I’m spending eight days with the Vauxhall Ampera, learning just what life is really like with this range extended electric car. Follow me and find out. #lifewithampera
Monday 25 March 2013, 13:00
It’s arrived. For the next eight days I’ll be driving a Vauxhall Ampera in an interesting shade of white; it’s a deep colour, with light refracting off in all directions that confuses my eyes. Officially it’s Lithium White, but my brain has yet to work out exactly what shade it is.
Inside it’s a slightly odd mix of leather seats, graphite grey dashboard and white inserts on the doors. It’s well specified though, with sat-nav, Bluetooth, BOSE DAB radio and heated seats amongst the toys.
At £33,995 for this Electron spec, with an extra £995 to be added for the paint job, it’s not cheap. This week I’ll find out if it’s worth it.
Monday 25 March 2013, 15:00
That’s the first drive done. Jumping in the car, it claimed there was 32 miles of range left in the batteries. I’ve done 27 miles of mixed driving, from motorway, through country roads and in to an urban area and it’s now saying there’s seven miles left – I’ve gained four miles!
Out on the road it certainly felt heavy, but not vague and wallowy as you might expect. The 200 kg of batteries are located in a line along the centre of the car, so weight distribution is spot on, meaning it handles reasonably well. It’s never too uncomfortable either, despite the required stiff suspension.
Monday 25 March 2013, 19:00
A quick run to town to pick up the daughter in sub-zero temperatures has knocked those last few miles off, the 1.4 litre petrol engine kicking in just a mile from home. The computer says we’ve therefore averaged 211 mpg today, which isn’t too bad.
With some long runs coming up in the next couple of days though, that is likely to drop. Tonight though, it’s time to plug the car in and charge it ready for tomorrow.
That’s presented one problem; with no charging station at home, we’ve got to leave a window open to put the cable through. That’s making the house a lot colder than it should be. Within ten minutes the decision was made to have a charging station installed, should we ever own an electric car.
Tuesday 26 March 2013, 22:00
This evening it was just a quick blast down the motorway towards Brighton, the 130 odd mile journey seeing the Ampera return 58 mpg.
All was well, the car being really very quiet and composed.
That was until I hit a pothole. The Ampera’s left front tyre lost the battle. Time to call Vauxhall Assist…
Wednesday 27 March 2013, 09:00
The morning light reveals that last night’s tyre vs pothole competition really didn’t end well for the Ampera. With a destroyed tyre that’s come off the rim, there’s little option but to hitch a lift on the back of an AA truck while a new tyre is sorted out.
Hats off to Vauxhall Assist though, who managed to get an AA truck out by 9am. Now it’s just a case of sitting at 56 mph for the next 130 miles. At least the Ampera will use even less fuel…
Wednesday 27 March 2013, 15:00
One thing that’s been highlighted by the Ampera’s pothole meeting is that there’s seemingly a serious lack of Michelin 215/55 R17 tyres in the country. Given that the Ampera doesn’t come with a spare tyre, and that the inflation kit supplied is useless in the specific circumstances I’m facing, that’s a problem.
I’m now waiting to see if Fit4Fleet, GM’s tyre people, can find a single tyre for fitting tomorrow.
No Ampera fun today then…
Wednesday 27 March 2013, 17:00
Today’s issues have meant that the car has done virtually no mileage under its own steam though, a rough calculation suggesting 40 metres is as far as it’s gone. I won’t bother measuring the economy of that…
Tomorrow is another day, and it’s off to Daventry. Hopefully there won’t be any potholes on the way.
Thursday 28 March 2013, 08:00
A quick run in to town late last night for emergency wine supplies saw the uncharged Ampera relying entirely on its 1.4 litre petrol engine to generate power. In total the car covered 8.1 miles yesterday, returning 25.6 mpg.
Of course, if you take in to account the fuel used by the AA van…
Thursday 28 March 2013, 10:45
With yesterday’s tyre woes behind me, it was off to Fawsley Hall near Daventry to spend some time playing with the Citroen DS3 Cabrio. Fully charged, the Ampera cruised happily along the A14 at 70 miles an hour, pretty much matching the predicted range of 36 miles.
As a motorway tool, and with the DAB digital radio tuned to Absolute 80s, it’s surprisingly refined and quiet place to while away a few hours.
Now it’s at Fawsley Hall, plugged in to a socket in their kitchen, charging ready for the drive home later.
Thursday 28 March 2013, 13:45
Plugged in for a few hours while I’ve been playing with a Citroen, the Ampera’s range has increased from zero miles to just ten miles. Charging via a normal plug socket is therefore not something to rely on if you want to keep your electric range up.
