Vauxhall Ampera hatchback (2012 – ) review
Read the Vauxhall Ampera hatchback (2012 - ) car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives.
Interested in buying Vauxhall Ampera?
Because it’s such a tech-fest, even the most basic Ampera costs a lot of money, meaning it competes with some tasty cars – think BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class – on price. So, it’s a good job that even the entry-level model is fitted with DAB radio, a seven-inch touch-screen, cruise control and alloy wheels. Mid-spec Positiv trim adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera. Opt for the top-spec Electron trim and you’ll gain sat-nav, Bose Energy Efficient Series stereo, DVD video player, 30GB storage, Bluetooth and voice activation.
Who said eco cars needed to look dowdy? The Vauxhall Ampera’s silhouette is genuinely sporting, with a low, wide stance and some really interesting design features. The boomerang front light clusters echo the Zafira Tourer and Astra GTC, but look even better here. It’s quite a shock spotting one in your rear-view mirror as you realise it’s not the latest souped-up road racer from Vauxhall’s VXR tuning division, but the most economical model in the manufacturer’s long history.
The steering wheel is familiar and this is a Vauxhall, but it’s not a Vauxhall as we know it: the dash-mounted touch-screen display looks more prominent and jutting, but it’s the complete lack of gauges which grabs your attention. Instead, there’s just a very black space – at least until you turn the ignition and the Ampera’s animated instruments spring into action, accompanied by the sound of a Star Wars Speeder Bike powering up. There’s an incredible amount of well-presented information on tap, focussed around an ‘energy ball’. Drive as economically as possible and this stays green and central in its gauge. Accelerate or brake too hard and it will turn orange and sink or rise accordingly to softly point out the error of your ways. Interior quality is good, with colour-coded door cards and a multi-layered dash adding to the Ampera’s contemporary feel. However, it struggles to match the quality of conventional models from BMW, Mercedes and Audi at a similar price.
Picture the scene. Your overnight electric charge cost just over a quid and your only journey for the day involves one motorway junction, so you have plenty of stored energy. How quick is the Ampera if you give it the lot? As quick as most turbo diesel models as it turns out, hitting 62mph from rest in 8.7 seconds, with one seamless surge of uninterrupted acceleration. Its top speed is 100mph, but that figure is pretty academic – you wouldn’t drive it flat out, would you? The Ampera differs fundamentally from the pure electric Nissan LEAF and petrol-electric hybrid Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. It’s referred to as an electric range-extender, because unlike the Prius and Insight it’s always driven by electric power, but also has a petrol engine to increase its range. However, this 1.4-litre engine never powers the wheels directly; instead, it acts as a generator to charge the battery pack when the stored electric charge is depleted.
Because the battery pack forms a T-shape down the spine of the car, the Ampera is a strict four-seater, with a raised tunnel separating the nearside and offside seats. So long as this does not put you off, you are likely to be happy with the boot space, which is 300 litres during normal use and 1,000 litres with the rear seats folded down. A high boot lip does make loading heavy items tricky, though. As in the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, the Ampera’s highly aerodynamic boot design requires a spoiler half way down the tailgate, which makes rear visibility poor. Luckily, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera are fitted to aid parking in Positiv and Electron trim levels.
In creating this special model, Vauxhall decided it needed to interact with its customers in a different way, so it wrote up an Ampera Customer Charter. Owners enjoy a ‘MyAmpera’ relationship with Vauxhall HQ, including a single point of contact who will support them with their needs. There’s also free collection and delivery for servicing, warranty and repair work with a courtesy car. We expect the Ampera to be reliable, particularly as the first version has been on sale in America since the end of 2010, and the UK model is an evolution of this tried and tested design.
Ride and handling
Every car is built in the US, but experts have tuned its suspension on the UK’s roads and test tracks to ensure it’s the best handling and riding Ampera possible for our uniquely twisting B-roads and choppy motorways. Its steering feel is clean and precise, and the Ampera has a relaxed balance, which tends to mask the speed you can pick up. Its feathers only get ruffled by big dips and bumps in the road, which can cause the heavy Ampera to bounce on its suspension momentarily. Thanks to its electric motor, it is serenely quiet in full electric driving. When the petrol motor kicks in, it’s also extremely refined, only becoming noticeable if you require large amounts of power for a sustained period – requiring it to sit at higher revs to produce the necessary electricity.
The Ampera’s pure electric range is 50 miles, at which point its petrol engine generates electricity and (with a 35-litre petrol tank) increases total range to around 360 miles. Overall CO2 and fuel consumption tests take into account a fully charged battery, resulting in a stunning emissions rating of 27g/km (making road tax completely free) and average economy of 235mpg. Refill the petrol tank and you can simply keep going, completely eradicating the range anxiety of the Nissan LEAF, Peugeot Ion, Citroen C-Zero and Mitsubishi I-MiEv – where owners running low on electric fear they won’t find a charging point. Other perks include being exempt from the London Congestion Charge and free parking in some areas which encourage green cars. Company car drivers will enjoy five per cent Benefit In Kind (BIK) car tax. To reach those economy figures in real life, you’ll need to charge up as often as possible – in fact it’s possible to use no fuel at all if your daily drives are less than the Ampera’s electric range. Vauxhall told us servicing should cost roughly 25 per cent less than a 1.4-litre Astra, thanks to the low-maintenance design of its electric powertrain and the low stresses placed on the 1.4-litre petrol engine. However, because of the Ampera’s very high price, it will make most sense to private buyers as a car to keep for longer than average to reduce the overall cost of ownership.
The Ampera has driver and front passenger airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, front seat side-impact airbags and full-size curtain airbags. ISOFIX child seat mounting points are fitted to the rear seats and there are several systems to help prevent skids, including ABS and ESP. The Ampera performed well in Euro NCAP crash tests, with an overall rating of five stars.
Because you can’t stand the never-ending upwards march of fuel prices. There’s nothing quite like driving nearly 50 miles in electric mode for the cost of a basket of chips.