“The Vauxhall Ampera offers it all: an electric only range that's usable for the vast majority of daily journeys and 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 – and the Vauxhall Ampera is one of the best out there. It's so good, in fact, that we named our 2013 CarBuyer Best Hybrid/Electric Car of the year.
It offers CO2 emissions that fall below those of any hybrid or eco-efficient diesel engines also on the market, so it's exempt from paying road tax or any congestion charging. You can plug it straight into the mains to charge the battery (which takes just shy of four hours) and then drive using just the electric motor for up to 50 miles. So any daily trips shouldn’t require any petrol at all.
If you want to go further, the petrol generator takes over to drive the electric motor and returns a mammoth 200+mpg. And on top of these impressive green credentials, the Ampera delivers strong performance. It's quite fast, has stylish, sporty exterior dimensions and an attractive high-quality interior. It comes in three main specifications – entry-level Earth, mid-range Positiv and top-of-the-range Electron.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Once you’ve got over the whopping price tag, the reward is super-cheap daily running costs. Charging the battery costs about £1 for a full charge, 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. CO2 emissions are a rock-bottom 27g/km, while the official quoted combined fuel economy is a stupendous 235.4mpg, so no road tax to pay and hardly any time or money spent at the petrol station. Company car taxation is also reduced to only 5 per cent, and Vauxhall claims that servicing costs will be less than they are for a conventional car thanks to there being less moving parts and simpler mechanics.
Interior & comfort
One of the best (and weirdest) aspects of driving an electric car is how quiet they are. When driven on the electric motor only, the Ampera whispers along with nary a sound – naturally, once the range-extending petrol generator kicks on to power the electric motor, then 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 levels and comfortable interior, the Ampera is a very relaxing drive.
Practicality & boot space
Vauxhall hasn’t cracked this one yet. The Ampera may have 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 seat should be. Also, the low roof means that headroom is limited, while legroom in the back isn’t great either. And visibility isn’t brilliant thanks to large A-pillars. The boot is also a bit on the small side, offering 300 litres of space with the rear seats in place, which is 30 litres less than the Nissan Leaf and a good 146 litres less than a Toyota Prius. Fold the standard-fit split-fold rear seats down flat, and the boot does expand to an acceptable 1,000 litres, but that is hardly class-leading. The interior does have a couple of seven-inch HD screens – one to show the instruments and the other located on the centre console to operate the infotainment system. Both are easy to use and provide loads of info on the car's performance, from how much battery charge is left to 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
The Vauxhall Ampera is both too new and too rare on UK roads to feature in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but Vauxhall itself placed an overall 26th out of 32 in the manufacturers 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. Now even arch rival Ford is ahead of it. Luckily, because there are less moving parts in an electric car, they should also prove more reliable than conventional cars. That is in theory, however, and whether this proves to be the case in the real world does remain to be seen. There have been some niggly faults reported, including faulty chargers and sticking charging flaps, plus there are worries that the lithium-ion battery packs used to power EVs could have short life spans 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 provides free collection and delivery if the car needs servicing or fixing, providing a replacement courtesy car, too. What's more, it is a safe car, securing the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, coming fitted with a range of safety equipment, including electronic stability control (ESP), eight airbags and seatbelt reminders as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
The actual wheels of the Ampera are driven by an electric motor that in turn is powered by 16kWh lithium-ion battery. It can produce 150bhp and can accelerate very quickly because the electric motor creates power instantaneously, much more faster than a standard petrol or diesel engine. Electric-motor-only driving gives you a range of 50 miles, but the 1.4-litre petrol generator allows you to extend that range into the hundreds of mpgs by supplying electricity to the motor when the battery runs out of charge. On top of that, it can accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds, up to a limited top speed of 100mph. There's very litte body roll when driving through corners and handling is pretty decent for this kind of car, but the Ampera is better suited to more relaxed driving.
Price, value for money & options
No two ways about – the Ampera is an expensive car to buy. And that's even with the government's electric vehicle grant of £5,000 to sweeten the pill. The list price adds up to literally thousands of pounds more than most of its EV (electric vehicle), hybrid and even diesel rivals. However, it does also qualify for the five per cent Benefit In Kind company car tax, which is particularly low – and road tax and any congestion charging is also free of course. Standard levels of equipment and accessories aren’t quite up to the standards you might expect for the price you’ll have to pay, either, with sat-nav and Bluetooth connectivity only available as optional extras. Climate control, heated front seats, alloy wheels and a rear parking camera do come as standard, however. EV resale values on the used car market are still something of an unknown.