Our cars: Vauxhall Ampera farewell
If you'd asked me three years ago how long it would be before I'd be driving a car powered by an electric motor and with a range of 300 miles, I'd have said, 'Not any time soon'. I was wrong.
I'm just parting company with our Vauxhall Ampera after 15,000 miles at the wheel, commuting through town, cruising down the motorway and generally getting about. I simply didn't give a second thought to the fact it was driven by an electric motor, with a conventional engine as a back-up power generator.
It's been a great experience, not least because of the car's looks. There's something warmly reassuring about a stunning-looking car that makes you feel good every time you walk towards it and when you see the interest from pedestrians and other drivers.
The list price of the cheapest Ampera is just less than £30,000 if you include the Government's £5000 electric car grant, but we opted for the more expensive Electron trim, which adds a digital radio, a seven-speaker Bose audio system, 30GB of music storage, Europe-wide sat-nav, leather interior, heated seats and Bluetooth, bringing the price to £33,995 after the grant. White is the only no-cost colour, so we also chose Crystal Red metallic paint, at £995.
All that tech under the bonnet and in the cabin means the interior feels a bit 'space age', with a button-less centre console for all the radio, heating and sat-nav controls. To be honest, I found the touch-sensitive panel troublesome, not least in the winter when you had to take off your gloves to use it; it wouldn't detect hands through fabric.
One massive positive is the Ampera's driving position. The visibility is a bit limited front and rear, because the car is so aerodynamic, but the seat is extremely comfortable and very easy to get into a position where the steering wheel, pedals and all the controls are within reach. This makes it a very relaxing car to take on long journeys – and I did plenty of those.
Once on the motorway, the petrol engine was running to generate the electricity for the electric motor. At a steady 70mph it was pretty quiet, although you could really hear the engine revving when accelerating or overtaking. It soon eased when you lifted off the accelerator, though.
The Ampera did about 40mpg on the motorway, keeping up with the traffic, and about 45mpg in town, when running on petrol, although economy dropped off to nearer 36mpg during the depths of winter. There were, of course, lots of journeys that I made across town, mainly to work and back, that were done solely on electric power from the batteries, and the car's overall average fuel economy was 46.3mpg.
My biggest gripes with the car were pretty mundane: the front bumper lip scraped on almost every speed bump, which was annoying; and the Ampera can seat only four.
Our car wasn't serviced during its time with us, although you could tell it was coming up pretty soon because an oil life alert had just appeared as the car went back to Vauxhall – weirdly, you can't go by the odometer, because the engine isn't running a lot of the time. Typical servicing costs are about £770 over three years.
Much to Vauxhall's credit, and my relief, there wasn't a single fault with the car during its 12 months, apart from an amber alert light that blinked on and off every so often, which is reassuring in a car this complicated.
The Ampera's best quality is that you never think of it as an electric car – you don't suffer from the 'range anxiety' that can beset owners of pure electric cars; you just get in and drive.
All in all, we think it's a great choice if you do a lot of town driving and want a great-looking, efficient car, although you'll have to put your wallet where your heart is, because cheaper cars such as the BMW 320d ED offer better economy for less money.
Vauxhall Ampera Electron logbook
Price when new £38,995 (before £5k Government grant)
Price now (new) £38,995
Extras Crystal Red metallic paint £995
Total price new £39,990 (£34,990 with £5k Government discount)
Current part-ex value £21,795
Overall test fuel economy 46.3mpg
Worst fuel economy 35.6mpg
Electricity cost 3.3p per mile
True MPG na
Official fuel economy 235.4mpg
CO2/tax liability 27g/km/5%
Contract hire £529
Cost per mile 66p
Insurance group/quote 21/£618
Servicing and repairs