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Long Termers: Vauxhall Ampera Electron

By / 4 years ago / New Cars / No Comments

It’s worth mentioning that the company has been working with EVs since at least the 1980s and that really shows. The Ampera is absolutely stuffed with innovation, which doesn’t necessarily make it attractive to fleets but it does make it one of the most complete electrically powered models on the road. The BMW i3 is now snapping at its heels, to be followed by the VW Golf GTE later this year.

It has impressed me since I first drove one on the press launch nearly two years ago. It is a fine car to drive thanks to the low noise levels, fine handling, effortless, responsive electric drive system and of course, you do not have to worry about range. Full marks to Vauxhall for coming up with a charging lead long enough for recharging from a point behind the car.

Nissan and Renault, please note.

I’ve had between 30 and 35 miles maximum range in cool weather, enough for regular commuting without petrol. It’s quick too, thanks to the electric motor’s high torque. I appreciate being able to drive to a city using the petrol generator, then switching to electric power where clean air is preferred. It’s a superb design, brilliantly executed.

Long Termers: Vauxhall Ampera Electron

By / 4 years ago / New Cars / No Comments

Having spent a lot of time working out the most efficient way to use the car, I’ve come to the conclusion that the range-extended drivetrain really doesn’t need much to make real-world economy figures even more appealing beyond the NEDC economy test.

Most of it comes from the charging connection. The Ampera features the J1772 plug, which allows it to fully charge in around four hours on my 16 amp wallbox. Switching to the new Type 2 connector, likely to become the European standard, and offering 32-amp charging would allow it to reach full charge in two hours, or turn a one-hour stop into a useful charging opportunity.

Better still, equipped with the new Combo Charging Standard plug, which would add two DC pins below the Type 2 connector, the Ampera could offer the same rapid charging ability as the BMW i3 – an 80% charge in half an hour. It would also allow the Vauxhall to take advantage of the growing network of charging points which offer this connection.

Arguably it’s a luxury with a petrol engine as backup, but getting the most from an Ampera means spending as much time in electric mode as possible. Faster charging and wider compatibility with public infrastructure would mean more miles with the engine turned off, making better use of the rest of the drivetrain.

However, this can still offer huge benefits for the right drivers.  It’s occurred to me that it perfectly suits my wife’s driving patterns. Not only does she love driving it, but she could easily do her 25-mile commute on electricity, even based on a reduced cold-weather range of 30 miles, and most of her journeys are within battery power too.

I reckon she’d get through one, maybe two tanks, of petrol per year – which as a rough calculation is around 642mpg, or “fuel” costs equivalent to 128mpg if you count the electricity used.

Long Termers: Vauxhall Ampera Electron

By / 4 years ago / New Cars / No Comments

As temperatures have dropped, I’ve found myself growing accustomed to using the cabin heaters almost every morning – before I unplug the car from my wallbox. Operated from a button on the key, which shows a graphic of a thermometer, it pre-heats the cabin and demists the windows ready for a quick departure. As an added advantage, it saves depleting the range with the power-hungry heaters.

These seem to operate far more quickly than in a petrol or diesel car. Conventional cars often use the heat of the engine coolant to warm the cabin, which makes demisting the windows a chore while the engine is cold. By comparison, the Ampera uses an electric heater which gets up to temperature almost instantly while I’m indoors finishing my coffee.

If I were to grumble about anything, my only gripe would be the lack of a timer for the above. This would allow the car to warm up ready for a pre-set departure time, rather than having to go out and start it manually using the key. But it’s a small problem with an otherwise useful feature.

The last few weeks have also highlighted the reduced need to visit chilly forecourts. We’ve been using almost a full charge each day and, while the petrol range extender kicked into life a few times, we barely made a dent in the ‘emergency’ quarter tank I tend to carry around. There’s a pleasing simplicity to always having a full battery and warm cabinwaiting for me when I’m ready to go.

Long Termers: Vauxhall Ampera Electron

By / 4 years ago / New Cars / No Comments

On the whole I’ve found my first three months to be very positive. I love the power delivery in electric mode and the convenience of having a charging point on my driveway, and friends and relatives have echoed my approval of the way it looks. It’s a striking, futuristic shape which really fits the technology underneath.

However, I’ve also encountered a few niggles this month. After a week away I returned to an engine management light on the dashboard, traced back to a fault with the charging door. It meant a morning making use of the WiFi in Hutchings Vauxhall near Pontypridd while the warranty replacement was fitted. There’s also an intermittent fault with the steering lock, which doesn’t always engage while parked.

Beyond these issues, the rest just require adjustment. Such as the plastic spoiler on the front bumper which tends to drag over speed bumps, and allowing for the Ampera’s 1.7-tonne kerb weight. The low battery and lack of body roll give solid motorway manners, but it’s possible to lock up the front wheels on wet roads if you’re not used to the transition between its motor-assisted and mechanical braking.

This said, I'm really enjoying the Ampera and finding the infrequent fuel stops a plus point. Far from an inconvenience, I suspect I'll miss the charging routine when it goes back.

Long Termers: Vauxhall Ampera Electron

By / 4 years ago / New Cars / No Comments

Admittedly the range-extender means this isn’t a disaster, but trying to minimise petrol usage uncovers a world of complications for a new owner which still need to be ironed out.

Like most EV manufacturers, Vauxhall only supplies a cable to connect it to a conventional three-pin charging cable, tucked into a compartment under the boot floor. Most drivers will probably take advantage of the government grant, have a wallbox fitted at home and, like me, they’ll charge the Ampera there.

But, on the road, I’ve stopped at charging points I can’t access because I’ve got the wrong membership card, and while my Ecotricity card lets me use motorway chargers, these don’t have a three-pin plug. Vauxhall supplies a £300 cable which bridges this gap.

There are hurdles for the all-EV families, too. Wallboxes with a tethered lead for an Ampera, LEAF or Prius won’t plug into a ZOE or i3. This means either having two wallboxes, or (as I have) a single unit with a socket and separate cables for each car. 

Armed with cards to access Ecotricity and Chargemaster’s POLAR network and the Vauxhall accessory cable, I’m getting there. But it’s more difficult than it should be, and I’ve become very thankful for the backup of a petrol engine.

Long Termers: Vauxhall Ampera Electron

By / 4 years ago / New Cars / No Comments

The Ampera joined our long-term fleet as General Motors announced global price reductions for its extended-range electric vehicles. Said to be a result of economies of scale and streamlining of the manufacturing process, it means the range now begins at £28,750 after the Government’s plug-in car grant.

Significantly, that’s now less than the BMW i3 with a Range Extender, which has just become its closest rival. The range-topping Electron model tested here is £30,495, and comes fully loaded with heated leather seats, satellite navigation and a powerful Bose audio sytem with DAB digital radio and hard drive music storage.

But for all the newcomers during its 18-month lifespan, the Ampera doesn’t seem to have lost any of its impact. Ours is finished in a head-turning pearl white and those who don’t notice it for its futuristic coupe-esque styling tend to spot its ability to glide past in complete silence.

As a driver, it’s hard not to enjoy the seamless 150bhp surge delivered in electric mode, and design touches such as the digital instrument panel add to its high-tech feel. The dashboard would benefit from a similar button-reducing session to the new Insignia, but the seats are comfortable and it doesn’t take long to get used to the controls.

With us for six months, it’ll be a hugely valuable insight into running a range-extended electric vehicle on fleet, and a chance to familiarise ourselves with its clever drivetrain and ways to get the most out of it. So far, though, I have every confidence in its suitability to function as a mostly-electric car, but with the added spontaneity of long-range travel when needed.

Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.

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