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Vauxhall Ampera Electron

Click to view picture gallery“With fuel prices spiralling ever
  upwards, Vauxhall’s five-door, four-
  seater Ampera electric range
  extender family car makes a timely
  debut, wearing its just-awarded 2012
  European Car of the Year crown

THE AMPERA OFFERS A DIFFERENT DRIVETRAIN solution to that of other petrol and diesel hybrid and all-electric cars. The Ampera's system probably the most effective to date has a twin electric motor pack driving the wheels but with a 1.4-litre petrol engine powering a generator to drive the electric motors and a mains-charged lithium-ion battery pack.

So at no time does the petrol engine directly drive the wheels which are, at all times, driven electrically. The additional lithium-ion battery pack is charged from the conventional 240-volt mains electricity supply: using a fast charge facility, a full charge takes around four hours; and around six hours for a modern household 13amp socket charge-up. Depending upon the tariff, a full charge currently costs around £1.

With a range of
360 miles, the Ampera is
the most convincing
of all the
cars currently
on sale...”
The battery-only mode gives 50 miles of travel but the petrol-generator-electric motors range extender system adds a further 310 miles from one tank of petrol.

With a range of 360 miles, the Ampera is the most convincing of all the alternative-powered cars currently on sale. Its only real competitor will be the slightly cheaper to buy Chevrolet Volt, which also goes on sale shortly.

Officially the Ampera achieves 235.4mpg combined with tailpipe emissions of 27g/km! On test this week, the battery-only mode gave my test Ampera 44.6 miles of travel before the petrol-powered generator driving the electric motors took over. I finished my 139-mile test drive (which covered M3 and M4 commuter area traffic and less busy rural A and B roads) with the Ampera averaging 66.1mpg.

Significantly the Ampera (along with the Volt) does not suffer the problem of all electric cars to date — that of severe range limitation between recharging. Plus it can compete for driving potential against the likes of the petrol-hybrid Toyota Prius. Even if the Ampera's battery pack cannot be charged from the mains, the car can be run on the petrol-powered range extender generator and electric motor function.

The only problem the Ampera has is its purchase price: even after subtracting the Government's £5,000 special discount, it's still going to cost £32,250 for the Positiv version and £33,995 for the higher-specced Electron. The entry level model arrives in September, but even that will cost a fiver short of £30K.

The zero cost road tax and 5% company car tax helps somewhat to offset the high purchase price but companies (the likely main customers) will be attracted more by the 'green' image for their business and, on a more mercenary note, by the first year capital gains tax write-down allowance.

For higher mileage company car users, a fuel-efficient five-door turbodiesel model such as the similarly-sized Insignia will be around £10,000 cheaper to buy, but will not have the low tax benefits.

“Crucially, it can be driven anywhere
on the road at any time
with no worries
about the driving range
and with no fear of
having to switch off the
radio or heater
to conserve battery
The main appeal for retail and business customers will be the Ampera's technology and, of course, the fact that it looks far better than any other eco electric or hybrid car being sold today.

It also drives much better as well — there's no sloppy handling; although the ride is very firm, it's comfortable on smoother road surfaces. It's also roomy enough for four people, the interior is very well equipped, it has distinctive styling and it also appeals with lots of hi-tech and power-use displays.

And thanks to its 148bhp electric motors and the huge amount of torque — 273lb ft from a low 250rpm — it's swift, too: 100mph and zero to 60mph in a brisk 8.7 seconds. Plus, for a car of this size, it's also relatively economical.

Crucially, it can be driven anywhere on the road at any time with no worries about the driving range and with no fear of having to switch off the radio or heater to conserve battery power.

To maximise fuel efficiency and to meet the requirements that different driving conditions dictate, there are four driving modes. These are Normal (the default setting), Sport (automatically sharpens up accelerator and torque responses), Mountain mode will rarely be needed but it ensures sufficient battery energy for prolonged driving up mountains when the 1.4-litre petrol engine powering the generator might run out of puff. Lastly, Hold-charge mode allows the driver to preserve the full energy stored in the charged battery pack for use in zero emission or city zones.

The only real power-saving item missing for a car in this class is electrically-adjustable seats. However, middle-range and top models do get heated front seats. The base model coming to us later in the year is kitted out with AirCon, power-operated windows and door mirrors, DAB radio, 7-inch touchscreen, cruise control, split-folding rear seats (boot/load space: 300/1,005 litres), and alloy wheels.

The mid-range Positiv version adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, front and rear parking sensors and rear-view camera.

Additionally, the range-topping Electron comes with an infotainment unit with SatNav, bespoke Bose energy-efficient sound system, DVD player and voice-controlled navigation, telephone and music system.

“An electric-powered car
with no driving range
limitations — the Ampera
marks a milestone in
motoring history
All Ampera models come with Vauxhall's Lifetime/100,000 mile warranty and eight years' battery coverage.

For? It appeals for being an electric-powered car with no driving range limitations, low tax implications and low running costs. It also delivers good commuter driving range fuel efficiency, is stylish, distinctive and well equipped — and is a milestone in motoring history.

Against? It's pricey and there are only 24 UK sales and service points. It also comes with a fidgety and firm ride, and uncommunicative steering with a strong self-centring tendency.

However, with its low 27g/km of CO2 emissions and no driving range limitations, what the new Ampera does provide is greener motoring peace of mind — unless, of course, the £30,000+ price tag will give you financial worries…

A boost to its appeal were the scenes across the country this week of frustrated motorists queuing at fuel stations. Ampera owners will have no such problems and just glide silently by using battery power only; at least for up to 50 miles at a time! — David Miles

Vauxhall Ampera Electron | £33,995
Maximum speed: 100mph | 0-60mph: 8.7 seconds | Overall test MPG: 66.1mpg
Power: 148bhp/85bhp | Torque: 273lb ft | CO2 27g/km