What is it?
Vauxhall’s futuristic plug-in hybrid, sister car to the Chevrolet Volt. Don’t tar it with the same brush as the Toyota Prius and other existing hybrids that off er negligible benefits, as the Ampera moves the game along much further. It has a 1.4-litre petrol engine as well as an electric motor and an electric generator, all scrunched in underneath the bonnet. Juice it up from the mains and it will travel for up to 50 miles on electricity alone, then you’ve got the petrol engine to make up the difference.
The lack of any sort of engine noise is the most obvious thing. The Ampera makes a fake charging up noise when you push the starter button and an equally silly powering down sound when you turn it off, but that’s about all you ever hear.
The steering isn’t brimming with feedback but it’s accurate enough, and the Vauxhall is exceptionally refined and comfortable. There’s a lot more power than you’d expect, too, as the engine and electric motor/generator develop 148bhp in total, but it’s the torque that’s the most significant thing. With 273lb ft on tap, the Ampera is really quite potent, especially from the off, and there’s no need to wind the revs up to reach peak pulling power. It’s good for 0–62mph in nine seconds flat, and there’s even a decent amount of shove when you’re travelling at motorway speeds. When the motor gives up the ghost and you switch to petrol power, it’s all very seamless, and you’d have a job to notice a difference if it weren’t for the digital display.
On the inside
There’s a surprising amount of room inside the Ampera considering all the technology tucked away underneath and the fact that it’s a four-seater. Leg- and headroom are generous, and the large central tunnel created by the battery lay-out is actually quite handy for leaning purposes. A 300-litre boot isn’t class-leading but it’s not bad for a car with all the extra drivetrain and battery gubbins like this. The centre console is quite strange – it’s made up of a fl at, touchscreen-style pad. It works well enough but seems a bit gimmicky and unusual.
The downside to the Ampera is its price – an eye-watering £29,995 after the government’s £5,000 electric car grant. That’s a heck of a lot for a four-seater car of this size, but official EU fuel tests suggest you’ll get 235.4mpg – that’s accounting for the time running on electricity alone and using the petrol engine. Blimey. As for residual values, they’re still out to tender for alternative fuel cars, but if the Prius is anything to go by, it’s looking promising. Indeed, this and the near-identical Chevrolet Volt were even jointly voted European Car of the Year last year.