Check out Audi's green credentials

TREE huggers, hippies, greenies…it wasn't that long ago that we pigeon-holed those with the planet at heart.

Most scoffed at their rants and swept their warnings aside after enjoying long showers, piffing our plastics and glass in landfills and burning as much energy as we could in the process.

Nowadays being green is not restricted to an eccentric bunch.

Businesses have adopted environmentally friendly practices, and carbon-neutral workplaces are becoming increasingly popular.

Meanwhile, homes are becoming energy smart with a range of initiatives including rainwater tanks and solar panels, while self sustainability is no longer just a local government catchphrase.

The motoring industry hasn't been left behind as the green movement gains momentum.

Every year cars are becoming more efficient, burning less fuel while performing better and emitting less C02 emissions.

It wasn't that long ago that there were few options for those keen to go green.

Toyota's hybrid Prius has been atop the environmentally friendly mountain for years, but there's a pack converging to provide new options.

Audi has launched its first “efficiency” release, an A3 Sportback powered by a 1.9-litre turbo-diesel engine, and you can expect an e-model in each of the four-ring brand's core models down the track.

While the A3 Sportback 1.9 TDI e doesn't quite equal the likes of the Prius or Honda's Hybrid Civic in terms of emissions, it does however virtually match them in fuel economy.

It's the same diesel engine used in the larger Skoda Octavia and similar-sized Volkswagen Golf but the A3 proves to be a remarkably more frugal little thing.

The official combined consumption figure is an amazing 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres.

Our test proved slightly better over 545km, delivering efficiency of 4.2-litres/100km.

Cruising on the highway can see the consumption dip into the three or two litres per 100km realm.

From one 55-litre tank you can travel about 1200km.

Audi has achieved better economy results via changes to the electronics, longer transmission ratios for third to fifth gears, as well as a series of weight-reduction modifications and low rolling-resistance tyres.

On the dash there is even a gear shift indicator which lights up on the instrument cluster which tells the driver whether the next gear would be a better choice - depending on current engine load and speed.

CO2 emissions average at 119 grams per km, but responsible driving can dramatically reduce that figure.

During a trek from Darwin to Adelaide in its maiden World Solar Challenge voyage, the A3 Sportback 1.9 TDI e achieved 3.3L/100km while average C02 emissions were just 98g/km.

Despite these impressive figures you don't need to sacrifice performance.

The hybrids can't match turbo-diesel power.

The Audi's 1.9-litre four-cylinder powerplant generates 77kW and 250NM.

It pulls hard from 1500rpm up to the 4200rpm redline.

There is a hint of turbo lag below 1500rpm but it doesn't take much effort with the slick five-speed manual box to get the little oil-burner up and spinning.

One bugbear is the engine clatter is noticeable, particularly at low speeds.

Like all A3s, the handling is very good, though there is perhaps just a little too much understeer at the limit to suit the full-on driving enthusiast.

Not that too many boy-racers would be getting into “e” Audis.

Another trump card of the A3 over the hybrids is there's no big electric battery to worry about and it's surprisingly voluminous.

Four adults can be carried in good comfort although some cabin finishes may disappoint due to the fact you're parting with nearly $40 grand.

The dash has a few plasticky bits and it all looks pretty simple, but the biggest omission is cruise control. That's a $750 option.

You still get all the standard fare you'd expect from a European offering, dual zone climate controlled air-con, electric windows, mp3 compatible 10-speaker CD stereo, along with impressive safety features such as electronic stability program, a bevy of airbags front and rear and anti-lock brakes with brake assist.

The little hatchback is a beautifully-built little machine and feels typically solid - a feature we've come to expect from the A3.

And it's a good-looking little thing with a hefty slice of prestige associated with the four-ring badge.

So you don't have to be in tie-dyed attire with no shoes to help save the planet.

Being a tree-hugging hippie has never been so easy, or prestigious.

Spec check

Model: Audi A3 Sportback 1.9 TDI e.

Details: Five-door, five-seat compact hatchback with 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine.

Engine: 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel producing 77kW of peak power, and 250Nm of maximum torque.

Transmission: Five-speed manual.

Consumption: 4.5-litres per 100km (combined city/highway figure); emissions 119g of CO2 per kilometre.

Pros: Brilliant economy with zesty performance, impressive handling.

Cons: Cruise control only an option, diesel clatter at low speeds.

Bottom line: $38,900.

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