Vauxhall Ampera (2012 – 2014) Review
Vauxhall Ampera (2012 – 2014) At A Glance
The Vauxhall Ampera was one of the first plug-in hybrid cars to reach the UK market - although it was billed as a pure electric car with a range extender - and could have been a big boost for Vauxhall. Unfortunately it was probably just slightly ahead of the curve, so it never really caught on and sales were halted within two years. Despite the comparatively old technology it has some positive attributes and could be an inexpensive way to go green(er).
Electric cars are now a more prominent idea in the minds of car buyers. That they are a consideration for everyone rather than just being on the radar of early adopters is good news for everyone.
Cars like the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and Tesla Model S have gone a long way to raising the prominence of electric cars in the public consciousness, with zero exhaust emissions and extremely low running costs, thanks to a combination of government incentives and no fuel bills.
They’re not without their issues though, with the biggest bugbear being range anxiety. Most people rarely travel much further than 30 miles a day, but for business trips, visits to family or holidays, electric vehicles (EVs) are impractical. This means most will be partners to second cars, with a traditional petrol or diesel model filling the gap.
Vauxhall took a different approach, one that turned out to be something of a temporary solution too, as only BMW offered similar technology for a while on its i3 model. For the most part it’s a traditional EV – you plug it in to charge the batteries and then enjoy quiet, electric drive for up to 50 miles. But after that the Ampera has a trick up its sleeve, because when the battery runs out a petrol engine takes over and generates power for the motor.
So like a normal EV you can commute to work, drop off the children at school and make it home again on electricity, then plug in and charge up again for the next day. Where the Ampera comes into its own is where other EVs fall flat. Because when the battery is depleted a 1.4-litre engine takes over the role of generator.
The engine provides charge to the battery, so the battery can still send power to the motors, but it doesn’t drive the wheels directly - at least not until you are at higher speeds, and then only as assistance to the electric drive.
That means you can drive as far as you need, as long as you can find petrol, then charge when you get the chance. It takes six hours to charge fully from a mains supply, but a fast charger cuts that time significantly and can be installed at home.
There’s no real change to the way in which the Ampera drives from one mode to the next. In EV mode it’s more or less silent, with a faint whir from the motor. If the engine needs to kick in it does so quietly, although its revs are related very little to the speed you’re travelling.
The drive itself is pretty good, too. Anyone who has driven a traditional automatic car will feel right at home – select D, lift off the brake and the Ampera even ‘creeps’ like a normal auto. It’s responsive with all 370Nm of torque available from zero revs. This means the Ampera can hit 62mph in 8.7 seconds, despite the heavy batteries.
It feels fairly heavy but it's composed at speed, even over fairly rough surfaces, and it remains quiet with just the intrusion of road noise breaking the silence. Over broken or rough surfaces this road noise can be quite intrusive though. Even so, with no engine noise it's quite a surreal experience.