Call the Vauxhall Ampera a hybrid at your peril. Whereas hybrids like the Toyota Prius are petrol engines boosted by an electric motor, the Ampera is the other way around. It was a real game-changer on release. The UK’s first ‘range extender’ electric car primarily uses electricity, with the petrol engine as back-up.
It’s great for anyone looking for an environmentally friendly used car and the Ampera is a dang good car in itself. There’s virtually no trade-off, whatsoever.
The Ampera’s sleek and modern design is no doubt easy on the eye, although it’s not particularly distinctive. Its looks are almost generic. That’s not to say that Vauxhall’s impressive electric hatchback is dull - it’s just not particularly unique. In fact, squint and you could well be looking at a Prius.
Gaze front on and there is some individuality in the headlights. They integrate with the fog lights below in almost daringly dramatic fashion. The effect is almost that of a boomerang. It’s actually quite eye-catching.
Under the chassis, the design is particularly smart. Six hours of plug-in charge and you can easily drive between 30 and 40 miles. After that, the petrol engine kicks in, but for short journeys your carbon emissions really are minimal.
Six hours of plug-in charge and you can easily drive between 30 and 40 miles.
What’s it like to drive?
Electrosceptics may dismiss a car like the Ampera, assuming that the driving experience won’t match up to a ‘normal car’. That would be a mistake as there’s serious power to go along with the comfort and lack of sound.
There’s also a satisfying feel to the steering and pleasingly gutsy acceleration. For a car of its type, it’s impressive. Just remember you’re not driving a fully mechanical petrol engine and you won’t be disappointed by the performance.
The Ampera can handle country and motorway drives, but is best suited to shorter rides in and around towns and cities. It’s an electric car, after all. No one buys one with frequent cross-country treks in mind. It’s a comfortable hatchback to be in and one that offers a pretty much perfect driving position.
The Ampera can handle country and motorway drives, but is best suited to shorter rides in and around towns and cities.
Considering the Vauxhall Ampera has quite a lot of kit under the bonnet and stowed underneath the cabin, it’s pretty roomy inside. Unlike some of its competitors, it doesn’t feel like space has been offered up and sacrificed to the electric gods to any great extent. It’s definitely worth pointing out the car’s battery impinges a tad on the room in the back. There’s no room for a third seat, making the Ampera a solid four-seater.
In keeping with the car’s technology and ethos, there’s a modern and innovative feel to the interior. Granted, rear parking sensors and rear-view cameras aren’t science fiction anymore, but they’re in keeping with the progressive feel of the Ampera.
There’s a lack of buttons and dials up front, with the Ampera opting for ‘buttonless’ approach. Although a second touchscreen below the main infotainment system is where you‘ll find the ‘buttons’. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it may take a little getting used to. Although it has to be noted that the screens aren’t quite as clear and sharp as you might expect.
Most Amperas are well equipped, with the top range Positiv models coming complete with a DAB radio, USB connectivity, heated seats, cruise control, climate control and automatic lights.
The boot space isn’t impressing anyone. The leg- and head-room inside might. Rivals to the Ampera can boast slightly more space in the boot, while non-electric alternatives can offer up more. Rear space is the only compromise you’re asked to make - there’s still ample room for a week’s shopping or a couple of cabin bags.
The layout is well thought out and the electric parking brake frees up plenty of space for cupholders and a generous armrest. Door bins and the glovebox are pretty average in capacity and there’s not much else to say about storage apart from the fact that where there’s not quite room for that fifth seat there is a handy little compartment. It doesn’t quite make up for the missing seat, but it’s better than dead space.
Running costs and reliability
Here’s where things get interesting…and confused. Vauxhall claim Ampera drivers can get a jaw dropping 235 miles per gallon of petrol. This may well be true - but it would depend on the number and distance of journeys. The reality is any journey over 30-odd miles sees the liquid fuel kick in and that number sharply reduces.
If you were to never charge the Ampera up and were instead to merely rely on the petrol engine, it would be a bit of a waste and a shame. If you did, you’d get 33mpg. It takes six hours to charge via a standard 13A socket and costs approximately £1 for a full charge.
What we love
The Vauxhall Ampera could well be seen as the first mass-produced electric car that was properly usable. By putting the electric system at the forefront, it pioneered. The fact that it pushed the boundaries on its release but holds up as a very decent hatchback that’s good on the road makes this an underrated gem. If you’re looking for a used car but also worried about your carbon footprint, an Ampera may well be the answer.
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Town and country drivers
If you’re buying a brand-new electric-hybrid car and have a healthy budget, there’s a veritable cornucopia of plug-ins to choose from. If you’re in the second-hand market, that selection can be limited. The Vauxhall Ampera is hands down the leading choice for anyone wanting a drive both carbon and wallet friendly. Factor in that’s also a decent drive and you’ve got yourself a hatchback that’s worth your consideration.
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