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Ground-breaking electric saloon impresses on UK roads

Our Verdict

Vauxhall Ampera
The handsome Ampera is primarily propelled by electric motors; a 1.4-litre petrol engine is used to charge the car's batteries

The Vauxhall Ampera promises the ability to cover 175 miles on a gallon of petrol. Does it deliver?

22 June 2010

What is it?

For many months, we’ve known all the vital statistics of GM’s new extended-range electric saloon, the Ampera, except one: how it feels to drive on a journey.

We’ve driven it briefly on test tracks and peered into its mechanical bowels. But we have never before passed that critical point where the charging engine starts, and we’ve never sampled the car on British roads.

The chance came last week, when we drove Vauxhall’s first Ampera between its Luton HQ and the factory at Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool, where the new Astra (on whose platform the Ampera is based) is made. Vauxhall hopes Ellesmere will be chosen for Ampera production – and took the car on a 170-mile journey to the head of the potential production line to show its seriousness. We drove about half the distance.

What's it like?

The Ampera feels almost eerily like an Astra. Its steering effort, gearing and responses are very similar. Its ride comfort is similar, too, though the usual nose-heaviness of the classic transverse front-drive model is reduced by the weight of the battery pack under the rear seat. Weight distribution is close to 50/50, and you can feel it.

Instead of a normal engine note you get the quiet whirr-whine of an electric motor. However, most of the time on Britain’s poor roads the motor is drowned out by road and wind noise. Indeed, the car’s refinement makes it clear that the creators of E-REVs will have to get much better at noise reduction.

As for the all-important engine start, which happened as the range countdown in the avant-garde instrument pack reached zero, it was truly imperceptible. Just occasionally, on gradients or under acceleration you hear a distant whirr, but it is never more than subdued.

Performance is weaker as speeds rise, but we were able to bowl along easily with the motorway traffic. At our first stop, after a total of 80 miles, a rough estimate that included the first 40 miles of battery power put our fuel consumption at over 150mpg. Clearly, the car’s tailpipe CO2 emissions are going to be a fraction of those of its all-petrol and all-diesel brethren.

Should I buy one?

Buying an Ampera early in its life strikes me as a complicated mixture of good and bad. On one hand you’ll get the kudos among your peers of being an early adopter, and someone who cares enough about the environment to commit money to the cause.

What’s more, you’ll discover what 175mpg feels like. But on the other, you’ll pay big money (especially if the government withdraws its promised subsidy of £5000 a car) and you’ll be buying something with no resale track record at all. Bottom line: it’s a risk.

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Comments
22

29 June 2010

Sounds very very promising, This and the plug in Prius, to me, are the future of the drivetrains for family motoring. Electric only and fuel cells are a long way off as they require infrastructure investment. We have the infrastructure for this now. Lets hope Toyota and Vauxhall recognise that reasonably priced, these will sell by the truckload, and build their pricing model accordingly.

29 June 2010

Check this out. I found this cool article about an electric supercar that puts the Tesla in its dust. Check it out: http://peakyourinterest.com/category/peak-your-engine/

29 June 2010

[media]http://green.autoblog.com/2009/12/04/la-2009-cmt-380-packs-microturbine-...

That's the kind of thinking I want to see. Turbines as range-extenders, not weighty, complex piston engines. Better efficiency, lighter weight (for which read better handling, ride and fuel economy), etc. A RWD Volt/Ampera with a turbine could tempt me...

For the record, I quite like the styling. Sort of Saab meets Insignia VXR meets original Insignia concept meets VXR8.

29 June 2010

[quote Straight Six Man]For the record, I quite like the styling. Sort of Saab meets Insignia VXR meets original Insignia concept meets VXR8[/quote]

Or four door Subaru SVX at the rear?

JT.

29 June 2010

[quote JimTurner]Or four door Subaru SVX at the rear?[/quote] Ah, memories. Weirdly wonderful car.

29 June 2010

[quote Straight Six Man]For the record, I quite like the styling. Sort of Saab meets Insignia VXR meets original Insignia concept meets VXR8.[/quote] If they made it look like a Rover P6, but stuffed it full of hypothetical gubbins like a dimensionally transcendental silicon-based turbine attached to a photon warp drive (converted to run ethically and environmentally on the driver's surplus drivel), then even better.

