“The 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.”
Competition in the eco car segment is hotting up, and the Vauxhall Ampera is a real contender. Its CO2 emissions are lower than any efficient diesel or hybrid currently on the market. That means there's no road tax to pay, and it's exempt from the London Congestion Charge, too. The Ampera can be plugged into the mains to charge up the batteries (a process which takes around four hours) and can run on electricity alone for around 50 miles, so you shouldn’t need a drop of petrol for most journeys. And even when you do need to travel a bit further, economy is so good that you will rarely have to visit a petrol station. But for all of its green credentials, the Ampera offers strong performance. It's fast, features sporty looks and an attractive high-spec interior. Which is why it won our 2013 CarBuyer Best Hybrid/Electric Car award.
The Ampera is driven by an electric motor which draws its energy from a 16kWh lithium-ion battery. It offers 150bhp and 370Nm of torque. It's extremely quick to accelerate because the electric motor provides power in an instant, much faster than the engine in a conventional car. It has an electric-only range of around 50 miles, but can keep on going after that. That's because the Ampera also features a 1.4-litre petrol generator, which supplies electricity to the motor if the battery runs flat. The car has a 0-62mph time of 8.5 seconds, while top speed is limited to 100mph. Handling is good for an eco model, and there is little body roll, but the Ampera is best suited to a relaxed driving style.
When driving on electricity alone, the Ampera is whisper-quiet, as the electric motor makes virtually no noise at all. The range-extending petrol generator is audible once it comes to life to power the electric motor, and it becomes noisier the faster you go. But it isn’t intrusive, even at motorway speeds. The cabin is comfortable, too, and this, coupled with the low levels of noise, makes for a very relaxing drive.
In theory, electric cars should be more reliable than conventional cars, as the power system is simpler and has less moving parts, but whether this proves to be the case in the real world remains to be seen. There are concerns that the lithium-ion battery packs used to power electric vehicles could have short life spans and prove extremely expensive to replace. To put customer's minds at ease, the Ampera's battery is covered by Vauxhall's 8-year/100,000 mile warranty. The Ampera has yet to undergo EuroNCAP testing.
The Ampera's battery takes less than four hours to charge, and the backup of the petrol generator means you won't need to wait for the car to be fully charged before you want to go anywhere. The cabin is spacious, but there's only room for four because the middle passenger seat in the rear has been sacrificed to make room for the battery. The cabin features two 7-inch high definition screens – one displays the instruments and the other is located on the centre console and controls the infotainment system. Both are easy to use and provide plenty of data on the car's performance, from remaining battery charge to fuel efficiency. The boot capacity is just over 300 litres and the two rear seats fold flat for added space.
Value for money
The Ampera comes with a high list price - even when you factor in the Government's £5,000 electric vehicle grant - and it's thousands of pounds more expensive than rival hybrid, diesel and fully-electric models. Standard kit isn’t quite as good as you might expect for the price either, Sat-nav and Bluetooth are both extras, although climate control, heated front seats, alloy wheels and a rear parking camera come as standard.
The Ampera is expensive to buy, but the reward is super-low running costs. It costs approximately £1 to fully charge the battery and for that you get around 50 miles of motoring. The official economy figure is 175mpg and emission levels are rock bottom, which means the Ampera is exempt from road tax and the London Congestion Charge. Company car taxation is reduced to just 5 per cent, and Vauxhall says servicing costs will be less than they are for a conventional car.