We try the innovative range-extender electric car on British roads for the first time
This four-seat electric family car is futuristically styled inside and out, plus it’s easy to drive and well equipped. The technology under the Ampera’s body is fantastic and we applaud Vauxhall owner GM for putting it into production. It’s expensive, but a range-extender like this makes the low running costs of electric motoring appealing to a wider range of motorists. We think the Ampera is a winning idea.
The Vauxhall Ampera is the most important new Vauxhall in a generation and could lay the blueprint for how all future cars are powered.
This long-awaited family car is neither a hybrid, like the Toyota Prius, nor a pure electric vehicle, like the Nissan Leaf. In many ways it’s a combination of both.
Under the bonnet is a 148bhp electric motor and a 1.4-litre petrol engine. The Ampera is powered by electricity and the engine only starts up to maintain the minimum charge in the battery and extend the car’s range, or at over 75mph when it assists the electric motor. A lithium-ion battery pack is positioned in a T-shape in the centre of the car and behind the rear seats. When the battery runs down, the petrol engine becomes a generator, providing energy for the electric drivetrain.
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With a full charge, we covered nearly 35 miles in electric-only mode before the engine fired up. Yet even with the engine running, the Vauxhall is efficient. Over our 300-mile, four-day test, it returned more than 70mpg.
Obviously that is a lot lower than the 235mpg claimed, but our drive did include acceleration at a test track. We reckon you could match Vauxhall’s claim in regular driving, providing you charge the car once a day.
When in use, the engine runs at its most efficient speed, which means it hums away regardless of how hard you’re pressing the accelerator. With maximum torque of 340Nm, acceleration is punchy and as smooth and seamless as in any full-electric car. On the downside, the brakes are a bit jerky. That’s because they are regenerative – when slowing, the motor sends charge back to the batteries, but the set-up isn’t very progressive. The ride is firm, too.
The weight of the batteries does affect handling, although they are mounted low down, which helps keep body roll in check.
On the plus side, refinement is excellent and the Ampera is more relaxing to drive than hybrids with noisy CVT gearboxes like the Prius. It has a comfortable driving position, while futuristic display screens and touchpad controls take the place of traditional dials and buttons. The main one ahead of the driver displays the drive modes, plus the remaining range.
A second screen is for the sat-nav, stereo and climate control.It also displays more complex trip information, plus it allows you to manage your recharging settings.
The Ampera will initially be available in Positiv and Electron trims, and it qualifies for the Government’s £5,000 EV grant. Road tax is free, too. Crucially, with a range of over 300 miles, it’s the first electric car not to rely on charging infrastructure.