Vauxhall Ampera driven
It's a five-door, four-seat hatchback driven by a 150bhp electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack, but it also has a 74bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine from a Corsa.
It's not a hybrid like the Toyota Prius, though, because the two power sources never work together to drive the car. The petrol engine is there purely to act as a generator.
Beauty of the range extender
It all works like this. Normally, you charge the car overnight on off-peak electricity – it takes about three hours – which gives you a range of around 40 miles on battery power.
What if you need to go further, though, or have to make an unexpected trip when the batteries are flat? That's where the petrol engine comes in, generating electricity on the move and allowing you to cover an extra 310 miles.
So, the Ampera is always driven electrically, but it doesn't have the range limitations of an electric car running on battery power alone. Its official fuel consumption and CO2 figures are 175mpg and 40g/km, so it's pretty much exempt from all taxes, too.
This is not pie in the sky. You'll be able to buy one in 18 months for £25,000 with the help of a £5000 Government grant.
Currently there's only one running prototype in the world, however, and we've driven it on the M40 and on the roads around Marlow and Henley.
The suspension, steering and interior aren't yet finalised, but the drive system is more or less what buyers will get.
You don't have to change the way you drive to operate an Ampera. Push a button on the dashboard and the motor sparks noiselessly to life – just as it does in a Prius. Tug the lever in the console to D (there's no transmission because electric motors develop their maximum torque, in this case 275lb ft, from standstill, so gears aren't needed to get the car rolling) and you're off.
Squeeze the accelerator and you speed up. Hit the brake pedal and you slow down, recharging the batteries in the process.
It's smooth and quiet in town, can hold its own with motorway traffic and feels just like a normal car on winding country roads.
Vauxhall admits there are issues to solve before cars like the Ampera can become widespread, not least the establishment of a recharging infrastructure for people who don't have garages with power points.
Even so, it's a really intelligent next step as we try to wean ourselves off fossil fuels – and it works brilliantly.
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