Having previously driven various prototypes, here we’re trying Vauxhall’s revolutionary electric range extender in final production spec. However for UK buyers the wait continues, with RHD cars not due before Q2 2012. A frustration because, based on this drive the Ampera makes a remarkable amount of sense.
What’s it like?
Apart from the obvious lack of engine noise when running on battery charge, the Ampera behaves very much like a conventional car. The steering although lacking feel is decently accurate and consistently weighted, and the ride is particularly good.
At 1732kg the Ampera is quite a bit heavier than a regular family hatchback, however the 148bhp electric motor provides enough propulsion for most circumstances. Vauxhall hasn’t issued final performance figures but claim 0-62mph in around nine seconds, which feels about right.
Compared to the prototypes we’ve driven before, the final car is noticeably quieter – both in terms of wind noise and whine from the electric motor. The big test today though is how well the Ampera’s range extending drivetrain works over a medium distance journey.
Starting with the 16 kWh lithium-ion battery fully charged – which takes around 4hrs from a domestic plug – we managed 47 miles before the 1.4-litre petrol engine/generator kicked in. That’s mixed driving (urban and motorway) in 34deg ambient temperatures with the air-conditioning in ECO mode (pleasant enough).
With the petrol motor generating electricity to power the car the Ampera is less refined, but no louder than a conventional car. Although arguably the engine’s revolutions are more noticeable because they are not directly linked to the movement of your right foot – in some circumstances the engine races as you slow the car. That said, I’m sure its something you’d become accustomed to.
In total we travelled 62 miles, using 2.4-litres of fuel in the process. Which means the Ampera returned 28.4mpg under petrol power (albeit in heavy traffic) but a headline grabbing 118mpg over the total journey.
Should I buy one?
That level of real-world economy, coupled with a manageable recharge time and none of the range anxiety you get with a full electric car is a compelling proposition. The only issue is the Ampera’s price - £28,995 – and how much of the premium over a mainstream hatch will be preserved on resale. That GM is bringing just 10,000 Ampera’s to Europe in the first 12mths should help though.
If you’re tempted – get in early when the order books open in November.
Price: £28,995; Top Speed: 100mph; 0-62mph: 9sec (est); Economy: >176mpg (combined); Co2: <40g/km; Kerbweight: 1732kg; Engine: Voltec electric drive unit with 1.4-litre petrol range extender; Power: 148bhp; Torque: 273 lb ft; Gearbox: single speed