Vauxhall Ampera: First report

6 Jun, 2012 12:00pm Julie Sinclair

Long-awaited range-extending electric car joins fleet. So does it deliver on its promise?

There are so many reasons to be excited about my new, hi-tech Vauxhall Ampera, I had to resist snatching the keys from my local dealer and making a dash for it.

As handovers go, it was frustratingly drawn-out – but for good reason, I discovered. This car is a technological marvel. The vast array of gadgets, drive options, performance monitors and fuel consumption graphics will be alien to drivers of most modern vehicles, so need some explanation to ensure you get the most out of the Vauxhall.

But above all, Ampera specialist Peter Stanley at Motorbodies in Luton, Beds, is keen to stress that this is not a hybrid. It’s a plug-in electric car that combines all the best bits of running on battery power with the reassurance of a range-extending 1.4-litre 85bhp petrol engine that kicks in to keep the batteries topped up when they run low.

The upshot is that the Ampera always drives like an electric car: silently and with instant power (there’s a muscular 370Nm of torque available from the moment you prod the throttle). The difference is, you never have to worry about finding a socket to recharge on the move.

Climb inside, and at first glance the space-age, touch-sensitive dash looks more like a prototype you’d see at the Science Museum than a working model.

But don’t be fooled into thinking its flush, button-free design isn’t functional. Brush against it accidentally, and you’re likely to reset the air-con or redirect the standard sat-nav to take you to your mother-in-law’s. I can see it’s going to take some getting used to.

Peter flicked through some of the options on the driver display screen, and highlights included the tyre pressure monitoring function, which instantly shows you the exact pressure being recorded in each tyre.

A pedestrian warning is another useful feature – especially when driving a silent car in built-up areas. The set-up emits a friendly pulsating beep when you press the end of the indicator stalk. A clever Engine Assisted Heating option will even remotely start the car and pre-heat the seats for you first thing in the morning.

I’m also looking forward to finally having a car with a fully integrated iPhone connection – so I can play my music and charge the phone on the go.

But most of all, I’m thrilled to be waving goodbye to my weekly trip to the filling station. I’ll be saying adios to crippling monthly diesel bills and switching to a virtually cash-free commute.

The Ampera promises to run for up to 50 miles on stored battery charge alone, and plugging it into the national grid and keeping it topped up will set me back just £1 on average. Add exemption from the London Congestion Charge, and the cost of my daily commuting round trip into the capital has been slashed from £25 to a mere £2.

Yet if I do want to stretch the Ampera’s legs on a weekend visit to family and friends, I can let the petrol engine keep the battery charged the whole way, filling up accordingly.

It sounds almost too good to be true – but there is one sticking point: the price. My car cost £33,995 including a £5,000 Government grant. So it’s expensive, but I guess that’s the price of progress.

Extra Info

“Few cars are as relaxing to drive as the Ampera. Seamless and near-silent power delivery, plus a decent ride, make its cabin an oasis of calm on even congested commutes.”
James Disdale, Road test editor

“I love the look of this car and think the technology is brilliant. It’s just a pity it’s so expensive. You need to spend a lot to save money on fuel and road tax.”
f1moh, via www.autoexpress.co.uk

Disqus - noscript

I'm biased, and I own a Lexus CT. However, the full hybrid technology that means you can run on either electric power or petrol appeals more to me. The Ampera only uses the internal combustion engine to charge up the battery to drive the driven wheels. The Volt has not been trouble free in the USA and sales have been slow. Frankly, hybrids are ten year old technology for Toyota, and this "Range Extending Electric Car" is new for GM, and I know who I trust to build reliable motor vehicles.

Why does it need a 1.4-litre 85bhp petrol engine to charge the batteries? Couldn't they put a 1.0-litre 30bhp diesel in instead & then that would increase the mileage when the engine is used for range extending.

We look foward to Julie's findings and hope that she will tell us what it really costs per mile compared to the expensive diesel she had. That must be based not only on fuel costs, but include at least depreciation, loss of interest on the deposit and interest charged on the balance. With the heafty initial cost, eye watering figures of up to 80 or 90 pence per mile can be expected if she only commutes with the car.

Hopefully, she will do some decent trips, say 200 miles and see what effect that has on fuel use.

Finally, oocanibetoo's idea of a 30 bhp engine is a non starter. Once battery level is down to 22%, the ICE cuts in and has to provide all the power through a relatively inefficient system (electricity must be generated, then regulated to feed the battery and then to electric motors to reach the wheels. Inefficiencies at each stage must be added to each other). With so little power, high speeds and hill climbing would be problematical.

i'm always biased towards both the Volt and the Ampera

And what would happen when the battery ran out and you need to travel on the motorway with a 30bhp engine...

Key specs

  • On fleet since: May 2012
  • Price when new: £33,995 including £5,000 Government grant
  • Running costs: N/A and 27g/km
  • Mileage: 1,388
  • Engine / Power: 1.4-litre 4cyl/electric motor, 148bhp
  • Trade-in value now: N/A
  • Insurance Group / Quote: 21/£481
  • Costs: None so far
  • Any problems?: None so far
  • Equipment: None

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