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Vauxhall Ampera Positiv

Click to view picture gallery“Like most people, Im not overly
  fussed about what
s powering my
  wheels, and am perfectly happy
  to use an electric car every day just
  so long as it can provide the range

  without the anxiety. Like Vauxhall
n Play extended-range electric
  vehicle, the Ampera: the only EV
  totally suitable for all journeys

I DON'T NEED TO BE Derren Brown to predict your first question: But what about the performance?" Actually the Ampera's performance is more than fit for purpose
the top speed is a good old-fashioned 'ton' (100mph) while the benchmark 0-62mph is a spirited 8.7 seconds.

So what's under the flamboyant-looking Ampera's bonnet? ICE! Surprisingly, for a full-fledged EV (electric vehicle), a compact four-pot 1.4-litre petrol-drinking internal combustion engine.

However, none of the bhp produced by this 'slave' engine reaches the wheels. Well, not directly, because the combustion engine is only there to charge the main battery pack. What drives the Ampera's front wheels at all times is a 147bhp electric drive unit powered by a battery pack installed under the boot floor.

“No, you don’t have to
turn off the AirCon
to save the battery!
This silent running,
electric-driven Ampera
does everything a
traditional car will do,
including taking four
adults as far as
360 miles without
Basically, at speeds up to 60mph the main electric motor does all the work; above that it runs in tandem with a smaller secondary electric motor.

Electricity stored within the main battery powers the wheels for up to 50 miles. For the record, GM's research shows this will satisfy the daily commuting needs of 85% of the Western world's motorists — all without consuming a drop of expensive unleaded.

When the battery needs recharging the 'range-extender' petrol engine seamlessly kicks-in to run an on-board generator which in turn provides the electricity for a further 310 miles. Although the Ampera's state-of-the-art power-sharing arrangements are technologically complicated, the driver has absolutely no need to understand how it all works — after all, you don't need (or even want) to know how electricity works to turn on the light in your kitchen. Just mentally thank GM, relax, and make use of it because it works. Exceedingly well.

So what does it all mean to the end-user? Two things: cleaner motoring (27g/km) and, even if you don't give a fig for the environment, a range of as much as 360 miles — which lays that EV range anxiety bogeyman well and truly to rest.

And I can already hear your next question: But isn't it just another übergreen hairshirt kind of car for 21st century hippies with only the most basic equipment, and AirCon you have to turn off to 'save' the battery? Fred Flintstone might believe that… but just take a look at what you get in the cabin. And Yes, you can leave the climate control on — all of the time!

Standard kit (and there's a lot of it) on the mid-range Positiv model provides you with all the essentials: leather upholstery, 3-stage heated front seats, touchscreen controls, electronic climate control, heated and power-operated door mirrors, electric windows, cruise control, Bose hi-fi with CD/MP3 player and DAB digital radio, USB connection and iPod control, Aux-in socket, and a hands-free mobile phone system with Bluetooth…

And there's more: electric park brake (works flawlessly), multi-function trip computer, tyre pressure monitoring, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto wipers, LED daytime running lights, leather-rim multifunction steering wheel, rear-view camera, front and rear parking distance sensors, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Oh, and you don't need to take the key out of your pocket to unlock the doors or start-up.

Safety is also comprehensively covered, with driver's and front passenger's airbags, front seat side-impact airbags, full-size curtain airbags, driver's and front passenger's knee airbags, and an Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) with traction control.

The cabin itself exudes a cosy, coupe-like ambience — it's a well-judged and smartly-presented marriage of high-tech and executive quality; stylish too, with a high standard of finish and quality trim materials.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that this Vauxhall feels as ‘quality’ as, say, an Audi — thanks to the first rate attention to detail throughout...”
In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that this Vauxhall feels as 'quality' as, say, an Audi — thanks to the first rate attention to detail throughout that even extends to the tailored floor mats and the easily-adjustable headrests with oh-so-easy release buttons in their sides.

The driving position is spot-on and made better by the lovely meaty, leather-rimmed multifunction (cruise, speed limiter, phone, voice, etc) wheel that feels great in your hands. Visibility to the front and sides is very good and, especially reassuring on wet days (this is the UK!), the windscreen wipers clear just about every last inch of the front screen.

As you'd expect with such a space-age propulsion system, the driver interfaces with the car via a pair of seven-inch LCD displays. The first, dead ahead and viewed through the steering wheel, does away with conventional instruments and shows key driver information clearly and attractively using self-explanatory icons and straightforward, supwe clear readouts. Nothing geeky here.

Centre of this display is a large mpg figure in clear glowing white showing your exact road speed. Brilliant. All cars should ditch traditional speedos and have one of these. Depending on the driver's requirements, different sets of information can be shown.

The second large screen (with intuitive 3D touchscreen operation) sits at the top of the centre stack and provides audio, navigation and multimedia. Just below it and the climate controls is a smooth zone that's home to a number of key-function touch pad buttons operated by your fingertips. Again, easy-peasy.

The cabin is a four-seater but it's on a par with mainstream Focus-sized hatchbacks, so it's big enough and practical enough for four adults. The four individual seats are smartly upholstered in black leather with perforated centre panels (and a white leather flash in the seatbacks to match the white high-gloss laminate door trims that run into the fascia), with comfy bolstering, and are surrounded with a good measure of space in all directions.

