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Vauxhall Ampera

Click to view picture gallery“Vauxhall is on a charge with its
  ‘green
Ampera range extender
  electric vehicle — after being rolled
  out in Holland, France and Germany,
  the Ampera will reach UK show-
  rooms in May 2012
...”


PRICED AT 34,000 (although the Government's 5,000 grant for environmentally-friendly vehicles knocks this down to 28,995), one of the Ampera's strongest selling points will be that it overcomes the 'range anxiety' associated with pure electric vehicles while delivering the benefits of very low running costs Vauxhall estimate that to fully charge the battery pack for a 50-mile journey will cost just 1; that's a tenth of what it costs for a petrol or diesel powered car to make the same trip.

And with the vast majority of drivers doing round trips of well under 50 miles a day, they could probably get away with not needing to use the Ampera's petrol engine at all to extend the range before returning to base and plugging-in for a re-charge. In EV (full electric) mode the range is approximately 50 miles; the petrol-assisted extended range is around 260 miles, making a total estimated range of 310 miles.

“As I prepared to get into
 my test Ampera,
another one rolled
silently through the car
park and I had to make
a reality check —
had I gone deaf?
Then, as I shut my
driver’s door and heard
the reassuring thud,
I knew I was about to
experience a totally new
driving experience
...”
As I prepared to get into my test Ampera, another one rolled silently through the car park and I had to make a reality check had I suddenly gone deaf? Then, as I shut my driver's door and heard the reassuring thud, I knew I was about to experience a totally new driving experience.

The four-seat Ampera's body and cabin has been designed in Europe and is very different to its sister car the Chevrolet Volt, already on sale in America. The Ampera has a sweep-around look to the cabin and the multitude of displays, the stack of touch-sensitive buttons on the centre console and the purposeful stalks and switches give the cabin the look of the flight deck on the space shuttle.

Not quite as groundbreaking as the Shuttle, the Ampera will nevertheless take drivers on a revolutionary hybrid journey unlike anything with four wheels that's gone before.

Conventional hybrids make use of an internal combustion engine backed up by an electric motor whereas the Ampera uses two electric traction motors to power the car and these are backed up by a comparatively small 1.4-litre petrol engine acting as a generator and known as a 'range extender'.

In appearance, the simple transmission selector is broadly similar to a conventional automatic in the Ampera it selects Forward, Reverse, Neutral and Hold functions. No major relearning is required; the button-operated parking brake, electric steering and footbrake are all in the conventional style.

Press the power button and the system goes live with dials illuminated; select D with the lever, toggle the handbrake button forward to release the parking brake and you're ready to go.

Forward progress is remarkably smooth with very low noise levels from the tyres and it gives the impression of being an executive car of a much larger size. Accelerating or easing off, the throttle response is good. Braking is strong and whenever you brake the regeneration system puts 'energy' back into the lithium-ion battery. The Ampera also turns smoothly, albeit a little lifelessly for me.

While the comparatively flat roads around Amsterdam did not really test the Ampera's suspension and handling to the limits, even on the rare bumpy piece of urban tarmac the Ampera soaked up shallow depressions with only a modest rise in road noise.

Rounding some sharp corners did generate a little body roll but nothing excessive; and on motorways it pulled away sharply and strongly. Vauxhall do say that steep hills will quickly drain the battery but you can pre-select the petrol engine as a generator to conserve battery power for ascents or use in urban environments to meet emissions requirements.

“On test, the battery pack
was good for a typical
range of 45 miles before
it seamlessly and
automatically gave way to
the ‘range extender

petrol engine — only
then did it sound more
like a conventional car
with a familiar but well-
dubbed engine note in
the background
...”
In the Ampera, battery power and the electric motors drive the wheels at all times; not the petrol engine. For the record, there's Voltec electric front-wheel drive, a mid-mounted 380V lithium-ion battery pack powering low- and high-speed 16KW motors, and a range extending four-cylinder 63KW (84bhp) petrol engine.

On test, the battery pack was good for a typical range of 45 miles before it seamlessly and automatically gave way to the 'range extender' petrol engine only then did it sound more like a conventional car with a familiar but well-dubbed engine note in the background.

As with most modern hatchbacks, the Ampera's bodystyle ensures good vision to the front and sides but its high tail and shallow back window restrict rearward visibility a lower glass screen in the fifth door helps some but you still need sensors or a rear-facing camera to help, as well as looking over your shoulder. Boot space is reasonable and, despite the high tail, access very good.

The driver has two displays on the fascia: in front is an 'on-road' screen displaying speed, active power mode, battery and efficiency indicators along with other warning lights; the second display, sited on top of the centre stack, is a multi-function screen for climate, music, navigation, economy and range calculation. Some information is duplicated across both screens, and I found there was possibly too much information being displayed with your eyes having to flit over two screens some inches apart. I did, however, like the soft-touch console buttons a first in this class of car.

Recharging the Ampera is easy: the charging port is on the left wing and it's a simple, ten-second job to hook up the on-board power cable to a suitable electric ring main it doesn't require any special high-power source and takes approximately four hours to fully charge a flat battery. For peace of mind, the Ampera comes with a lifetime mechanical and 8-year battery/generator guarantee.

Technically different to anything else you are likely to drive, it has been designed to be familiar to operate and means most motorists won't have to compromise to be clean 'n' green. Just keep their eyes and ears open! Robin Roberts

Vauxhall Ampera | 33,995
Maximum speed: 100mph | 0-62mph: 9 seconds
Power: 84bhp | CO2: under 40g/km