The Vauxhall Ampera was our 2011 overall Green Car of the Year, and the fact that it still features strongly in 2012 is a testament to its bleeding-edge range-extender technology.
In fact, only the keener pricing of the Chevrolet Volt stops the Ampera from winning the Alternative-fuel cars category for a second year on the trot.
As with the Volt, the Ampera’s big strength is that it can operate as a fully electric vehicle in and around town, but still go the length of the country thanks to its petrol engine. Got a lengthy commute into town? No problem; you can ‘hold’ the electric motor’s charge until you’ve completed the motorway chunk of your journey, then cruise silently and cleanly through the city streets. Need to drive 300 miles? Fill the tank with unleaded and off you go.
On the road the Ampera feels brisk away from the line and offers safe, predictable handling, with only a little body lean in bends. It’s refined, too, and not just when running on purely electric power. Even when the petrol motor cuts in, it’s a relatively hushed companion. There’s room inside for four adults and at 300 litres, the boot can cope with most of the demands of a small family.
The economy figures stack up too, of course; CO2 emissions are just 27g/km, so you won’t pay a penny on road tax or congestion charges, and even company car tax is just 5%.
However, the visibility out of the narrow rear window is pretty poor, and the cabin plastics can’t quite match up to the pretty hefty pricetag. Then there’s the near-identical Volt, which is more than £2000 cheaper and nicely equipped with it. ‘Same tech for less cash’ is a hard one to overcome.