Vauxhall Ampera road test

  • We test the economical new Vauxhall Ampera
  • Features advanced range-extending technology
  • All-electric range of around 50 miles; costs £29,995

Many people may have been tempted by the green credentials of electric cars.

When they’ve looked closer at the reality of running one, however, they may have found it an unrealistic proposition.

That’s because most offer a range of less than 100 miles, and can take several hours to charge completely. Prospective buyers may also be put off over concerns about battery life and issues regarding charging points, or the lack of them.

With environmentally friendly motoring becoming higher on everybody’s lists, manufacturers have looked for ways to offer the benefits of all-electric motoring with the ease of use of a conventional car.

Neatly solving numerous range and charging-related issues is Vauxhall’s Ampera. The car, which shares its platform with the Chevrolet Volt, uses a new range-extending powertrain.

Under the Ampera’s bonnet lies an electric drive unit, which outputs 148bhp and 370Nm of pulling power. With charge supplied by a lithium-ion battery, it can deliver an all-electric range of 25 to 50 miles.

When the battery is depleted, a 1.4-litre petrol ‘range extender’ engine kicks in to generate the electricity required to continue powering the electric drive unit.

This means that, even if you run out of battery charge, you can continue driving the Ampera for as long as you have fuel. Vauxhall states that on petrol-generated electricity the Ampera can travel for around 310 miles, giving you a potential range of approximately 360 miles.

That’s considerably further than ‘pure’ electric alternatives such as the Nissan LEAF and Renault Fluence, both of which will struggle to do 80 miles in real-world conditions. The Ampera won’t require recharging to continue working either, simply fill it up with fuel and off you go.

To charge the Ampera’s battery, you simply plug it in. Use a standard domestic socket and it’ll take six hours to charge a flat battery, while a faster home-charger that cuts this time to four hours is also available.

Thanks to this range-extending technology, and the way economy testing is carried out, the Ampera can claim a 235.4mpg average. It’s unrealistic to expect that this is what you would normally achieve in day-to-day driving but, if you were solely using battery power, it is possible.

On a mixed test route we managed 43.7 miles on battery power alone, more than enough for most commutes. Later, with a flat battery and the petrol range-extender supplying the power instead, the Ampera returned an indicated 47.6mpg average.

Considering that it was being driven without any particular regard to economy, that’s impressive. It bodes well for an average petrol consumption of around 50 to 55mpg. Combine that with the Ampera’s electric capabilities and, potentially, you’ll use very little fuel.

Low emissions of 27g/km of CO2 also means that you won’t pay any road tax, showroom tax or congestion charge fees. This, combined with its excellent economy and inexpensive servicing, will help keep the total cost of motoring down.

Don’t assume that because the Vauxhall is green, that it’s slow. Despite a rather substantial kerbweight of 1,732kg, the Ampera can accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds. That’s on a par with most conventional saloons. Its top speed is limited to a perfectly adequate 100mph.

As electric motors deliver maximum pulling power from a standing start, the Ampera will surge satisfyingly away from a stop. It has plenty of power in reserve too, making overtaking stress-free.

Although the handling is rather uninvolving, the Ampera is still an enjoyable car to drive. It’s quiet, comfortable, well equipped, has plenty of pace and it rides well.

With its range-extender technology there are no concerns about journey distances, and the experience is made a little more interesting thanks to a range of informative and well-presented in-car displays.

Vauxhall has done much to ward off any concerns about potential battery issues as well. With the battery guaranteed for eight years and 100,000 miles, and the car benefiting from a ‘lifetime’ 100,000 mile warranty, there’s little to worry about.

Admittedly all of the models command a substantial premium compared with a normal petrol or diesel saloon. Some of that price difference is justified by the technology, potential economy and the comprehensive standard equipment.

The Vauxhall Ampera is available to order now. Prices start at £32,250 for the Positiv model, rising to £33,995 for the Electron model, inclusive of the £5,000 Government grant.

An entry level model, inspiringly called the Entry, will be available in summer for £29,995.

To read the full Parkers review of the Vauxhall Ampera, click here

Also consider:

Chevrolet Volt
The Volt uses the same platform and technology as the Ampera. There’s only a few differences, so it’s worth looking at as you may find the Chevrolet slightly cheaper than the Ampera.

Volvo S40
It might seem like an odd alternative, but Volvo’s saloon is available in DRIVe specification. That means the potential for an average 74mpg and emissions of 99g/km of CO2. It’s also comfortable, safe and stylish.

Nissan LEAF
If you’re not so concerned about range issues, and would prefer a ‘pure’ electric vehicle, then you could consider Nissan’s LEAF. It benefits from zero emissions, relatively low running costs and a comfortable interior.