Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fire up the... Vauxhall Ampera

THIS eco-warrior has an electric motor. It also packs a good old fashioned petrol engine. So the new Ampera's a hybrid, right?

Not quite, Vauxhall reckon. I'll apologise for getting so blatantly and boringly technical this soon into a review but it's important you know why the Ampera, this year's European Car of the Year, does what it does. A hybrid like, say, a Toyota Prius or a Honda Insight, is powered by a petrol engine which uses electric energy to help it run more efficiently.

The Vauxhall's contender (and its sister car, the Chevrolet Volt) is one you'll appreciate if you're a train buff - it's an electric vehicle which uses a petrol engine not to power its wheels, but to recharge its batteries. It is, in trainspotter speak, a petrol-electric. Not nodded off yet, then?

The upshot of all that electric wizardry is that the Ampera can do something no other electric car can. It can run on amps alone for 35 miles - more, Vauxhall reckons, than most of us regularly commute - so you can happily pop to the shops in it during the week not burning any fuel at all, plug it into the mains when you get back and sit back, smiling smugly because you're helping to mend the holes in the ozone layer. The clever bit, though, is that once you get past that it'll call on Esso's finest to keep going, meaning the 1.4 litre engine normally sat on the sub's bench is able to get you to Aunt Mabel's house in Aberdeen just like any other car could. Try doing that in your Nissan LEAF.

Normally, it's the price that unravels it all but while at £30,000 the Ampera costs about the same as the high end versions of Vauxhall's own Insignia it's the same sort of car - a big, generously equipped saloon, even if it's got a dashboard straight out of the 1980s. It's even nice to drive in a comfy, cosseting sort of way, with plenty of room upfront and in the back.

The Ampera isn't an electric car in the truest sense of the word but instead manages to be something much better; an eco-friendly express that makes sense. It's an environmentalist statement disguised as a really good car.

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