Remember that fan noise in your old laptop? You'd be on AOL or CompuServe for, like, five minutes and the fan would kick in, sounding like a cross between a jet engine and the labored wheezing of an elephant that's spent much of its adult life smoking unfiltered cigarettes. It's a sound that we simply wouldn't tolerate in our laptops or phones or tablets today. We expect our devices to be quiet, unobtrusive partners in productivity. So why not our cars? In five or 10 years, will we look back at the grumbling, rumbling internal combustion engine and think to ourselves, "How did we ever tolerate all that noise?"
Enter the Audi A3 e-tron which, at low speeds, is just about as quiet as a bicycle. (It's actually considerably quieter than my bicycle, which is propelled along by a rather less-than-fit windbag whose doctor has advised him not to exercise more than 40 feet from a cardiac defibrillator.) The good folks at Audi, as part of a program to familiarize the media with the e-tron concept, brought an electric A3 over to our downtown offices last week.
Tooling around downtown in a car that makes no noise (save for the steady drone of tires on pavement) is delightfully weird. Without the clamor of the internal combustion engine acting as a buffer, you suddenly feel more connected to the environment around you. By dismantling the wall of noise that exists between you and the rest of the world, you begin to feel more a part of that world. It's strange – and oddly transformative.
Based on the award-winning Audi A3, currently available in gasoline-powered and clean diesel TDI configurations, the Audi A3 e-tron features a fully electric powertrain with a 26-kilowatt lithium-ion battery. It's got a hefty 199 pound-feet of torque, a battery range of approximately 90 miles and a top speed of 90 mph.
Those are impressive numbers, certainly, but I'm more impressed with the A3 e-tron's zeros: zero driving emissions, zero trips to the gas station and, most strikingly, zero decibels.
To the internal combustion engine, I say this: Be quiet. Or, at least, be quieter, lest you go the way of my old laptop and find yourself tucked away on a shelf somewhere, waiting for me to sell you on eBay.