The EV and Plug-In Hybrid games are getting more intense than ever. With competitors coming from all sorts of different car brands, customers now have more EV options to choose from than ever before. The original Chevy Volt was a big deal, winning Car of the Year awards, as a Vauxhaul Ampera, so this new one is kind of a big deal. The BMW i3 took home several awards as well, and should have been European Car of the Year but was snubbed by a lousy Peugeot. The new Audi A3 Sportback e-tron is Audi’s latest entry into this world of EVs. So let’s check them out and see how they stack up, as these are the three most important affordable EVs on the market.
Using an all new version of Chevrolet’s second-generation Voltec propulsion system, the new Chevy Volt has far pure electric range and more gasoline-extended range than before, combining for 420 miles of total range. Using an 18.4 kWh battery, the Volt is capable of 53 miles of pure EV motoring, a 40 percent increase over the outgoing model. When the battery starts to run flat, the 1.5 liter 4-cylinder range-extending engine seamlessly kicks in to give the Volt its full 420 mile range.
But the new Volt isn’t just about adding more range, it’s intended to be more comfortable and more fun to drive. “We listened to our customers. They were very clear when they told us that they wanted more range, and a fun driving experience behind the wheel,” said Andrew Farah, vehicle chief engineer. “We are confident that the 2016 Volt delivers both.” It’s also far better to look at than before. Make no mistake, the Chevrolet Volt is a worthy adversary to the premium BMW i3 and Audi A3 e-tron.
The BMW i3 has been around for awhile now and isn’t all that new. While it’s still incredibly impressive and wows almost anyone who drives it for the first time, we already know much about it and automakers are benchmarking it. The BMW i3 BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) uses a rear-mounted electric motor powering the rear wheels and has a range of 81 miles. The i3 is also available with a range-extender option, called the BMW i3 REx, which mounts a small 2-cylinder gasoline engine under the trunk floor to give it a total range of 150 miles. Though, the added weight of the 2-pot gives the REx a lower pure EV range of only 72 miles.
The BMW i3 is much more than its range numbers would suggest. It’s incredible one-pedal driving experience, thanks to its superb regenerative braking, incredible carbon-fiber construction and fun driving dynamics make it one of the best EVs on sale today. This is the BMW i3’s fight to lose, because as it stands at the moment, it’s on top.
Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron is more similar to the Chevy Volt than it is to the BMW i3. The A3 e-tron is a plug-in hybrid take on the regular A3. With a 1.4 liter 4-cylinder engine up front and and electric motor and battery at the rear, the A3 e-tron is a very traditional plug-in hybrid. While itt does have the worst pure EV range of the group, at 31 miles, it also has the best total range of the group, at a claimed 580 miles. It’s doubtful that anyone would ever see that kind of range out of it in the real world, but with soft enough of a foot, I’m sure it’s possible.
The A3 e-tron is the most practical of the bunch. Being a hatchback over the Volt’s sedan body style, it can carry more stuff and has more cargo room. It’s plug-in hybrid range also considerably bests the BMW i3 REx’s, so it can go significantly further on longer journeys. However, the A3 e-tron isn’t the best of the three to drive and is quite slow, that title goes to the i3, and it isn’t the least expensive, that goes to the Volt. So the A3 e-tron meets a decent middle ground between the two.
If I had to pick between these three cars, I’d have to go with the BMW i3. It’s the nicest to drive (in fairness, I haven’t driven the Volt so I don’t know for sure, but it has to be fantastic to best the i3), can be had in either pure EV or with a range extender so you have options, and it’s the best looking and feeling with its quirky body style and high-tech construction. The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron is a close second and the Volt I’m going to put at a close third. All three and great and the Volt looks better than I thought, but without having driven it and knowing how poor the first-gen was to drive, I’m gonna have to put it last. Hopefully we can test it out soon and see what it’s all about. But until then, that’s my order.
1st: BMW i3
2nd: Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
3rd: Chevy Volt