THE dreaded words that confront owners of all electric cars “range anxiety” are not applicable to the Vauxhall Ampera which has a petrol engine to top up the battery through a generator and make sure the range of the car is considerably extended writes Bryan Longworth.
For the big weakness of all electrically powered vehicles is how far they will go before the battery goes flat (usually between 50 and 100 miles) and until a new type of battery is ever invented to extend the range then this will be a perpetual problem.
Vauxhall insist that the Ampera which is based on an Astra is not a hybrid because electricity powers the wheels of the Ampera at all times with a lithium-ion battery pack feeding a 150bhp electric drive unit.
This delivers 25 to 50 miles of battery powered electric drive and zero tailpipe emissions but Ampera is set apart from other electric vehicles due to its range extender which is a 1.4-litre petrol engine driving a generator to power the electric motor but not the wheels.
This boosts the range to 360 miles thus eliminating range anxiety and Vauxhall say this results in the Ampera achieving 235.4mpg and combined tailpipe emissions of just 27g/km.
This means it can be driven normally on electric power if a charging point is not available and the owner has a charging point then the battery can be recharged through a wire from the mains outlet in four to six hours.
Ampera qualifies for a £5000 car grant reducing the price to £32,250 for the lower priced of the two models currently available and there is no car tax or congestion charges and a 50 per cent reduction on company car tax.
Inside the cabin the battery takes up some of the rear seat room restricting it to two seats making the car a four seater and the owner must have easy access to a power point for recharging the battery such as in a garage - anyone who parks on the road outside the house could have problems with the cable and pedestrians tripping over it.
The fascia includes information displays which provide details of driving and climate efficiency levels along with colour displays and user friendly touch screen functionality.
On the road I found the Ampera provided the smoothest driving situation I have ever experienced with rapid acceleration of zero to 60mph in 8.7 seconds and a limited top speed of 100mph and it provided a thoroughly enjoyable driving experience.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the Ampera offers unique technology which will appeal to new customer groups and it spearheads Vauxhall’s alternative propulsion strategy.
At present it will only have limited appeal but it could well be the forerunner of more cars of this type as manufacturers develop electric propulsion in the future and battery technolgy improves.
My Verdict: Vauxhall should be praised for this innovative car.
Model: Vauxhall Ampera.
Drive: 150bhp electric battery powered unit topped up by 1.4-litre petrol engine/generator.
Range: 25-50 miles by battery - 360 miles with engine/generator boost.