Audi is cashing in on the increasing-popular plug-in hybrid market with the Audi A3 e-tron. Paring its top selling model with today’s most fashionable powertrain, Audi looks to be on to a winner. The A3 e-tron, which will be the first of many plug-in hybrids from the German brand, has finally arrived in the UK.

Visually, there’s very little to mark the e-tron out from the rest of the A3 clan but bespoke alloy wheels, a single frame grille and subtle e-tron specific bumpers will stand out to eagle-eyed buyers. It may not shout about its eco credentials, but the A3 e-tron has every right to.

A 1.4-litre TFSI engine and electric motor combine to develop a Golf GTI-worrying 201bhp and 350Nm of torque. It’s enough to crack 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds but more importantly returns 176.6mpg and 37g/km of CO2, meaning no road tax and a low-as-it-gets 5 per cent BIK rating. Theoretically a 580-mile range is possible, with 31 miles at up to speeds of 80mph on electric power alone.

So, on paper it all looks rather promising but what about in the real world? The bad news is at £29,950 – after the £5,000 government grant – the A3 e-tron doesn’t come cheap. The arguably more desirable BMW i3 REx is over £1,000 cheaper as well as cleaner. On top of that the claimed 176.6mpg is nothing more than a fantasy, if you get close to 55mpg in real-world conditions you’re doing well.

However, that’s where the bad news ends. If you remove the more-than-optimistic economy figures from the equation, there’s little reason to overlook the A3 e-tron as your next family car.

Climb inside and like any Audi cabin its familiar but perfectly crafted. The design is clean, with every surface wrapped in brushed aluminium or soft leather. The e-tron also cherry picks some of the best bits from the options list, too. Dual-zone climate control, front sports seats, S tronic gearbox, Audi’s MMI navigation plus and a seven-inch colour display all come as standard. A smart power meter also replaces the conventional rev counter.

Unless you tell it otherwise, the e-tron will pull away in pure EV mode. Squeeze the throttle and it surges away silently all the way up to 80mph. To really get the best out of the hybrid powertrain you have to take advantage of the four available hybrid modes. Hybrid Auto switches between the combustion and electric power depending upon driving style, while Hybrid Hold stores battery energy for use when pure EV mode is selected. Once depleted Hybrid Charge increases brake regeneration and uses the petrol engine to replenish the batteries.

Being an A3, the e-tron has inherited rather vague and numb steering, while the added weight can cause it to become a little flustered over broken tarmac. But on the whole composure and comfort are where the e-tron excels. Only when you boot the throttle does the presence of the 1.4-litre engine become apparent, the majority of the time it silently whispers along.

There’s almost as much torque in the A3 e-tron as there is in the lively S3, but whereas the hot hatch delivers power through quattro all-wheel drive, the e-tron is front drive only. In slippery conditions the front wheels will spin under power and the car has a tendency to dive into understeer when pressed. But that’s unlikely to affect many buyers, especially if you’re optimistically chasing 176mpg.

Fitting the battery pack has added a hefty 125kg of weight but the increased torque from the electric motor offsets the weight gains. Storing them beneath the floor and under the rear bench means Audi has had to steal 100 litres from the boot but the low load lip and wide opening make the best of the remaining 280 litres.

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