Now it’s 50 miles back home, with 40 of those needing me to burn fuel…
Thursday 28 March 2013, 20:30
It’s the end of the day and the Ampera has covered some 165 miles. With just 45 or so of those being on pure electric, it’s managed just 57.3 mpg today.
The car itself is really growing on me though. Apart from the sat-nav, that is. Quite why there needs to be three different voices involved in one instruction, I’ve no idea.
It was entertaining and amusing at first, but now? Not so much.
Friday 29 March 2013, 09:00
I’ve just discovered the pre-heater setting on the car. Now I can look out of the bedroom window, press a button, and ten minutes later the inside of the Ampera is toasty warm with hot air coming through the vents and the heated seats working overtime.
No longer will I have to leave the house and get in to a still frozen car. This is wonderful news.
Friday 29 March 2013, 18:00
Actually that’s not strictly true. The engine flicked on just as I pulled on to the driveway. However, I covered less than a metre before shutting it down. I’m not going to count that bit.
It’s been awfully relaxing driving under electric power alone, with surprisingly sprightly performance. Shifting to the ‘L’ setting on the gearbox let the car try to recover even more energy under braking, so that no doubt helped the mileage too.
In other news, some genius engineering has seen an end to the issue of a cold lounge thanks to an open window with a cable running through it…
Saturday 30 March 2013, 16:00
The Ampera’s been travelling again today, but knowing where I’d be I took some time out to find local charge points. Within the space of 15 miles I found charge points operated by three different companies. All required registration and membership fees, some of up to £50.
As two of them, the two most convenient, were simply slow charge points, I estimate that I’d have recovered around 6 miles of range by the time we’d done our shipping. If I did that every week for a year, I wouldn’t even recover the membership fee in saved fuel.
For once I’m in favour of a monopoly, or at least the charge companies working together. It surely can’t make sense to have to join multiple and costly schemes just so you can plug in when, or if, you find a charge point?
Sunday 31 March 2013, 16:30
The joys of Easter Sunday meant that by 2:30 I was done with the Ampera. Covering just 24 miles, I sadly needed to use a little petrol for filming purposes. If not for that, it would have been battery power all the way.
Other than that, it was such a quiet day that there’s really nothing to report.
It’s a fine looking car though…
Monday 1 April 2013, 22:30
Sadly this wasn’t the case, and yet another organisation needed to be joined to make use of the charge point. Given its location, I can’t imagine it’ll get much use.
Driving at night, one thing strikes you about the Ampera. More specifically, around 58 things strike you about the Ampera, and that’s the huge number of buttons that light up on the dashboard. As there’s no physical button, it’s all a little tricky to operate without having to look down, and that’s not entirely safe.
Added to that, the sheer number of lights is quite a distraction. Turning down the brightness helps, but perhaps there’s room for some more innovation here; maybe proximity sensors to light things up when you reach over? At the very least, the main LCD screen in front of you needs options to minimise the information on display as right now there’s just too much going on.
Tuesday 2 April 2013, 09:30
If the car is switched on and you open the bonnet, the petrol engine fires up. After thinking about this, it can only be to remind you that the car is live, so don’t fiddle with things you shouldn’t be fiddling with.
Of course, if that’s not put you off, every potentially live part under the bonnet is covered in a bright orange jacket so there’s no excuse for venturing off-piste.
Tuesday 2 April 2013, 15:30
After eight days and 585 miles, the Ampera has now left me. The first question anyone asks, beyond “What is it?”, is how much fuel does it use? Well, in my time with the car I’ve gone through just over 36 litres, giving an average economy of 73 mpg.
Is that any good? In isolation, yes. It’s 20 mpg better than the Honda Insight I had previously, but then there’s also some electricity to factor in. I’m estimating about £1.60 a day which, if you converted that £1.60 to litres of petrol, drops the economy to 59.6 mpg.
I’m now looking at a 9 mpg difference, or the equivalent of around £500 a year in fuel savings, but at an additional cost of some £10,000 on the purchase price.
For me then, the Ampera doesn’t work out. However, I grew to really like the car a great deal. It’s a wonderful piece of engineering, well built and well executed in design. It drew admiring glances from kids in awe of the silent motion of the car to grandparents who surprisingly appreciated the technology and styling.
The Ampera then needs the right buyer. Stick to less than around 12,000 miles a year and you’ll barely touch a drop of petrol. Ever. You’ll be saving over £1,000 a year in fuel over the Insight, £1,400 over most cars, and that will reduce the pain at paying more in the first place.
Ultimately, it’s going to be near impossible to make a purely financial case for the Ampera, the purchase price just skewing the maths too much. But if your driving patterns match the ideal for the car, you need four seats and you want something that looks good and drives well, you’re 90% of the way there.
The heart can do the rest.