Our Cars: Vauxhall Ampera - July
Week ending July 27
Driven this week: 60 miles
Vauxhall Ampera review
The biggest surprise at the wheel of our Vauxhall Ampera is how much attention it gets from the side of the road.
Unfortunately, because of the traffic around me, I'm rarely in a position to stop and chat. On the couple of occasions when I have done, I’ve been pleased to find that the car has already been correctly identified. They haven't known the name, but they know it's 'the electric one'. Vauxhall should chart the advertising campaign up as a direct hit.
There's a certain irreverence that comes from driving an electric vehicle, particularly if you've still got charge left in the batteries. I find myself thinking of the car in front, exhaust puffing away, as a 'filthy machine'.
To be honest, I know that's rarely the case, and that in certain situations - a long, high-speed trip, for example - a few of them might even use less fuel than our Ampera. That spoils the joke, though.
Week ending July 20
Driven this week: 404 miles
Vauxhall Ampera review
Now that I can consistently travel to work and back in the Vauxhall Ampera on electric power only – without recharging – I notice even more when the batteries run out and the engine cuts in. It never runs at the lights and always pulls away for the first few seconds on electric power, which makes for a smooth and relaxing way to travel.
One disconcerting thing is the difference between the performance on electric power and when it is using the engine. On electric it feels nippy around town and quick off the mark, not quite 'sporty' at low speeds, but not far off. Once the batteries are flat (think 40-mile range), the Ampera is distinctly more sluggish. When you're pulling out at a busy roundabout or planning to overtake, you do need to think about whether you've still got any battery power left.
Travelling with a couple of passengers last week, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of cabin space. It's a bit short of headroom for adults in the back, but the shallow-looking boot is surprisingly practical and will hold about the same amount of luggage as any of the other family hatchbacks, such as the Ford Focus or Hyundai i30.
Week ending July 13
Driven this week: 176 miles
Vauxhall Ampera review
I was convinced that within weeks of our Vauxhall Ampera's arrival I would stop thinking about it as an electric car and regard it as simply a car, albeit a very high-tech and handsome one. A few thousand miles later, and I'm still in 'electric' mode whenever I'm behind the wheel.
Reassuringly for Vauxhall, and for me, most of that is for good reasons: it's smooth, easy to drive in traffic and economical in town. Make your calculations on 45mpg in heavy urban traffic and you won't go far wrong. That's once your 40 miles of battery-only range has run out.
The negatives are all standard car niggles. The heating seems unable to keep the cabin at a constant temperature (you have to fiddle with it), there's a shortage of headroom front and rear, and the rear is split into two sculpted seats with a set of cup holders where the third child should go.
That last one seems completely at odds with the competition - the Ford Focus, Hyundai i30, Vauxhall Astra and, bearing in mind the Ampera's nearly £40,000 list price, the Audi A4, Mercedes C-class and the exemplary new BMW 3 series. None of them will do 45mpg in town, though.
Week ending July 6
Driven this week: 84 miles
The most surprising thing about our Vauxhall Ampera is how, over many hundreds of miles of town driving, it manages to deliver such consistent economy.
If I leave it charging at the office during the full working day, I can make the journey to home and back to work - about 40 miles - on battery power, alone. It uses no fuel and about 11kWh of electricity, which costs around £1.50 at current daytime rates.
You could charge it overnight on Economy7, which in theory would reduce the cost of the electricity to around 60p, but it takes more than seven hours to charge, and so it would actually cost nearer 80p.
On petrol, it’s equally consistent. In town traffic it invariably averages around 44mpg, no matter how congested it is. On the open road, it does about the same.
In fact, it’s so consistent I’m going to plan a trip, measure the journey on Google Maps, predict how much fuel it will use before I travel and then compare with the real consumption once I’ve arrived. It’s like a simplified version of our clever True MPG calculator.