This year's Dwell On Design went beyond the traditional confines of the home and into a whole new category: the garage. Perhaps reflecting the West Coast publication's realization across the nation, one's home away from home is one's car, Dwell invited an array of energy efficient models for test driving, ranging from hybrid, to clean diesel, to electric.
The fully electric Audi A3 e-tron hatchback was amongst one of the most exciting of the bunch, making it evident we're heading to a future where our own garages will become the equivalent of our smartphone's docking station.
Besides the graphics emblazoned onto the Audi A3 e-tron's all white exterior, the sportback did almost everything to hide its electric drivetrain technology. Where the Toyota Prius clearly broadcasts its next-gen hybrid technology and energy efficiency, the 136 horsepower and 270 Nm of torque hidden inside the e-tron is communicated subtly in both design and performance.
But one you put the key in and start the engine...well, it becomes very clear the e-tron is a sort of quiet revolution. Even more than hybrids like the Prius, it was very difficult to discern between "on" and "off" modes, so quiet is the all-electric plug-in's engine. So quiet, Audi is working to add additional sound to prevent accidents while driving in stealth mode (the example below is the A3's BIG brother, the R8:
All 30 lithium ion batteries powering the A3 e-tron are stored underneath the rear seats or underneath the sportback's luggage storage space; the energy payload equates to 5-9 hours of driving, with a maximum range of about 92 miles. This makes the A3 e-tron perfect for daily commuters (also pointing out it's meant as a secondary vehicle due to the limited range), and the confident steering/ride I got to enjoy around the Los Angeles Convention Center assured me the car may be all-electric, but it's very capable of weaving in and out of traffic, or merging into moving traffic without too much worry (0-60 in 11 seconds, but with instant torque off the line, which I risked testing on the X-Games busy streets of Downtown LA). Best of all, the e-tron doesn't feel video gamey with steering; no Super Mario Kart, it's handling around corners felt very similar to it's gas and TDI siblings.
Audi's engineering twist isn't the energy recovery braking system now commonly available in other energy-efficient models, but the degree in which the driver can control it. When set to the lowest level, the Audi A3 e-tron slows down like a normal car, requiring braking. At the highest level, the car brakes engage by themselves, aggressively recapturing the energy of motion into enough additional energy for 5-15 miles, depending upon driving style (when the brake is engaged, an electromagnetic brake booster pressurizes the hydraulic wheel brakes and the electric motor recovers energy as a generator itself).
No word on pricing or availability beyond a vague "sometime in 2014" release, but knowing Audi, expect to be able to purchase a Prius and a Nissan Leaf for the luxury/joy of driving one of these Audi e-trons. More details at Audi.com to whet your appetite and scope out some garage space.