November 23, 2017

VAUXHALL AMPERA: THE ELECTRIC CAR WITH A DIFFERENCE

Vauxhall_Ampera_review_electric_car_writeonmotoring_02Although with undeniable benefits, (zero tailpipe emissions, impressive acceleration and high refinement) electric cars have one universal problem… range anxiety  – the concern that you’ll be stranded short of your destination when your battery runs out of charge. Range anxiety is made worse by the tendency for electric vehicles to fall considerably short of their offical range, with many prominent electric cars with an 80 to 100 mile claimed range only managing 50 or 60 miles. All these factors have so far consigned electric cars to city or second car use only.

Vauxhall’s futuristic Ampera neatly gets around that problem by having its own generator on board, in the form of a 1.4 litre 85 bhp petrol engine. But unlike other hybrid cars from Honda and Toyota, here the engine acts as a generator only, powering the battery which still drives the electric motor: hence giving Ampera the Range Extender designation.

Ampera is the same car as the well proven and highly regarded Chevrolet Volt, save for a restyled nose and tweaked suspension. Aside from that Ampera shares the same visually striking looks, comprising steeply raked roof, large hatch and high sided flanks with high-set side windows.

Vauxhall_Ampera_review_electric_car_writeonmotoring_19Two LCD screens make for key dashboard focal points: one provides core driver info such as speed, mileage, remaining battery charge and efficiency range indicator, the other larger centrally located unit displaying all other information pertaining to the radio/CD, ventilation and navigation. It also gives detailed information on electric and petrol consumption since the last charge, in the form of a pie chart, as well as an overall mpg rating.

Standard equipment on all Amperas includes 17-inch alloy wheels, electric windows, climate control, DAB and Bluetooth. Mid spec Positiv models adds a reversing camera and heated leather seats, while this top-of-the-range Electron example benefits from an audio system incorporating 60 GB hard drive and a touch-screen sat-nav, which usefully directs you to the nearest fuel stations and charging points when the car is low on power.

The Bose audio system delivers impressive levels of fidelity – helped by a particularly quiet and refined cabin.

Comfort is high on the agenda too, with the Ampera boasting supportive well shaped chairs front and rear, although the interior space is more akin to an Astra than an Insignia, with the T shaped battery pack meaning no third rear seat. The 300 litre boot is smaller than the Nissan LEAF and Toyota Prius too, although the exceptionally large hatch aperture allows for easy load access and the rear seats fold completely flat to give a decent 1,005 litre carrying capacity.

Vauxhall_Ampera_review_electric_car_writeonmotoring_09Build quality feels generally very good, with just a few hints of cheapness in the way of hard plastics and a material net in place of a parcel shelf.

On the road:

Moving away from standstill in Ampera is quite an occasion, because there’s no conventional engine noise: just some hi-tech whirring sounds reminiscent of something out of the sci-fi movie, ‘Back To The Future’. If there’s charge in the battery, once under way, all that permeates the cabin is some road noise, the cabin being a hushed place indeed. In electric mode Ampera has a 25-50 mile range, after which point there’s a seamless switch to range extender mode where the petrol engine serves as a generator, intermittently cutting in to supply charge to the battery and providing an additional 310 miles of driving range.

Vauxhall_Ampera_review_electric_car_writeonmotoring_21

On electric power Ampera can achieve around 250 mpg, but once the battery charge is depleted, running on range extender mode, will see a significant drop in efficiency, although you’ll still be miles ahead of diesel when the majority of the journey has been powered electrically. Our mixed 55 mile route using 80% electric and 20% petrol range extender returned 224 mpg. Conversely, once the bulk of the journey has been covered using range extender mode, the advantage swiftly diminishes. A mixed 170 mile route using 25% electric and 75% petrol range extender returned 65 mpg. A journey completed without any battery charge whatsoever results in Ampera’s efficiency dropping down to that of a typical 2.0 diesel engine: around 45 – 50 mpg, depending on driving style and traffic conditions.

Given that Ampera is an eco-minded car – indeed much enjoyment can be had in monitoring and extracting maximum fuel efficiency – nevertheless performance is impressively rapid. The 148bhp electric motor serves up 340 Nm of torque almost instantly, meaning the Vauxhall feels quicker than its 0-62 time of 8.7 seconds would suggest. Top speed is restricted to 100 mph.

Vauxhall_Ampera_review_electric_car_writeonmotoring_05Although handling isn’t in the performance saloon realm, Ampera always feels secure, remaining stable and gripping well without much roll. Steering is quick and pretty precise, too. The ride is generally smooth – especially over bigger bumps, although it can become a little fidgety on some road surfaces at lower speeds. One rather annoying niggle is the low front bumper spoiler which has a habit of scraping on speed bumps: a bit daft on a car primarily designed for urban use.

Rear visibility isn’t Ampera’s greatest asset, although this is offset with good mirrors, reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors. Vauxhall_Ampera_review_electric_car_writeonmotoring_04

Ownership:

Servicing costs are comparable with other Vauxhall models, ranging from £115 for an interim and £280 for a full service. Aside from faulty battery chargers and sticking charging flaps and a few electrical glitches, no major issues have been reported and reassuringly, along with Vauxhall’s Lifetime warranty, the battery is also covered by an eight year/100,000 mile battery warranty.

The purchase price of £29,995 (including £5,000 Government grant) for the cheapest specification does remain high, although Vauxhall is sweetening the deal with a new ownership package on Positiv and Electron trims, which will entitle buyers to three years or 60,000 miles free servicing and a £2,000 fuel contribution. There’s also the option to lease from £332 pcm.

Vauxhall_Ampera_review_electric_car_writeonmotoring_06Charging of the 16 kWh lithium-ion battery can be done at home, via a normal 240V domestic socket  and costs between £1 and £2, taking under six hours – or in less than four hours using an upgraded 16A power supply, which is fitted free of charge with the purchase of a new Ampera. There’s also a nationwide electric vehicle (EV) charging network covering over 100 UK towns, cities and key routes, with more future charging points planned at supermarkets, petrol stations and airports.

Verdict:

Whether or not the Ampera will prove a viable proposition will depend on your situation. To derive full eco-benefit, you’ll need somewhere to plug it in overnight – preferably a dedicated driveway or garage and the majority of your journeys won’t exceed 50 miles. However, if you meet these criteria, then Ampera has unique appeal in offering cost affective home-sourced electric daily commuting, with the ability to go further under petrol power when required.

Add it the fact that it’s a stylish, comfortable, refined, well equipped and good to drive and you have a worthy winner. Little wonder that Ampera’s sister car, Chevrolet Volt, has hit the American market by storm.

Tech spec:

Vauxhall Ampera Electron
OTR Price (including Plug in Car Grant) £33,995
Max Power: 150 PS @ 5000 rpm
Max Torque 370Nm @ 250-2800 rpm
Top Speed: 100 mph (limited)
0-62 mph: 8.7 seconds
Battery: 16-kWh Lithium-ion
CO2 emissions: g/km) 27
Claimed combined mpg: 235.4

 

 

About Philip