Vauxhall Ampera: Drive Review

30th November 2012

Reviewed by Michael Woodhouse

Who doesn't like being the first to do something? While you might not openly admit it, that warm feeling inside being a trendsetter does make you feel a little superior.

Take the Apple iPhone, now on its sixth incarnation; I bet those who queued to hand over £269 for the firm's original touchscreen mobile phone in 2007 are looking back with the slightest hint of a grin on their face, thinking, 'I was there first'. And who could have imagined what the Apple iPhone would become… people waiting in all weathers and at all times of the day to be at the front of the line when the doors open and they can get their hands on the latest and greatest piece of technology from the US electronics giant.

It's more difficult in the automotive sphere, though, to be at the head of the queue. Talk to anyone in the know and the combustion engine has changed little over the past 100 years – we're still firing liquid fuel into a chamber and making it explode.

But that can't last forever. Even if you forget about the amount of carbon you pump out into the atmosphere every time you use your car, there will come a time when there's nothing left to burn. So an alternative is needed.

God only knows what that alternative will be. Some say hydrogen; some electricity – and if you believed the loons from days gone by, it could even be a fission drive. But car manufacturers are thinking seriously about the possibilities – electricity is their current favourite – and about weaning us off petroleum.

The process has started – think how many Toyota Prius you see on the roads now – but the next step is to use more electricity and less petrol, so enter the Vauxhall Ampera to loud fanfare.

The theory is simple: a bigger battery than the Prius gives you an electric range of up to 50 miles – and when the power runs out, a 1.4-litre petrol engine fires up to produce more electricity to keep you going. Drive less than 50 miles a day, therefore, and you might never need to see a petrol station forecourt again, just plugging it in at home, at the office or wherever else your travels take you for a six hour recharge. Added to that, if you are on the right tariff with your electricity provider and you charge at the right time of day, those 50 miles could cost you only £1. And officially the Ampera achieves 235mpg and emits only 27g/km which also means zero pounds to pay on VED.

That's a good thing, because, as those who bought the original iPhone know, being first isn't cheap. The Ampera costs £29,995, and that's with a grant from the Government; considerably more than an an equivalent sized combustion engine car.

But what you get for that money is something that is more akin to a spaceship. It looks futuristic but not ostentatiously so, and once you're in the cabin the dashboard could have been designed for the set of a Star Trek film. The two screens show you how much battery charge you have left, how much further you can travel, how efficient your driving style is and where you are sucking power from among many other readouts at your disposal.

Behind the wheel it feels like any other similarly sized car, although eerily quiet when you're using battery power alone, as there's little noise other than from the wind and the tyres on the road. Dynamically you aren't going to be racing many people (a hot hatch this is not); the 50 mile range requires a battery that weighs 198kg, and you feel every gram whether you're pootling round town or driving down the motorway. As a side note, due to the battery's size and positioning the Ampera is only a four-seater.

The Ampera isn't perfect but it is the start of a solution to a problem that will eventually impact on everyone who drives. Cost is its biggest catch; as a car, a technological concept and a talking point I like it. And, as with those iPhone early adopters, in the future first-generation Ampera drivers could have a smile on their faces as others follow in their footsteps.

Price: from £29,995 inc £5,000 Government grant
Top speed: 100mph
0-62mph: 8.7 seconds
Fuel economy: 235mpg
CO2 emissions: 27g/km

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