The recently concluded Auto Shanghai 2011 featured intriguing concept vehicles like the Buick Envision presented by General Motors. Audi got into the action last week with the unveiling of the A3 e-tron plug-in sedan. This concept hybrid combines an efficient hybrid drive train with an intelligent transmission and lightweight frame to achieve eco-friendly performance. Observers might have been impressed by the A3 e-tron’s look but Audi is lagging behind the competition in terms of green vehicle research and development.
The Audi A3 e-tron was built around a 155kW turbocharged engine that maintains the automaker’s commitment to power. Audi’s engineering team coupled the gas engine with a 20kW electric motor. This motor receives power from a 12kWh lithium-ion battery recharged through regenerative braking as well as a standard plug-in charging system. Representatives from Audi claim that the A3 e-tron can travel up to 34 miles on all-electric power at low speeds.
Performance metrics for Audi’s latest hybrid concept indicate the company’s concern with balancing power with efficiency. The maximum speed of the A3 e-tron is 143 miles per hour, setting the concept ahead of a majority of hybrid concepts. Audi notes that early testing showed a 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds thanks to 175kW of combined engine and motor power. These metrics were not followed by much detail about fuel mileage.
Audi incorporated an innovative S tronic transmission into the A3 e-tron to encourage efficient gear shifts. This seven-speed transmission can be operated as an automatic or transformed into a manual transmission using controls on the steering wheel. Drivers would not deal with stick shifts in the A3 e-tron with buttons controlling manual gear shifts on the central console. Audi also noted drive customization with the dynamic handling system. This feature changes engine and power steering operations using five modes ranging from efficiency to comfort.
Observers at Auto Shanghai 2011 were treated to explanations of Audi’s thermal management system and lightweight frame development. The thermal management system reduces heat loss during operation while storing energy needed to recharge the battery pack. Audi utilized aluminum panels from the hood to the trunk to keep the vehicle’s weight less than 3,800 pounds. These design elements are necessary to improve fuel efficiency though automakers from Honda to Ford have gained ground in terms of vehicle design. The 34-mile electric range cited by Audi is a step forward for the automaker but seems quaint compared to similar concepts from the competition.