In response to increasingly stringent CO2 emission regulations, European car manufacturers are starting to bring vehicles to the market that run on compressed natural gas (CNG). The newest, and possibly the most advanced of these, is the Audi A3 g-tron, which sounds like it could either be a knockoff transformer or maybe Young Jeezy’s robotic hype man. But it’s only a car. Based on the five-door A3 Sportback, it has a 110-hp 1.4-liter TFSI engine that generates 148 lb-ft of torque and can burn both regular gasoline and CNG. The g-tron automatically switches to petrol operation when the CNG on board is low, but the switch can also be triggered manually.
The g-tron has 12 hp less than the regular A3 1.4 TSI. To enable CNG operation, Audi has changed the turbocharger, cylinder head, injection system and catalytic converter. However, this A3 will not be for everyone, especially us: The sprint from 0 to 100 km / h takes a leisurely 11 seconds and the top speed is 118 km / h. On the other hand, it’s very efficient: it only uses 7.7 pounds of CNG per 100 kilometers. That is exactly a quarter of the total capacity of the two CNG tanks that are positioned under the loading floor. The range of the A3 Sportback g-tron is around 400 miles with CNG, a further 560 miles are made possible by tapping the petrol tank. That’s a long distance between stops, and refueling should only take a few minutes – not the time spent looking for a CNG filling station, of course.
MARC URBANO, THE MANUFACTURER
CNG tanks can often be heavy; not so with the g-trons, which both have a three-layer “matrix” design developed by Audi. The outer layer consists of a glass fiber reinforced polymer, the middle layer of carbon fiber and the inner layer of gas-tight polyamide polymer. As a result, each tank is said to cut a whopping 60 pounds off a similarly sized regular CNG tank.
The instrument cluster now has two displays, which are located on the lower right next to the rev counter and the speedometer; they report the fuel level in each of the tanks. The CNG filler neck is right next to the one for gasoline and they share the same fuel filler flap. The engine cover now has the “g-tron” branding. That’s it, as far as the visible changes are concerned, and the seamless integration of the CNG hardware certainly sets the g-tron apart from aftermarket conversions.
Audi is serious about its g-tron strategy and is making a lot of fuss about its proprietary e-gas – it is synthetic methane that is produced in controlled environments using energy from “renewable sources”. Audi claims that driving the g-tron with e-gas “does not release more CO2 than was previously chemically injected into its production,” which is interesting because such a claim, if applicable, reduces fuel consumption to a problem of would cost the end user, not the alleged pollution.
While not all models will be available everywhere, the A3 range will eventually include three- and five-door hatches, a sedan, a convertible, and high-performance S3 and RS3 models. The powertrains include conventional gas and diesel engines as well as an e-tron plug-in hybrid – presented as a concept at the same Geneva trade fair – and this g-tron CNG system, which will be launched in Europe at the end of 2013 About Prices or a market launch in the USA is not yet known, even if we don’t hold our breath.
MARC URBANO, THE MANUFACTURER
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