In the rear, the underfloor battery pack rules out a centre seat but that doesn't stop the two rear outer seats being notably comfortable — the fifth passenger's loss is definitely the other two passengers' gain!

Back seat passengers enjoy decent built-in lower back support and sit several inches higher than those in front, but even so their heads won't touch the roof and the view out is good.

“If you can charge a mobile phone you can charge up an Ampera. Simply plug the supplied cable into a 3-pin, 240V household socket and your Ampera will be fully charged in under six hours...”
Near-six-footers can sit behind similarly-sized adults with ease, separated from their companion by a long centre console that provides an open tray and a pair of cupholders.

Anyone travelling in the rear of an Ampera will definitely not feel like a second class citizen. Also handy is the easily-detached soft leather storage pouch velcroed between the 50:50 split rear backrests.

With the battery pack installed beneath the boot floor you might expect luggage space to be something of a token. Not so — it's not only of a decent size (300 litres) but the individual rear seatbacks also fold down to create a very usable, flat 1,200-litre cargo bay complete with sturdy lashing rings. Loading is over a six-inch lip but the tailgate opens high. The boot floor lifts (and stays in place) for access to the stored 6-metre charging lead, a standard 12V car battery (for the car's normal electrics) and a tyre repair and inflation kit.

Any doubts about charging the Ampera can be instantly dismissed: if you can charge a mobile phone you can charge up an Ampera. Simply plug the cable into a 3-pin, 240V household socket (preferably on a separate circuit; although ours wasn't and we didn't have any problems) and your Ampera will be fully charged in under six hours.

Alternatively you can take advantage of a free home-charging unit installation kit that will recharge your Ampera in under four hours — in February 2013 the Government announced funding for owners of electric vehicles (EVs) under which they will cover 75% of costs for home-charging unit installations (up to a maximum of £1,000 including VAT). And, for new private buyers taking up the offer, those nice folk at Vauxhall will meet the remaining 25%.

People who haven't driven an EV tend to imagine there's something fiendishly tricksy about them. Not a bit. The Ampera comes equipped with a selector lever with settings you'll find in a conventional auto: the lever moves out of Park through Reverse to Neutral into Drive; and like a conventional auto it 'creeps' in D or R when you lift off the brake pedal. A Low position reduces speed without braking and is useful for steep hills, snow or mud.

Additionally there's a Drive Mode button offering four driving modes: Normal, Sport, Hold, and Mountain. The default Normal is a select 'n' forget mode that's all you really need for everyday driving. Sport delivers more responsive acceleration while Hold reserves main battery charge by switching to the range-extender mode so when you reach low-emission urban zones you have enough in hand to avoid the recharging petrol engine cutting-in.

Mountain (ideally selected about twenty minutes before beginning your ascent) ensures there's always enough power stored in the battery to guarantee full performance when climbing long, steep gradients such as you'd find in the Highlands — although we went up some demanding inclines using Normal and it worked perfectly fine. Even so, it's nice to know you've got back-up should you ever really need it.

“Press down on the loud’ pedal and you’ll be
met by golden
silence — at the same
time you’ll be amazed by
just how deceptively
quick the electric motor
gets you off the mark.
In fact, at any time
and speed, response to
the throttle is instantaneous
Powering up couldn't be simpler: press the glowing blue Power button to switch on the ignition; the 'car' icon in the instrument display will illuminate bright green and you're good to go. Power delivery — always superbly smooth — is notable for its quietness.

Press down on the loud pedal and, particularly in pure electric mode, you'll be met by golden silence — at the same time you'll be amazed by just how deceptively quick the electric motor gets you off the mark. In fact, at any time and speed, response to the throttle is instantaneous. All of which makes the Ampera a very relaxing and gratifying car to drive (or to be driven in).

Adding to the physical comfort provided by the four individual seats is an impressively compliant ride. But it's not too soft to provide respectable handling, and the Ampera can be punted around on decent roads. And when it's time to park the light-ish steering, rear-view camera and accurate parking sensors make snaking Vauxhall's EV into tight parking bays a stress-free job.

The only thing you need to get used to is that people won't hear you coming — pressing the button on the end of the indicator stalk sounds a soft-note audible warning (not as strident as the normal horn) to alert foot traffic to your presence.

Silent running aside, probably the biggest kick you'll get while driving an Ampera is wafting blithely past petrol stations. Actually, it's quite possible you may never visit one again…

Besides, charging up at home is so much more civilised. And cheap — the cost of a full recharge from the mains, depending on your supplier, is between £1 and £2. And that will get you as far as fifty miles before the petrol engine begins generating more electricity until you can recharge from a household socket or a public charging point. Better still, your frugal mile-per-charge costs are bolstered by not having to put your hand in your pocket for road tax or Boris's London Congestion Charge.

And now, thanks to Vauxhall's 30-day 'Love it or Return it' scheme, the Ampera (the 2012 European Car of the Year) comes complete with ZPA — Zero Purchase Anxiety. Buyers get a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, meaning that you can buy it, try it, and if it doesn't suit, simply return it within 30 days, no questions asked. Not that you'll want to. — MotorBar

Vauxhall Ampera Positiv | £32,250
Maximum speed: 100mph | 0-62mph: 8.7 seconds | Overall MPG: 235.4mpg
Power: 147bhp | Torque: 272lb ft | CO2 27g/km