Vauxhall Ampera
Vauxhall Ampera

Electric vehicles are growing in numbers on the roads, they are appealing for their ‘zero emission’ motoring – well, at least at the point of use, if you ignore the output of the power station supplying the energy – but they come with a potential handicap in comparison with conventional cars. Unless your daily journey is nothing more than a short commute, ownership of an EV involves range anxiety, the worry about running out of juice before the journey's end.

Here is an electric car that resolves that problem. The Vauxhall Ampera (badged as an Opel elsewhere in Europe) is the first electric car with no range anxiety. It is the pioneer of what is certain to be a new breed of range extender EVs, designed to run principally on electricity, but also equipped with a small petrol engine as back-up to keep the car mobile when the stored energy in the battery pack runs down.

So the Ampera is a kind of reverse-hybrid. Hybrids have gained popularity as a more practical alternative to an electric car, but they run most of the time on fossil fuel with electric back-up. The Ampera differs because it runs primarily on electric power, with plug-in recharging, but with a petrol engine as back-up to drive the car’s electric motor and carry on even when the battery pack is low.

This means that it has the advantages of an electric vehicle – city-friendly driving, low pollution, low noise - but also has the major disadvantage removed. EV enthusiasts keenly quote statistics asserting that 80 per cent of daily journeys are shorter than a typical electric car’s range, but distance limitation is still the key deterrent for many motorists. The Vauxhall Ampera thus has the scope to widen the appeal of driving an EV.

On sale from early 2012, the Ampera is being hailed as the first electrically driven car in the UK that is suitable for all the variations of everyday driving, with zero CO2 tailpipe emissions combined with a range potential of up to 350 miles – around three times that of a purely-electric car. You could call it an EV without the angst.

Performance

The driving experience in the Ampera is similar to that of a Vauxhall Astra, with which it shares the same basic under-body structure. So unsurprisingly the Ampera rides and handles much like an Astra. It has a well-engineered calmness and precision that makes it a responsive and enjoyable drive.

In common with other electric cars, it has a brisk take-off. The Ampera’s acceleration feels quite energetic and gives it a lively responsiveness, at least initially. Overall, though, the impression is of more a tourer than sports car. Its performance figures are respectable, especially the sub-10 seconds acceleration time, but the top speed is lower than many similar cars, as it is electrically limited. That is academic for most drivers, though, and irrelevant anywhere away from a derestricted German autobahn.

It is hard not to be somewhat fixated by the range countdown on the instrument panel that keeps you  informed about you how much energy is left in the battery pack. Unlike a pure electric car, though, when the gauge hits zero the car keeps running normally, as the petrol engine almost imperceptibly switches itself on to take over from the electric motor.


Published : 24/10/11 Author : Melanie Carter

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