Vauxhall Ampera (2012 – 2014) Review

Vauxhall Ampera (2012 – 2014) At A Glance

Honest John Overall Rating
The Ampera makes much more sense as a used buy now that the charging network is considerably better and prices have dropped considerably.

+Smooth and quiet powertrain, excellent ride quality, high standard specification.

-Limited examples, compromised cabin space, question mark over battery life.

Insurance Groups are between 20–21
On average it achieves 69% of the official MPG figure

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.

Ask Honest John

Are there any new electric cars with petrol generators like the Vauxhall Ampera?

"Are there any new cars electric drive with petrol to charge the battery like the Vauxhall Ampera?"
Electric cars with petrol generators have been something of a rarity, with cars like the Vauxhall Ampera being one of the few examples. BMW also offered its i3 electric car with a range extending battery, but this car had been discontinued. However, Nissan have recently introduced e-POWER versions of its Qashqai and X-Trail which use this functionality, although it remains something of a niche option at present as most manufacturers focus their efforts on pure EVs.
Answered by David Ross

Discovered my 'new' car is not actually all that new - what should I do?

"My wife bought a new Vauxhall Ampera in 2014 from a main dealer. We knew the Ampera was at the end of the production line but nothing was said to indicate that it was not a new car. In the course of getting its several faults corrected I was told that my car was older than I thought. That prompted me to check the VIN which showed that ours was a 2013 car manufactured in August 2012. We believe it should have been a 2014 model year car, even if manufactured in 2013. The 2014 model year manual is readily available from the Vauxhall site and shows that one at least of the faulty mechanisms has been modified (the more major faults were with matters not treated in the manual, e.g. main motor bearing). We have raised the matter with the dealer who is 'looking in to it', but that has been going on since before Christmas. In your opinion, what sort of remedy would it be reasonable to expect?"
This is something buyers of used Amperas need to look out for. Quite a lot of 2012 Amperas remained unsold and were sold off 'as new', presumably at considerable discounts in 2014. Obviously if you paid full list price for the car in October 2014, then you should be entitled to money back to compensate for the fact it was old stock.
Answered by Honest John

Real life fuel economy

"I have submitted the life-time petrol comsumption of our Ampera three times now (most recently, a few minutes ago), but it does not appear in your results (which are still showing only three submissions). Am I doing something wrong? After just over 8,500 miles in 10 months, the display shows a lifetime comsumption of 211 mpg. We put it on charge every night, and most daily journeys, in very hilly Devon counrtyside, are less than the average 40 mile battery range."
If you are putting in 211mpg then the system would reject that as too great a disparity from the average 76.1mpg because you are obviously running it mostly on plug-in electricity and will also be benefiting from regeneration on the downhill stretches of the hilly terrain. Plug-in hybrid use is different from average use because a lot of it is on power station electricity rather than internal combustion engine, but our system has to have checks and balances based on the way most people run a car and 99.99% of cars are still internal combustion.
Answered by Honest John

Discovered that my new car is actually two years old - what are my options?

"Earlier this year my partner and I both ordered what we thought were brand new Vauxhall Amperas for delivery in September (64 plate). When we got the cars home it became apparent that they were different. Mine didn't have a rear armrest, the display was different, the sat nav was an older version and the DAB didn't work. I was advised by my brother to check the VINs. It turns out that mine is a 2012 model and my partner's a 2013. The dealer has offered to update mine by fitting a new rear tunnel and armrest and seeing if he can get the DAB radio to work and driver display, but I feel that I should either get my money back or have a NEW car. What are my rights?"
You don't have any right to get the latest spec, especially if you are buying at a knockdown price which I suspect is the case here. However, the dealer should haver made you aware that the 'new' car you were buying was, in fact, two years old.
Answered by Honest John
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