The new A3 Sportback e-tron is a sign of the fast maturing electric car market. A few years ago, the idea of a mass production plug-in hybrid model would have required all sorts of marketing hoopla. Yet the new Audi is simply a revised version of the existing A3, a car that’s sober, sensible but not exactly a standard-bearer for edgy new technology.

Naturally, it’s what's going on under the skin that’s important. The company has been plugging away at the engineering for years to ensure their electric offerings stack up. Like its rivals, the A3’s sophisticated drivetrain blends battery power with a modest capacity petrol engine, extending range, fuel efficiency and – thanks to the instant torque and punch of the electric motor – a decent turn of speed.

The e-tron is certainly clever, constantly working out the most efficient way of progressing, whether you’re in town or on the open road. Slip it into sport mode and the car sharpens up nicely, doling out a big shove of electrically-assisted acceleration – an experience that is fast becoming the most desirable fix for speed merchants.

In terms of design, not much has changed, save for a more detailed display on the car’s MMI entertainment system. The e-tron model receives a decent standard specification too, including top quality navigation, internet connectivity and hard-disk based music system. By gaming the official fuel consumption tests, Audi claims over 176 mpg, although the 30+ miles of all-electric range will be a far more useful (and achievable) attribute as cities start to clamp down on emissions.

The A3 is a credible if not exactly earth-shattering mid-sized car that's available in a variety of sizes and engine types. It conforms to every statute in the Audi rulebook – a firm ride, polite styling and an admirable all-round ability. As a result, it makes plenty of sense for the company to debut their long-awaited e-tron capabilities on this tried and tested platform (which was engineered from the outset to take the electric motor and batteries). In the future, however, e-tron is expected to play an even greater role in the Audi line-up. With a rumoured flagship R8 e-tron to tackle success stories like the BMW i8 and perhaps an all-electric city car, it would seem a redefinition of the brand is on its way.

TAGS: AUDI, TRANSPORT