Ten Second Review
New Vauxhall Ampera - Ten Second Review
The Vauxhall Ampera solves the issue of 'range anxiety' for electric vehicle drivers once and for all. Should your batteries run flat, you've got the backup of a 1.4-litre 'range extender' petrol engine to get you home. It's a pragmatic solution that works and is also a piece of engineering of near genius.
New Vauxhall Ampera - Background
It's fair to say that we haven't exactly been falling over ourselves to buy electric vehicles (EVs). This slow take up isn't due to any inherent aversion to electric vehicles as a concept, but rather the fact that the products and the pricing haven't done enough to appeal. By far the biggest issue most prospective buyers have with the products is that of available range. Even in a best-case scenario, an EV that can only manage around 100 miles and then require a lengthy charge just isn't a practical solution for stress-free family motoring.
So it is that we cast around for the least worst solution, which usually ends up being a diesel or a hybrid. Vauxhall now have a vehicle that offers the zero local emissions of a pure electric vehicle with the range of a normal family car. It's called the Ampera and it might just be the cleverest car I've ever driven.
New Vauxhall Ampera - Driving Experience
The Ampera is, in effect, two cars in one. It has the big, floor-mounted battery pack of a pure EV but backs that up with an 86bhp 1.4-litre ECOTEC petrol engine under the bonnet. You can plug it into the mains for a three hour charge and you can put petrol in it in the time honoured tradition. It's how these two systems work hand in hand that's so intriguing.
The batteries are good for a range of 50 miles or so. When the battery is depleted, rather than the petrol engine chugging into life and driving the front wheels, something rather remarkable happens. The engine drives one of the two electric motors, so the Ampera still feels exactly like an electric car. Step on the throttle and you won't hear revs rising and falling.
Although its quite a heavy car at 1785kg, handling is reasonably good, thanks in no small part to the weight of the batteries giving the Vauxhall a a very low centre of gravity. It rides on an adapted version of the Astra's chassis and refinement is a strong point, with or without the engine running. In fact, so quiet is the Ampera that there's a stalk-mounted chirper to warn pedestrians or cyclists of your approach. Performance is certainly brisk, with 60mph arriving in 8.5 seconds, but step-off away from the line feels far quicker thanks to the electric motor's strong torque.
Design And Build
New Vauxhall Ampera - Design and Build
The Vauxhall Ampera is offered alongside its Chevrolet Volt sibling in the UK and of the two it's the Vauxhall - which is marginally more expensive - that is the bolder piece of styling. Where the Volt gets a fairly unexceptional set of front lights, the Ampera's are incorporated into what its designer calls a 'boomerang graphic' that features black cut-outs housing LED daytime running lights, powerful bi-halogen headlamps and front fog lamps. The rear of the car is more adventurous than the Volt, with a black cut-out in the rear bumper fascia echoes the shape of the front air intake and the vertical slots in the side panels.
The cabin has space for four, the battery pack running down the middle of the car and precluding a fifth seat. Otherwise practicality isn't at all bad, with all four door pockets large enough to hold a 1.5-litre drinks bottle and those in the front also include a recess to store an umbrella. The boot is decently sized at 315 litres and to accommodate larger items, the rear seat backs fold flat to the same level as the rear cargo deck, which has an under floor storage compartment alongside the vehicle's charging cable. Build quality is better than you'd expect for a family hatch with a mainstream badge but perhaps not quite in the same category of other cars that retail at this price point.
Market And Model
New Vauxhall Ampera - Market and Model
The Ampera's reduced price tag of around £29,000 (inclusive of plug-in car grant) might at first seem somewhat steep, but once you've sampled the complexity and ingenuity of the product, it certainly seems to offer better value for money than similarly-priced but simpler 'rivals'. It's hard to know exactly what to compare it to because - if we ignore the badge-engineered Volt for a moment - there's nothing like it. It would be unfair to compare it to a pure EV like a Nissan LEAF or a Renault Fluence Z.E. Chiefly because the Ampera has the massive practical advantage of its internal combustion engine. Likewise it's not really a hybrid per se, but if you were to draw up the closest thing to a rival, it might be the Lexus CT200h.
Standard equipment includes a 60GB hard drive includes 30GB dedicated for music storage and is accessed via the infotainment touch-screen display. Digital music files can be downloaded through the USB port for storage and playback. The USB connection also provides iPod capability, enabling recharging and control of MP3 players. In addition to the standard radio with steering wheel controls, an optional Bose premium audio system is offered together with a navigation system, voice recognition and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity as an optional package. Other standard features include heated front seats and twin seven-inch display screens which replace traditional dials.
Cost Of Ownership
New Vauxhall Ampera - Cost of Ownership
Try asking the usual mpg questions about the Ampera and, like many answers concerning this car, the response is usually a knitted brow and 'that depends'. One full electrical charge tends to cost around £1 (depending on your tariff) and will get you around 50 miles (depending on your driving style). When the internal combustion engine is running, the Volt returns a combined fuel figure approaching 40mpg. The petrol engine will operate in three specific output levels so again, your emissions will depend on load. A US publication reckoned the Volt emitted 124g/km when running its petrol engine. Naturally, you're CO2-free when operating solely on battery power, at least at the local level. The usual arguments as to the environmental efficiency of your local power station will, like the Ampera itself, run and run.
Company car drivers will delight at its 5 per cent benefit in kind taxation, while the 100 per cent exemption from London congestion charge and free vehicle excise duty will also win it many admirers.
New Vauxhall Ampera - Summary
The Vauxhall Ampera is a genuinely revolutionary concept. By refusing to get too hung up on dogma it neatly solves the problem of running an electric vehicle for urban commutes while offering something more versatile for weekends and holidays. It's not cheap but it is something really rather special and is an utterly delightful ownership proposition. Swishing about on battery power makes even the most refined petrol engined car feel old-fashioned and makes a diesel feel positively archaic.
While it might be a tricky car to conceptually understand, the Ampera is simplicity itself to operate. It's thoughtful too, not allowing you to drive away when it's plugged in, turning the engine over periodically to keep it in fettle if it detects extended electric usage and offering tips on how to improve your driving efficiency. Those looking to get hung up on definitions won't like the Ampera. For those with a more open mid, it's something very special indeed.
Prices referred to in the review are MRRP