Vauxhall Ampera - iDrive

The Ampera finally ends electric car range anxiety

We're only just over halfway through 2011 but I think I've already driven this year's most significant new car. The Vauxhall Ampera is quite simply an electric vehicle that overcomes the main drawback of other battery-powered cars – limited range.

This is how it works: Charge it from the mains and it runs on its batteries for about 40 miles. When the batteries have been drained to a certain level, a range-extending, 1.4-litre petrol engine kicks in that allows the Ampera to cover a similar distance to mainstream petrol and diesel cars.

But doesn't that make it a hybrid? Vauxhall says no. In a hybrid like the Toyota Prius, the contributions of the petrol engine and electric motor are “blended”, with each frequently cutting in and out as appropriate.

The Ampera, though, is always driven by its electric motor. In the early stages of a journey, it draws upon the batteries. Later, the petrol engine drives a generator, which in turn powers the electric motor. Performance is the same in either case, and the petrol engine, when it comes into play, is very quiet and turns only slowly.

What you get is an impressive car that offers the interior space of a Vauxhall Astra but the drive-train refinement of a top-end Mercedes or Jaguar. In battery mode, the Ampera is almost silent, and it doesn’t get much louder when the petrol engine joins in.

It should be inexpensive to run as mains electricity costs far less per mile than petrol – the figures in the table are indicative and depend on the exact pattern of use.

VAUXHALL AMPERA

Price: £28,955 after £5,000 government plug-in car subsidy

Engine capacity: electric motor plus 1.4-litre petrol

Power output: 150 (electric motor), 86 (petrol range extender)

Max torque: 370 (electric motor), 130 (petrol range extender)

Top speed (mph): 100 0-60 mph (seconds): 9 approx

Fuel economy (mpg): over 175

CO2 emissions (g/km): less than 40

THE COMPETITION

The Ampera’s biggest rivals will be its Chevrolet-badged sister car, the Volt, the Nissan Leaf and the hybrid Toyota Prius.

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