It is a striking looking five-door hatchback with room for four adults and a compact but useful boot. But here’s the clever thing – it has a back-up petrol engine that extends its range by up to 300 miles.
The fact that it has two power sources makes it sound like a hybrid – but it is not. The petrol engine simply generates electricity to keep the main electric motor going when the battery gets low. They are calling it an extended range electric car.
The Ampera can travel up to 50miles on battery power alone – unlike hybrids which can only run on electricity for a mile or two. It also eliminates ‘range anxiety’ – a fear that electric cars will run out of power at an inconvenient time or remote place.
Research suggests that 80% of motorists actually drive less than 50 miles per day. Of course, not everybody is so organised that they only need the car for commuting. The appeal of the Ampera is that it can take you up to 350miles. So it can cope with holidays and unplanned emergency journeys.
Charging up the car takes four hours from a normal domestic socket at a cost of about £1. The promise of a network of public charging points around Northern Ireland will add more versatility. For example, workers could charge up their cars whilst in the factory or office – doubling the daily range on pure electricity.
Vauxhall claims that the Ampera, when on electric power, costs just 2p per miles compared with 9p for a petrol car. Other benefits include zero road tax, exemption from congestion charges and 5% company car tax.
The Ampera is surprisingly lively to drive. It can accelerate to 62mph in 8.8 seconds though top speed is limited to 100mph. There is instant response to the accelerator at low speeds and braking is assisted by the energy recuperating system.
This is creditable performance given the heavy T-shaped battery located under the floor. Handling feels stable and the ride, though on the firm side, is comfortable enough for commuting. Driving the Ampera is more fun than you might expect.
ENGINE – always driven by 148bhp electric motor, supported by 75bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine
PERFORMANCE – 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds, top speed governed to 100mph
RANGE – Up to 50 miles on pure electric power plus 300 miles using back-up petrol engine to recharge battery
ECONOMY – 2p per mile compared to 9p for petrol car
EMISSIONS – Zero on electric power, 40g/km overall
PRICE – from £32,250