the company is well on their way to a 10th consecutive year of growth surpassing 19,000 vehicles in 2014. Whilst the companies performance models continue to go from strength to strength, Audi hasn’t neglected other important areas of research and development and the new E-Tron marks an exciting and innovative step for the German manufacturer.
The E-tron concept isn’t necessarily new for Audi, debuting their first plug-in hybrid R8 E-Tron as early as 2009. It has however been a busy 5 years for the engineers refining the technology and adapting it to suit an accessible everyday vehicle. With the E-Tron technology entering the A3 range Audi had to ensure that styling, luxury, performance and pricing remained relevant to the target market and it was clear from the presentation that this had been achieved – we were however yet to find out for ourselves.
Following the presentation we headed to lunch where the conversation was focused entirely on hybrid cars and the extravagant boats in the Marina beneath us. Finally the time had come to drive the cars and we were transferred back to the airport where four A3 E-Trons were patiently waiting.
We walked out onto the tarmac to be greeted by the Audi team and a series of E-Trons – 3 were hitting the track while the other was left for the group of non-drivers to poke and prod at. The A3 E-Tron is unmistakably A3 – Audi have purposely left the changes for under the hood. The plug-in petrol-electric car is powered by a 75kw electric motor that sits beside a 1.4 litre TFSI engine producing a combined 150kw of power. For the environmentally conscious or frugal consumers among us the E-Tron can be driven entirely by its electronic engine but it’ll only take you around 50km. Likewise the car can be driven by it’s combustion engine alone, but where it really shines is when the two power sources combine, offering up to 940km of driving and fuel consumption of just 1.6 litres per 100km.
Charging the vehicle is done via an Audi designed and installed wall unit that will provide a full charge in just 2.5 hours (a normal wall socket will double the charge time). The wall unit also features a scheduled charging function so you can plug the car in when you get home but program the charging to start in off peak electricity consumption hours. The charging input on the car is cleverly hidden behind the famous four rings at the front and is revealed by turning an inconspicuous black knob.
Inside the cabin the E-Tron is as you would expect from Audi – understated and functional with a taste of sports luxury. Not until you’re in the drivers seat do you realise you’re in a special Audi, with the flat bottom sports steering wheel framing a unique speedometer displaying charge, efficiency and boost. Press the engine start button and the car roars to life…or starts so silently that you’re unsure whether it’s even on or not!
The car has four driving modes: EV (full electric), Hybrid Auto (both petrol and electric), Hybrid Hold (petrol engine only, batteries offline) and Hybrid Charge (petrol engine used to power car and charge batteries). I took two of my four laps in EV mode and was more than impressed with the power delivery from the electric engine. Flick it over to Hybrid Auto (which Audi suggests will be the most used driving mode for the car) and the car will use the electric engine until the driver requires the additional power from the combustion engine.
I wasn’t sure what to expect having minimal experience with hybrid cars but the E-Tron impressed me with its acceleration, cornering and braking ability. Personally I think the concept of hybrid cars has copped a bit of ‘lame’ reputation. Not until the launch of cars like the Porsche 918 Spyder has the general public (myself included) begun to link electric motors with true performance and I think the Audi E-Tron is a great example of where the industry is going. The E-Tron hits Australian shores in March next year and will come with a price tag of roughly $60,000. If you’re in the market for an A3 I highly recommend sitting it out until the E-Tron arrives.
For the rest of the trip Audi treated the group to an epic display of the ‘Audi lifestyle’ with overnight accommodation at the newly renovated Beach Club, dinner at Coca Chu restaurant and morning on Quantum, a 120ft Warren Yacht reserved for Audi VIPs. We caught the start of the final day of racing from the water as Wild Oats led a fleet of yachts out of the Marina – a truly awesome sight.
All in all it was a spectacular 24 hours with Audi and a clear indication as to why their brand is so strong in Australia.