Vauxhall Ampera

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Vauxhall Ampera

Road Test

Vauxhall Ampera driven

Driven June 2012

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GM's electric-car history stretches all the way to the Moon. If you were to run a high-voltage cable through space, you could recharge the very first Lunar Rover - it's still parked up there - and take it for a spin around the craters. Admittedly, the jump from that slightly crude Sixties buggy to this 21st-century Ampera is a long one, but at least GM has had some time to get it right.

Which it has. The Ampera is our current Green Car of the Year, but this is our first go in a proper production car on British roads. A quick recap of the tech. It's a range-extender, not a hybrid. So the front wheels are driven 100 per cent of the time by an electric motor, which in turn is powered by batteries or a 1.4-litre petrol engine. The idea is to run on pure electric power most of the time, only calling on the petrol engine (essentially a generator driving the motor, not the wheels) when the batteries are low. Or if you're on a motorway, when internal combustion is more efficient.

In short, it's a far more realistic vision of an electric-car future. Not only because it eliminates the range anxiety felt with nearly every pure EV, but because it feels so genuinely usable. The idea is to plug it in overnight, giving you a pure-electric range of 50 miles. Do this every day, and there may never be a need to visit a petrol station. But for longer weekend journeys, the extra range is always there, so you get a theoretical total of 310 miles. We spent a whole day with it, driving quite aggressively on a mixture of roads, and managed 99mpg over 170 miles, a figure that assimilates the volume of fuel used plus the amount of battery drained. It'd be easy to squeeze more from it.

The tech is unarguably decent. The styling is spacey, and it gets loads of attention. And it feels like driving a normal car, albeit a very quiet one with a surprising turn of speed, thanks to the naturally torquey electric motor (272lb ft available instantly). If anything, the car is a bit too bulky around the dashboard and A-pillars, and, due to the way the batteries are packaged, you only get two individual rear seats. But, aside from that, it's as liveable as any biggish hatch.

Range-extenders? If they're the future, we're definitely on board.

Dan Read

The numbers
Electric motor plus battery pack and 1.4-litre petrol generator, FWD, 149bhp, 272lb ft, 310-mile range, 40g/km CO2, 0-62 in 9.0secs, 99mph, 1732kg

The cost
£32,250 (after £5k subsidy)

The verdict
The Ampera's range-extender set-up is currently the most realistic of all green-car tech. The future starts here...

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