No driver of an ordinary Vauxhall is likely to be fazed by driving the new Ampera. The car’s controls and responses have been deliberately adapted to seem very familiar to any driver used to two-pedal motoring; for instance, you select Drive with a normal T-bar shift, whereupon the car creeps a little when you rtelease the brake, just like a conventional petrol-powered automatic. Three things stand out, all advantages. First is the silence; the car moves away from standstill without a sound from the powertrain. Even at 50-60mph it operates with the very faintest whirring. With the well-insulated range-extender petrol engine running it will still be quiet, because the charging engine won’t be related to road speed, but will run at constant speeds between about 2000 and 4000rpm.
This refinement is likely to place extra load on NVH engineers to dial out previously unheard sounds, like wheel bearings, suspension thumps and sounds of the brakes retarding the car, but its quietness will certainly be valued by car hi-fi enthusiasts.
The second quality is smoothness: the car goes like the most seamless of expensive straight-sixes. Third, and most important, is the Ampera’s impressive off-the-mark performance. Electric motors develop full torque from start-up; at below 40mph the Ampera responds more like V6 turbodiesel, with CVT, than an economy car.
The acceleration tails off a little above 60mph, but the car always feels willing, even at the 80mph motorway cruise which is perfectly feasible. What is more, the car can deliver this performance whether it is using battery power or the range-extender.
In short, it feels like a vision of the future — only better.