Vauxhall’s Ampera is a new kind of electric car that can also …

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Opel Ampera Electric Cars

Vauxhall’s Ampera is a new kind of electric car that can also fill up with petrol at the pump. Confused?

PUBLISHED: 21:00 GMT, 16 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:01 GMT, 16 June 2012

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Have you ever known someone for 20 years only to discover you didn t really know them at all?

This happened to me the other night at a mate s birthday party.

I won t name him for fear of a backlash, but he s middle-aged, drives a pick-up and has scars all over his hands from manual labour: the type of bloke I thought was happiest with a nail gun in one hand and a mug of builder s in the other. Not dancing around the room to boy band pop.

The petrol engine chugs along at a steady rate, no matter what speed you’re doing. The whole thing is brilliant

Now I ve nothing against boy bands. I m a bit of a Take That fan myself. But it s a question of moderation.

A bit of Gary Barlow, a bit of Springsteen, a bit of James Brown: that s a balanced diet.

At my mate s party, track after hi-energy male harmony disco track came tumbling out of his iPod: 5ive, One Direction, The Wanted, Bieber. Worse, not only did he know all the words but he had all the dance moves, like a five-year-old would.

Oh my God, I thought as I sat with a beer in my hand, what do I do? I ve been his mate for more than 20 years and I m watching him dismantle his butch persona before my eyes. Was he drunk?

Was he ill? Was he having a midlife crisis?

I didn t know. But if it progressed to the show tunes stage, I was going to have to stage an intervention. I don t want to be at anyone s 50th birthday and have to watch him act out the choreography of Starlight Express.

Still, each to his own. It would be a dull world if none of us was allowed to change his spots.

You might need kids to help you figure out the dashboard. Most of the knobs have been replaced with a touch-screen

And that brings me to Vauxhall. Close your eyes and think of the first Vauxhall you ever saw. Brown, wasn t it? Probably a Chevette.

Or in my case, a cut-and-shut Nova with brown velvet seats and no stereo: my first ever car.

Now look at this Ampera. You re telling me the company that made my Nova made this? If so, they must have had the same sort of midlife transformation as my mate. But I m all for it.

The Ampera is the simplest electric car I ve ever seen. It fills up at a petrol pump like any normal car, but while normal cars (including hybrids) give you between 20 and 80 miles to the gallon, in the right conditions the Ampera can give you 235.

That s all you really need to know. But I ll tell you how they did it, because it s interesting.

In the Ampera, the wheels aren t driven by a combustion engine at all.

Opel Ampera Electric Cars

They re driven by electricity. The 1.4-litre petrol unit s only job is to generate that electricity.

Add a full tank and you can go hundreds of miles, easily as far as any normal car

Sounds backwards? Actually it s how we should have been building cars all along. There are fewer moving parts with electric propulsion, so less energy s wasted.


And the petrol engine chugs along at a steady rate, no matter what speed you re doing, so that s more efficient too. The whole thing is brilliant.

So what s it like to drive? Well, like an electric car. That means pick-up is instant and very smooth, with the force of a big-engined saloon but none of the noise and no gear-changing pauses. Ever been in an electric go-kart? It s like that.

It doesn t handle like a go-kart, though.

Lithium batteries are very heavy. The weight s low down, which is good for stability, but the laws of momentum mean it s not much fun making it change direction.

The brakes take some getting used to: they re used to regenerate charge and are over-eager to do it, causing jerks.

But the only real gripe I had was the low front spoiler. Aerodynamics save fuel, but I swear the Ampera s front is lower than a Lamborghini s. I dreaded every speed bump on a trip to London.

On the plus side, the aero kit looks good. With those mad boomerang light clusters, you won t be mistaking the Ampera for anything else.

There s decent luggage and leg room, but the back is two separate seats, so it s not ideal for big families.

You might need kids to help you figure out the dashboard, though. Most of the knobs have been replaced with a touch-screen.

Opel Ampera Electric Cars
Opel Ampera Electric Cars
Opel Ampera Electric Cars
Opel Ampera Electric Cars
Opel Ampera Electric Cars
Opel Ampera Electric Cars

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