Vauxhall Ampera hatchback
Price £33,750 - £35,495
- Low running costs
- Stylish, futuristic looks
- Avoids range limitation of pure electric cars
- High list price
- Only four seats
- Relaxing rather than fun
At a glance
"The Vauxhall Ampera offers it all: a long enough electric-only range for the vast majority of daily journeys combined with the ability to cover long distances, too."
The world is changing and the number of electric, hybrid and range-extending cars available in the UK is growing every year. The Vauxhall Ampera is one of the best so far – so good, in fact, that we named it our best hybrid or electric car of the year in 2013.
It emits less CO2 than any conventional hybrid or efficient diesel models on the market, so it's exempt from paying road tax and the London Congestion Charge. You can plug it straight into the mains to charge the battery (which takes just shy of four hours) and then drive using only the electric motor for up to 50 miles. Routine daily trips in this car shouldn’t use any petrol at all.
If you want to go further, the petrol generator takes over to drive the electric motor, resulting in potential fuel economy of over 200mpg. And on top of these impressive green credentials, the Ampera delivers strong performance. It's quite fast, has a stylish, sporty exterior and an attractive, high-quality interior. It comes in three specifications: entry-level Earth, mid-range Positiv and top-of-the-range Electron.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Super-low running costs are hugely attractive
Once you’ve got over the Ampera's whopping price tag, the reward is super-low daily running costs. Charging the battery fully costs about £1, which gives you a range of about 50 miles, depending on how hard you push the car and how many gadgets you have turned on. Official CO2 emissions are a rock-bottom 27g/km, while the claimed fuel economy figure is a stupendous 235.4mpg, so there's no road tax to pay and you'll spend hardly any time or money in petrol stations. Company-car tax is only 5% and Vauxhall claims servicing costs will be less than for a conventional car, as the Ampera has simpler mechanicals and fewer moving parts.
Engines, drive & performance
Power delivery is instant, but the Ampera is more of a relaxed cruiser
The Ampera's wheels are driven by an electric motor that gets its power from a lithium-ion battery. It produces 150bhp and accelerates the car very quickly, because electric motors deliver full power instantaneously, rather than gradually like a standard petrol or diesel engine. The Ampera can accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds and has a limited top speed of 100mph.
Electric-only driving range is 50 miles, but the 1.4-litre petrol generator allows you to keep going beyond that by supplying electricity to the motor when the battery runs down. There’s very litte body lean when driving through corners and handling is pretty decent for this kind of car, but the Ampera is better suited to more relaxed driving.
Interior & comfort
Electric running is quiet and petrol engine isn't much noisier
One of the most unusual – but welcome – aspects of driving electric cars is how quiet they are. When using only the electric motor, the Ampera glides along with barely a sound. Once the range-extending petrol generator kicks in, it becomes a bit noisier, especially when you increase speed. But it’s hardly intrusive, even when driving on the motorway. Overall, thanks to the low noise and comfortable interior, the Ampera is a very relaxing drive.
Practicality & boot space
Charging isn't a worry, but there's only room for four passengers
Vauxhall hasn’t cracked this one yet. The Ampera has a relatively spacious interior, but you can only get four people inside (including the driver) because the car's battery is stored where the middle rear seat should be. Also, the low roof means that headroom is limited, while legroom in the back isn’t great, either.
Visibility isn’t brilliant thanks to large windscreen pillars, and the boot is on the small side, offering 300 litres of space with the rear seats in place – 30 litres less than the Nissan Leaf and a good 146 litres less than a Toyota Prius. Fold the standard split-folding rear seats flat expands luggage space to an acceptable 1,000 litres, but that's hardly class-leading.
The interior has a couple of seven-inch HD screens – one to show the instruments and the other on the centre console to operate the infotainment system. Both are easy to use and provide loads of information on the car's performance, from how much battery charge is left to you current fuel economy. Another plus point is that while the battery takes less than four hours to fully charge, having a petrol generator as backup means that you don’t have to hang around and wait for a full charge if you need to go somewhere in a hurry.
Reliability & safety
Eight-year battery warranty gives peace of mind
The Vauxhall Ampera was both too new and too rare on UK roads to feature in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but Vauxhall itself placed 26th out of 32 brands in the manufacturer rankings. That means it dropped a hefty 13 places from its 2012 position, when it was ahead of both Audi and BMW, which is disappointing considering how hard Vauxhall has been working to improve the reliability of its cars.
Luckily, because there are less moving parts in an electric car, they should prove more reliable than conventional cars. There have been some problems reported, however, including faulty chargers and sticking charging flaps, plus there are worries that the lithium-ion battery packs used to power EVs won't last as long as the car and are likely to be extremely expensive to replace. Vauxhall is aware of these issues, so the Ampera’s battery gets an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty, and it offers free collection and delivery if the car needs servicing or fixing, plus a courtesy replacement car, too.
The Ampera is a very safe car, having secured the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash-safety tests. It has a wide range of standard safety equipment, including electronic stability control, eight airbags and seatbelt reminders.
Price, value for money & options
List price is high compared to rival eco-friendly cars
There's no two ways about it – the Ampera is an expensive car to buy. And that’s even with the government’s electric vehicle grant of £5,000 taken in to account. The Vauxhall costs thousands of pounds more than most of its electric, hybrid and even diesel rivals. However, it also qualifies for 5% BiK (Benefit-in-Kind) company-car tax, which is particularly low, while owners don't have to pay road tax or the London Congestion Charge.
You don't get as much standard equipment as you might expect for such a high price, either: sat nav and a Bluetooth phone connection are only available as optional extras. Climate control, heated front seats, alloy wheels and a rear parking camera are standard, however. Electric car resale values are still something of an unknown in the long-term, so you risk losing a lot of money in depreciation when the times comes to sell.