Vauxhall Ampera review
The Vauxhall Ampera is a range-extender electric car, which combines all of the benefits of an EV with the range of a petrol car
The Vauxhall Ampera combines an eco-friendly electric motor with a range-extending petrol-powered generator. It was voted 2012 Car of the Year - alongside its sister car the Chevrolet Volt - and it rivals hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius, electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and efficient diesel saloons, like the BMW 320d ED. It can travel for up to 50 miles on electric power alone before the 1.4-litre petrol engine kicks in to maintain the charge of the batteries for a total range of more than 300 miles. Every Ampera comes well equipped, with two seven-inch displays, alloy wheels, a reversing camera and a DAB radio fitted as standard. But one of its biggest problems is its price. With the entry-level model costing more than £28,000 after the £5,000 Government grant, the Ampera is an expensive car- so much so, that Vauxhall is currently losing money on every model it sells. To counter this problem, the brand has said that the next-generation car will be cheaper. But in order to do this, it could feature a smaller battery and a shorter range when it arrives in a few years’ time.
Our choice: Ampera 1.4 Hybrid Positiv
With its sleek, aerodynamic lines, the Vauxhall Ampera looks more like a coupe than a conventional hatchbackwhile the aggressively styled grille, swept-back headlamps and wide stance help it to stand out from its rivals. On the inside, there are two seven-inch displays, with one displaying the instruments, while the other is used to control the infotainment system and is high-res and touchscreen. But the shiny plastic finish looks and feels cheap - especially for a car that costs a minimum of £28,000. The entry-level Earth model joined the line-up in 2012, and comes fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels, electric windows, climate control, DAB and Bluetooth as standard. Positiv trim adds a parking camera and heated leather seats, while top-of-the-range Electron cars comes with a Bose sound system and a touch-screen sat-nav.
Like its sister car the Chevy Volt, the Ampera is powered by a 85bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine and a 148bhp electric motor. It is said to be able to cover 50 miles on electricity alone but in the six months the Ampera was on our long-term fleet, we never managed more than 35 miles. The engine only kicks in to maintain the minimum charge in the battery and extend the car’s range, or at over 75mph when it assists the electric motor. When the battery runs down, the petrol engine becomes a generator, providing energy for the electric drivetrain. Thanks to a maximum torque figure of 340Nm, acceleration is punchy and as smooth and seamless as in any electric car. It can go from 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds and has a top speed of 99mph. The downsides are that the brakes are a bit jerky, the ride is firm and the weight of the batteries affects the car’s handling. That said, refinement is excellent and the Ampera is far more relaxing to drive than hybrids with noisy CVT gearboxes like the Prius.
Vauxhall has worked hard to improve the reliability of its cars over the past couple of years, and it seems to be paying off. It finished 13th out of 30 in the 2012 Driver Power reliability survey, just ahead of BMW and Audi. Although the reliability of electric cars is still something of an unknown, there have been no reports of any major issues with the Ampera. Our long-term Ampera did suffer from a few problems, though, including a faulty charger and sticking charging flap, while the keyless entry and heated seats failed. However, every Ampera does come with an eight-year, 100,000-mile battery pack warranty, and there's free collection and delivery for servicing, warranty and repair work with a courtesy car. As for safety, the Vauxhall Ampera has a five-star crash test rating, with 85 per cent for adult occupant and 86 per cent for safety assist. It received praise for its standard fit ESP and seatbelt reminders, as well as its performance in the impact tests. In fact, it was the first car tested by Euro NCAP to achieve maximum points in the severe side pole impact test. Standard kit also includes ESP and a total of eight airbags.
Although it’s still limited, the Ampera is far more practical than electric car rivals like the Nissan Leaf. The petrol generator means you don't need to wait for it to charge fully before you can go anywhere. However, while the interior is spacious, it does have a few problems. As the middle seat has been sacrificed to make room for the T-shaped battery pack, there is only room for four. Thanks to the coupe-like roofline, head and legroom is limited for rear passengers, while the large A-pillars restrict visibility for the driver. The boot is also disappointing, with just 300 litres of space – that’s less than the Nissan Leaf’s 330 litres and much less than the Toyota Prius, which has a 446-litre boot. However, the two rear seats do fold flat to create a 1,005-litre load area.
The Ampera is expensive to buy but it does benefit from very low running costs. It’s capable of returning fuel economy of up to 235mpg and CO2 emissions of only 27g/km from its petrol-electric powertrain. Vauxhall also claims that it’s capable of travelling on pure electric for up to 50 miles, at which point the petrol engine kicks in to increase the total range to more than 300 miles. A full charge will take four hours and should cost around £1. Unlike the Renault Twizy (which is officially classed as a quadricycle), the Ampera qualifies for the Government’s £5,000 electric car grant. It’s also eligible for five per cent Benefit In Kind company car tax, and road tax and the London Congestion Charge are free, too. Plus, it’s the first electric car not to rely on the charging infrastructure - refill the 35-litre tank and you can just keep going.