Only the most rabid electric car fan would argue that the current state of battery technology and the absence of a national recharging infrastructure isn’t a major impediment to the widespread uptake of electric motoring. On paper the new Vauxhall Ampera has the perfect answer to the problem by providing medium range zero-emission electric motoring and long range petrol engine flexibility in the same vehicle.
Before we get into the nitty gritty a few words about the Voltec powertrain used in the Ampera. When in motion the car is propelled by its 111kW (149bhp) electric traction motors. For the first 35 miles or so this motor will be drawing power from a 16kWh lithium-ion battery that can be recharged from any domestic 3-pin socket.
When the battery charge hits the 22% level a 85bhp 1.4L four-cylinder petrol engine fires up to supply the drive motors and keep the buffer part of the battery topped up. To get the battery back to 100% or rather the usable bit between 22% and 85% you have to plug it in.
You will notice I say motors, plural. That’s because there are actually two, the primary traction motor and a secondary 53Kw (71bhp) motor/generator. The latter comes into play as a drive motor when cruising at high speed in EV mode and allows the other motor to spin at a more efficient speed
Get into a fully-charged Ampera and the driving experience is much like a Nissan Leaf so you can sit back and enjoy the total silence and seamless acceleration. The 0-60 dash is dispensed with in 8.5 seconds thanks to a muscular 370Nm (273lb-ft) of torque available from the get-go.
Once moving the 30-70mph sprint takes only 9.9sec and the 50-70 6.2sec while the top speed is electronically limited to 100mph. Economy is a more tricky thing to quantify with a range extended EV like the Ampera. After all, if you plug it in every night and only drive it for five miles more than the electric-only range each day then you will get hundreds of miles to the gallon.
Vauxhall reckon a fully charged battery pack will get you anywhere between 25 and 50 miles down the road. My experience suggests between 35 and 40 is about the average. Once the battery pack was exhausted and the petrol engine running I got just over 47mpg.
The fuel tank holds a relatively small 7.7 gallons but that is good enough to add at least another 310 miles to the electric-only range. The killer feature of the Ampera is that when you get to the end of that 310 miles you only need to find a petrol station and spend 5 minutes filling up there rather than a 16a 240v socket and 3 hours.
Over the course of a week, recharging every night and driving around 50 miles each day I got an average of...wait for it...186MPG. Just how cool is that? OK, the electricity cost me a couple of quid but if you only travel short or medium distances regularly the Ampera is a seriously cheap car to fuel.
Under most circumstance the petrol engine - when running - is barely audible. That’s a benefit of it working as a generator. Rather than chasing up and down the rev range it simply spins at a constant rate to the benefit of both refinement and economy.
On the open road the Ampera’s transatlantic underpinnings (it’s built alongside the near identical Chevrolet Volt in the USA) are surprisingly hard to notice. The ride is comfortable and the handling on the mountainous B-roads in the Lake District proved entirely competent.
In range-extended mode the engine and ‘buffer part’ of the battery always had sufficient power to offer even when I was pushing on hard and has used up all the mains charge.
The overtly high-tech cabin is dominated by two 7in LCD displays. These look - and in the case of the touch-sensitive one on the centre console, feel - great. I can’t really say the same about the touch-sensitive buttons on the centre console though which are a bit of a faff to use.
Also the Ampera is not is a particularly spacious car. The 198kg battery pack is arranged in a T-shape with the cross at the back and the stem running through what in a rear-wheel drive car would be the transmission tunnel. This makes it a dedicated 4 rather than 5 seater because there simply is no central rear seat.
But even for just two the back it is a little short on head and legroom, especially is those up front are six foot plus and have their seats back. The battery doesn’t take anything away from boot space though which is the equal of what you get in the likes of a Ford Focus.
The current entry model will set you back £29,995 which is a fair bit of money but to be fair you do get a lot of standard kit including satnav on a 7” screen, alloy wheels, reversing cameras, leather upholstery and a stonkingly good Bose CD/DVD stereo with a 30GB HDD.
My Dad Rocks Verdict: The Ampera is easily the most practical electric car money can buy. Like all e-cars it commands a high initial on the road price but if you drive less than 50 miles on a typical day and recharge it between journeys you will make massive fuel savings thanks to the electric-only range and yet you still have a car capable of driving from one end of the UK to the other if the need arises.
My Dad Rocks Verdict: 8.5/10
Price: From £29.995 after the Government’s £5,000 e-car grant.
Review by Pete Winder