10.6.2011 Vauxhall Ampera review
The Vauxhall Ampera has only recently been available to test drive in the UK in its production ready form, although its sibling model the Chevrolet Volt, has been on sale in the US for several months. They represent the first models to be classed as 'extended-range electric vehicles' – which sit somewhere between a hybrid and battery electric vehicle, probably closer to the latter. Production will begin in February 2012 with cars reaching showrooms from March.
So, how does it work? The Ampera's energy is provided through a 16 kWh Lithium-ion battery pack and a small 1.4l 74 bhp petrol engine, although power is only ever delivered to the wheels directly from a 111 kW (148 bhp) electric motor, powered by the batteries alone. Electric only motoring can be sustained for up to 50 miles, but after this the engine is activated, acting as a generator only to recharge the batteries. This eliminates range anxiety by providing an additional 310 miles.
Review by John Ironmonger for nextgreencar.com
Whether the Ampera has a full battery or is working in 'range extension mode', performance is unchanged as the batteries and electric motor provides propulsion at all times and speeds. Driving around the Rockingham race track made clear that torque and power were instantly available at the pedal, like many EVs. 150 bhp from the LG electric motor translates to 370 Nm torque, allowing you to reach 62 mph in 8.8 seconds with a top speed limited to 100 mph. Due to the nature of regenerative braking, the car does slow noticeably more so than a conventional vehicle would when the accelerator is eased off, but this quickly becomes familiar.
As with other electric vehicles, the handling is influenced by the 180kg T-shaped arrangement of the 220 cells underneath the floor, although not necessarily in a bad way. Weighing in at 1,715kg in total, the Ampera feels like a heavy, solid ride, although the battery's weight distribution is such that handling and grip are both well balanced. There is little body roll into corners, and responsive steering with stiff suspension help you leave corners in full control.
The Ampera is larger than most other electric or hybrid vehicles, giving it a solid and safe appearance. It looks sleek but sporty, and being relatively low to the ground it has an almost aggressive stance. The dramatic front and rear headlights wrapped around the four corners instantly catch the eye but without looking garish, and distinguish the vehicle as an Ampera. Chrome trims down each side of the vehicle, large alloy wheels and other styling combine to create quite a sporty exterior. Designers say that they wanted the model to look modern but not too futuristic – something that I think they have been successful with. The well proportioned body style measures 4,404mm long, 1,798mm wide and 1,430mm high.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Upon entering the driver's seat, you will instantly notice the range of dials, buttons and information packed LCD touch-screens, setting a well equipped and modern tone. Although initially a bit futuristic, many of the controls are standard or necessary features – several are conveniently located on the driver's door. As with most electric or hybrids, the screens notify the driver of fuel efficiency, battery or engine use and remaining range etc – there is also a dial to indicate driving technique efficiency.
The leather seats are comfortable, and with just two individual seats in the back there is plenty of room for four large adults – with five doors the interior feels spacious. The boot has a handy 300 litre capacity, which can be accessed from the back seats. The dash and doors etc are solidly built, and there is likely to be the choice of optional extras on the final production ready model.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
This model was designed to provide low operational costs comparative to a pure battery electric vehicle, whilst eliminating issues such as range anxiety. Many would agree that it has already succeeded although at £28,995 including the £5,000 Plug-In grant, the initial purchase cost is high. However, due to its particularly low emissions, it is exempt from the London Congestion Charge and VED road tax. Due to the unique nature of the drivetrain, fuel consumption is hard to quantify but is around 175 mpg overall.
The engine has been calibrated to run at several optimised rpm levels designed to return maximum fuel efficiency. Vauxhall say that the average EV mile in the Ampera will cost around 2p, compared to 9p for an equivalent conventional petrol vehicle. A full 3 hour charge will cost on average £1, depending upon electricity tariff, which provides up to 50 miles of emission free motoring. Depreciation costs are still uncertain.
GM research has revealed that, in Europe 80% of drivers travel less than 30 miles daily, indicating that owners could travel in EV mode for most trips (many Chevrolet Volt owners have never put petrol into the tank). The Ampera will have an override function which will allow battery capacity to be saved up until desired, for example in urban conditions. When driving in EV mode, there are no tailpipe emissions so air quality is not degraded. Environmental impact can be reduced further by refuelling the engine with E85.
Regenerative braking also aids efficiency, as energy that would otherwise be lost through braking is captured and re-used. Low rolling-resistant tyres, refined aerodynamics and lightweight materials have been adopted to increase efficiency. Critical airflow areas have been targeted, for example, plastic disk inserts on the alloys significantly reduce drag. Overall, the Ampera boasts a significantly low carbon emission figure of just 40 g/km.
It is difficult to know what features Vauxhall will include as standard, and what optional extras will be made available. However, judging by the Chevrolet Volt specs in the US, standard features will include 17" alloys, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, automatic climate control, cruise control and a six speaker CD/DVD stereo. A premium package adds leather upholstery, rear camera to assist parking and front and rear parking sensors.
Model tested: Vauxhall Ampera
Body-style: Five-door family hatch
Engine/CO2: 111kW electric motor with 55kW 1.4l petrol engine / 40gCO2/km overall
Trim grades: Not yet confirmed
On-road price: £28,995 after £5,000 Plug-In grant
Warranty: 8 years battery warranty
In the showroom: March 2012
Review rating: 4.5 STARS
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