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Vauxhall Ampera: A Sound Investment

So what did UK Garage DJ Artful (formerly Artful Dodger) think of the Vauxhall Ampera? We recorded a video review for Hornet TV of the Chevy Volt’s pricier cousin with Artful, AKA Mark Hill.  Read on for more info, stay tuned for the final edit.

Vauxhall has hit the hybrid nail on the head. The award-winning Ampera is a great car. Stylish and roomy, it’s a smooth drive, which maximises comfort. Unfortunately, cost, design and four seats put pay to a perfect ten.

Meaner looking, with a classy business edge, the Ampera has seen great success in the business fleet sector. It’s understandable. On top of the great fuel efficiency, it’s a really smart looking car.

Inside the cabin, there’s a wealth of technology. Smartphone connectivity allows you the convenience to listen to your own music and to make calls via Bluetooth. It also gives you the freedom to check on your remaining electric range, charge points, when away from the car.

The touch-sensitive screen can be a little unresponsive, which is frustrating and the raft of buttons to operate the different features seems a bit much. However the satellite navigation system is accurate, despite not allowing you to use just the postcode or street name. You must have both. (Cue: Le sigh and scrabbling around in the backseat for bits of address.)

In the back, the middle seat has been sacrificed to accommodate the battery pack – a possible dealbreaker for larger families. However, the boot space is generous and overall the comfort and quality is more than satisfactory.

The miles-per-gallon (MPG) is impressive. It sat at around 94.6mpg for the majority of the driving we did. Hooning it back from Newcastle really chewed the figures – something easily attributed to driver error. My bad.

It did however demonstrate that in terms of performance, the Ampera’s not lacking. A simple top speed of 102mph is more than enough for the increasingly slower UK motorways. The notable torque offers that little bit extra for pulling away and overtaking. Cruise control certainly did help bring the fuel economy back to “green swirling leaf territory” – the visual dashboard indicator showing whether your driving style makes the car happier.

Heralding a new age of hybrids, the Ampera uses a 16.5kw li-on battery to give around 52 miles for pure electric driving. Allowing drivers to make the best of both worlds, it uses an on-board generator to recharge the battery, once the initial charge has depleted. This differs from previous hybrids, such as Toyota’s Prius, where a petrol engine kicks in, once the electric supply has ran out. Instead, the Ampera’s generator sends charge to the electric motor so the car is always “technically” propelled from the electric motor.

All sounds great. However, charging became a bit of an issue. We were unable to charge at Artful’s house as there was no suitable plug. Lodging with my grandparents on a cul-de-sac with no driveway, plugging in wasn’t an option there either.

In Newcastle city centre, there are loads of charge points, but they require downloading an application, registering, logging in and generally were a bit of a faff – very much relying on you to have 3G signal. In addition to connectivity issues, we also uncovered a design flaw – emptying the boot in the rain to access the charging cable. Fortunately, we found a petrol station.

Petrol 1, Electric 0.

One of the reasons the Ampera has been so successful is due to its ability to teach drivers how they are using their cars. Forums of Ampera owners have reported a huge reduction in running costs. By being able to monitor their driving habits, they’ve realised that the 50 miles of pure electric range keeps them away from the fuel stations most weeks. This is just as well, as even with the plug-in car grant from the government, the Ampera still starts at £32,250. (Update: as of 11th September 2013, Vauxhall reduced the price to £28,750 – CD)

It’s clear that Vauxhall has made a conscious effort to distance itself from the Prius’-generated perception that hybrid-driving hippies are simply popping out for more Birkenstocks and snoods. The Ampera brings a new level of futuristic style, a remarkable safety record and cost efficiency. Provided you can suck up the initial investment and quietly dispose of your third child, it is arguably the best commuter car on the market today.