Most people will have heard of hybrid and electric cars, but Extended Range Electric Vehicles (E-REV) are still a complete mystery to some.
Utilising the efficiency of a small petrol and a hybrid powertrain, the Ampera is aimed at those who want an efficient hybrid-inspired vehicle with great range.
Sharing a platform with the Chevrolet Volt – which is on sale in America – the Ampera benefits from a hefty government grant discount, thanks to its low emissions, and offers a hatchback/saloon-style body shape.
'Conventional' hybrids have an internal combustion engine backed up by an electric motor but the Ampera uses two electric traction motors to initially power the car and these are backed up by a comparatively small 1.4-litre petrol engine acting as a generator - known as a range extender.
The simple transmission selection lever is broadly similar to a conventional automatic in appearance but is really just a drive selector giving forward, reverse, neutral and hold functions. A button-operated parking brake, electric steering and footbrake are also conventional for a driver.
Throttle response is good both accelerating and easing off, braking is strong with the regeneration system putting energy back into the lithium-ion battery. With tis frugal powertrain the Ampera can reach 0-62mph in 9.0 seconds.
The battery pack gave a typical range of 45 miles on test before it seamlessly and automatically gave way to the 'range extender' 1.4-litre litre petrol engine and only then did it sound more like a conventional car with a familiar but well dubbed engine note in the background.
Range wise, the breakdown is as follows – electric mode approximately 50 miles, petrol engine approximately 260 miles – coming to a total of around 310 miles.
The left wing mounted charging port is opened by a switch on the door and it is a simple ten second job to hook up the on-board power cable to a suitable electric ring main and does not require any special high power source, taking approximately four hours to fully charge a flat battery.
Ride and Handling
When cruising along it is remarkably smooth, with very low noise level from the tyres or emanating from the door mirrors.
The steering in the Ampera is smooth although arguably feels a little lifeless when it comes to feedback. When cruising along it is remarkably smooth, with very low noise level from the tyres or emanating from the door mirrors, and it gives the impression of being in an executive car of a much larger size. On some sharp corners it rolled a little but not excessively and on motorways it pulled away sharply and strongly. Vauxhall say that steep hills will quickly drain the battery but you can pre-select the petrol engine as a generator to conserve battery power for ascents or use in urban environments to meet emissions requirements. Like many modern hatchbacks, the Ampera permits good vision to front and sides but the high tail and shallow back window restrict rearward sight and there is some help from the designers who incorporated a lower window in the fifth door, but you still need sensors or a camera to help.
Interior and Equipment
The Chevrolet Volt was first brought into the limelight at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, showcased as becoming the first-ever plug-in hybrid concept car.
The European and UK Ampera has a sweep-around look to the cabin with bold lines and shapes to the soft plastic surfaces of the door panels, fascia and central console. Extremely similar to its Chevrolet Volt lookalike. The way these are brought together and the multitude of displays, stack of touch sensitive buttons on the centre console and purposeful stalks and switches resemble the flight deck of the space shuttle. Standard kit in the Ampera includes air conditioning, heated front seats, USB connectivity and a rear view camera, along with front and rear parking aid. The driver is confronted by two main displays on the fascia. In front is what would be thought of as an on-road screen showing speed, power mode selected, battery and efficiency indicators among other warning lights and the second display is on top of the centre stack and is a multi-function screen for climate, music, navigation, economy and range calculation. It must be said that some information is duplicated across both screens, suggesting they have been individually developed and incorporated and I found there was possibly too much information being displayed with your eyes flitting over two screens some inches apart. I did like the soft-touch console buttons, a first in this class of car. Its boot size of 300 litres means it is bigger than the Ford Focus but smaller than something like the Toyota Prius. The rear seats also fold down to allow for added storage space.
As it emits just 27g/km of CO2, it is road tax free and exempt from the London congestion charge.
Mileage will drastically vary from driver to driver in the Ampera. According to Vauxhall, you can potentially average around 235.4mpg. You will just have to be sensible when it comes to using the accelerator. As it emits just 27g/km of CO2, it is road tax free and exempt from the London congestion charge. Its price tag officially exceeds £30,000 – but with the £5,000 government grant, this is cut to around £29,000 – still very expensive when you consider it is a hatch back however.
The Ampera definitely pulls it off when it comes to being a viable efficiency option. It offers plenty of luxury as well. Its large price tag is always going to put people off however as it is a big investment. There are also other efficient alternatives out there like the Nissan Leaf, Renault ZOE or Prius Plug-in-hybrid. But, if there are and young, affluent, budding car buyers who want something to show off in, then the Ampera is great.