29 June 2010

[quote Dan McNeil v2][quote Straight Six Man]For the record, I quite like the styling. Sort of Saab meets Insignia VXR meets original Insignia concept meets VXR8.[/quote] If they made it look like a Rover P6, but stuffed it full of hypothetical gubbins like a dimensionally transcendental silicon-based turbine attached to a photon warp drive (converted to run ethically and environmentally on the driver's surplus drivel), then even better.[/quote]

Not at all. I happen to think microturbine range extenders are the future, that's all. Making it look like a rotbox (with equal emphasis on rot and box) like the P6 would be a big failure. A totally different approach, bringing a radically low drag coefficient, would be required. I seem to remember today's Merc E-class coupé is only 0.24? That needs to be the benchmark for today. Good-looking car, too.

29 June 2010

[quote Straight Six Man]

[quote Dan McNeil v2][quote Straight Six Man]For the record, I quite like the styling. Sort of Saab meets Insignia VXR meets original Insignia concept meets VXR8.[/quote] If they made it look like a Rover P6, but stuffed it full of hypothetical gubbins like a dimensionally transcendental silicon-based turbine attached to a photon warp drive (converted to run ethically and environmentally on the driver's surplus drivel), then even better.[/quote]

Not at all. I happen to think microturbine range extenders are the future, that's all. Making it look like a rotbox (with equal emphasis on rot and box) like the P6 would be a big failure. A totally different approach, bringing a radically low drag coefficient, would be required. I seem to remember today's Merc E-class coupé is only 0.24? That needs to be the benchmark for today. Good-looking car, too.

[/quote] No, disagree. Modifying the P6 would be a good start. Remember, Rover were involved in turbines in a big way in the rose-tinted past, so it would seem only natural for whoever owns (or soon will own) Rover to project nostalgia onto something a bit more retro, this giving long dead punters what they want in the here and now. My only curiosity would be how these turbine range extenders would be fueled.

29 June 2010

[quote Dan McNeil v2]No, disagree. Modifying the P6 would be a good start. Remember, Rover were involved in turbines in a big way in the rose-tinted past, so it would seem only natural for whoever owns (or soon will own) Rover to project nostalgia onto something a bit more retro, this giving long dead punters what they want in the here and now. My only curiosity would be how these turbine range extenders would be fueled.[/quote]

I suppose having an already-homologated spaceframe chassis would be a good start... but how do deal with the rot? I know! Use an Audi A8 aluminium spaceframe instead... indeed, Rover did lead the way with turbines, but it's unfortunate that they went for a direct drive approach (as did Chrysler) rather than looking at hybrids, so the fuel economy was terrible. Jay Leno found that out to his cost with his otherwise wonderful EcoJet supercar...

The idea of range-extender series hybrids had, I believe, been explored (without turbines) way back in the early days of the car... IF Rover was to be reborn (and it's a big if), retro would have to go out the window. That's what killed it in the end. Quality was OK-ish (and could have been improved easily) - the big problems were the managers (and yes, BMW has to be held partly responsible for Rover's death) and the model line-up. I'm told the 75 is a capable car, and the one I rode in seemed to ride and handle well, but the quality corner-cutting, and the overall style, really put me off.

As for fuelling? What's great about turbines is that they'll burn pretty much anything. Biofuels are possible: as second-gen, non-food-source-affecting biofuels come on stream, we'll be using them more and more.

As I say, though, rose-tinted glasses, retro style and elderly/dead punters would have to go right out the window, in favour of an Audi-esque rebirth as a cool, modern, technical brand.

Obligatory disclaimer: this is all merely my subjective opinion, of course.

29 June 2010

It's interesting - currently the Prius is panned by some for being an IC engine lugging around the extra weight of a motor, batteries etc. Now we have something with a greater electric range that for the majority of journeys will be lugging round a heavy and underused IC engine. Yet the same users pan the Leaf which will have 2 1/2 times the range of the Ampera and doesn't lug around a heavy IC engine that you paid for, but rarely use. Of course I'm being devil's advocate here - the Ampera you can use as a first car, as once the batteries run out there's always petrol stations. Maybe in 10 years time some will see this as a surprise we didn't go down a fully EV route? As for the engine in here I'm not impressed - a 1.4 lump from the Corsa is not the engine this deserves. While I'm not Rover P6-3500s and his unhealthy obsession/attraction to microturbines they do need something lighter and smaller. I reckon an 800cc, 2 or 3 cylinder with direct injection, a low pressure turbo and either 2 valves per cylinder for low speed running, or 4 valves per cylinder when required for greater power output - nothing to stop you running over two rev ranges that are most efficient. The new Honda CRZ integrates in to the VTEC the ability to close fully one inlet valve at low engine speeds to create better swirl. So, put an engine like that in the Ampera and I think you'd see better range, quieter, lighter etc, but also more expensive.

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