Our Cars: Vauxhall Ampera - June
Week ending June 29
Driven this week: 100 miles
Vauxhall Ampera review
As I rapidly adjust to running an electric car, there are a few things that I've noticed about commuting in our Vauxhall Ampera.
The first is that I can now charge the Ampera at work during the day and drive home and back to work again on electric power alone without recharging. For some reason this wasn't possible when I first got the car, but I haven't moved house, so it's difficult to see what's changed.
The other thing I am learning about is opportunistic charging. More and more car parks now have bays reserved for electric cars – infuriating if you don't have one, but useful for me. This means there's more likely to be a space, and it gives you a chance to top up the charge. The main problem will be familiar to long-standing mobile phone users – the network installations have been funded by different suppliers and they're not compatible with each other. So, I have a Chargemaster car, but they don't run the charging bay in the Blackheath car park.
Perhaps I'll have to sign up to all of them, or maybe they'll start cooperating with each other. It's not clear. Apart from that, I'm having great fun.
Week ending June 22
Driven this week 100 miles
A few weeks ago I complained that the Ampera's charging lead always gets covered in dirt because it lies on the ground when you charge the car.
I'd asked Vauxhall if it was possible to have some kind of retractable lead fitted to the car, but as the lead heats up when charging, it would be a bad idea to have a hot lead coiled around itself.
An Ampera owner, Mike Hatton, got in touch to show me how with his home charging set-up.
He said: 'If you install a home charger unit, the cable issue goes away.
'I just drape the cable over the charger unit (while holding the plug) and plug into the holster, so there's no need to touch the cable at all. It's easier than using a petrol pump as I don't have to stand next to it while it dispenses!.
A lot of owners are in agreement that there could be a retractable cable, that would only charge when fully unwound, or one that did not use a coil to eliminate the induction heating problem.'
It's always great to hear from owners of our test-fleet cars, so do keep those emails coming in.
Week ending June 15
Driven this week: 70 miles
There's no doubt that our Vauxhall Ampera is a looker. Getting so many admiring glances makes driving through London a real thrill, even during rush hour.
The other thing that makes town traffic a doddle is the electric powertrain, which is limo-smooth even when the batteries are out of juice and the petrol engine is spinning. The big benefit is that the engine stops when the car is stationary but, unlike a normal stop-start system, the car always starts by pulling away on the battery power (there's always a bit of charge left in the batteries) which means that you never feel it shake as the engine starts.
Week ending June 8
Driven this week: 180 miles
Vauxhall Ampera review
My brother-in-law is a dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead. The list of cars he's owned includes a Fiat Barchetta, Toyota Celica and VW Golf GTI. His current car is a 1996 Mercedes E240. He thinks electric cars are just a fad.
However, that changed after a half-hour passenger ride in our Vauxhall Ampera.
He liked the instant acceleration, the refinement, and was pleasantly surprised by the fit and finish of the Vauxhall. The range-extending petrol engine wiped out any concerns he had about electric cars and their range.
This total change of mindset bodes well for Vauxhall if it can convince enough people to at least test drive such cars.
I'm not sure that my brother-in-law's next car – or even the one after that – will be an electric car, but at least the acorn that one day he could own one has been planted in his mind.
What we didn't appreciate was the decidedly non-futuristic recharging mechanism. When the car has finished recharging, your hands get covered in dirt and crud as you wind-up the power lead. Some kind of retractable lead, such as that in a vacuum cleaner would be more user friendly, but Vauxhall says the lead can't be coiled when the car is being charged because it will get too hot.
Week ending June 1
Driven this week: 100 miles
Now that the fun of having a new car is beginning to wear off, I've started to notice a few issues with our Vauxhall Ampera. It's great to drive through town – there's nothing quite like the smoothness you get from electric motors – and you get just as much attention as you do in, say, a Range Rover Evoque, but there are a couple niggles.
The first is that the incredibly low front diffuser scrapes on every speed bump. Bearing in mind that the car is badged a Vauxhall and, by virtue of its electric powertrain, destined for a considerable amount of town use, it's frustrating that it doesn't seem to have been tested in London, a city full of speed bumps.
The second thing I'm surprised about is that, although there's a fully functional Bluetooth phone connection, there's no Bluetooth audio to allow you to play music from your phone without plugging it in. In any other car, you wouldn't give it much consideration, but in the top-spec version of what would appear to be the UK's most technologically advanced car it's a strange omission.