Audi is set to unveil an attractive technical study – the A3 e-tron concept – in Shanghai. The four-seat notchback sedan integrates the full breadth of the brand’s technological expertise – from the enhanced MMI operating system, to the high-end infotainment system, to the drivetrain. And with its two powerplants and lithium-ion batteries that store enough energy to propel the car on electric power alone for up to 54 km (34 miles), the plug-in hybrid also delivers high fuel efficiency.

Design and body

The Audi A3 e-tron concept is a four-seat notchback sedan. It measures 4.44 meters (14.57 ft) long and 1.84 meters (6.04 ft) wide, but just 1.39 meters (4.56 ft) high – proportions that underscore its dynamic character.

The design represents the typical Audi language of sporty elegance. The single-frame grille is integrated into the front end, giving it a sculptured look. Its frame is made of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP), and the transversely mounted, three-dimensional aluminum louvers create a visual effect that emphasizes the showcar’s width. The headlights merge with the beveled upper corners of the single-frame, forming a transition that marks the starting point of the prominently accentuated lines of the engine hood.

The headlights represent a new stage of evolution in LED technology, a groundbreaking innovation from Audi. They become broader as they extend outward, and a line underneath makes them seem to float on air. Above the front spoiler is a full-length air intake, also made of CFRP, framed by a metal clasp. The spoiler features a splitter that increases the downforce on the front wheels.

When viewed from the side, too, the A3 e-tron concept is recognizable at first sight as an Audi – with its harmonious proportions, taut, muscular surfaces and a low roof dome with fluid lines flowing into a flat, coupe-like C-pillar. The shoulder area transitions elegantly into the tailgate. Characteristic of Audi design, the greenhouse accounts for one-third of the height, while the sheet metal makes up the remaining two-thirds.

Powerfully flared fenders hint at the power of the engine. Two prominently elaborated lines accentuate the flank: the undercut tornado line beneath the window edge and the dynamic line above the sills. The exterior mirrors, made of aluminum and CFRP, are perched atop the window-channel strips. The door handles with their brushed-aluminum clasps are recessed flush with the door. When the driver touches them, they power-extend.

The intelligent interplay between surfaces and lines also defines the tail end of the A3 e-tron concept. The broad, flat tail lights are sculptured and culminate in a point on the inside, and the tailgate bears an elegant spoiler edge. The rear apron includes a diffuser insert of CFRP and metal, which in turn surrounds the two large tailpipes for the exhaust system.

Ultra-modern components, design methods and joining techniques keep the body weight low. One example of this are the custom tailored blanks (panels of various thicknesses) in the floor area. The doors, engine hood and tailgate are made of aluminum. With its high levels of rigidity, the body provides the basis for the sedan’s precise handling, excellent vibrational comfort and low weight – the Audi A3 e-tron concept tips the scales at just 1,720 kilograms (3,792 lb).

Interior

The interior of the showcar is generously proportioned. The long wheelbase measuring 2.63 meters (8.63 ft) – a best-in-class figure in the premium compact segment – gives rear passengers on the two individual seats a pleasing amount of knee room. The front sport seats with prominent side bolsters are slim and elegant.

The cockpit, too, gives an impression of lightness and airiness. The horizontal lines emphasize its design. The instrument panel draws the driver in – typical of Audi. Defined in three dimensions, the large trim strip is made of solid aluminum and includes control functions. The high-quality sound system in the doors and on the rear shelf has aluminum trim panels. When the audio system is turned on, they extend a few millimeters, thus orchestrating a visual accompaniment to the system’s excellent sound.

On the center console, four large, round air vents echoing a jet’s design catch the eye. The air flow is adjusted by pulling and pushing on the center axis of the vents. The control knobs for the automatic air conditioning system are located in the lower section of the center console on a boldly protruding, dedicated control panel. Visually, they are reminiscent of airplane turbines.

Behind the compact, flat-bottomed, three-spoke multifunction steering wheel is an innovative display concept that renders the individual driving states of the hybrid drive clear-cut and tangible. The tachometer on the instrument cluster has been replaced by a “power meter,” with a needle that indicates the total system output on a scale of 0 to 100 percent. A second scale is divided into colored segments. At a glance, the green and orange segments clearly indicate where the A3 e-tron concept is drawing its power – from the electric motor, the combustion engine, or a combination of both. An additional instrument displays the charge level of the battery.

In between the two large round dials is the large, eight-inch display for the driver information system. This display and the large monitor of the MMI system show the operating states and power flows in the hybrid system in elegant graphics with a three-dimensional effect.

The MMI monitor also displays differentiated consumption and recuperation statistics in easily understandable bar graphs. The control panel for the MMI multimedia system is located on the center tunnel console. The interface on its large rotary pushbutton features another novelty – the “MMI touch” touchpad. This new solution, which makes the already exemplary operation even more intuitive, will soon be introduced in series production at Audi. The ultra-thin MMI monitor power-extends upwards out of the instrument panel, another feature taken from the full-size car class.

In terms of infotainment, the Audi A3 e-tron concept shows why the brand is leading the competition. A UMTS model provides full access to the Internet, allowing the car to retrieve convenient services from Google. Thanks to the WLAN hotspot, passengers can surf and send e-mail to their hearts’ content. Holders for iPads are installed on the back of the front seat backrests. A classic notchback sedan, the Audi A3 e-tron concept boasts a large luggage compartment with a volume of 410 liters (14.48 cubic ft) and a low loading lip.

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