Vauxhall Ampera review: Hands-on

The Vauxhall Ampera is high-tech, drives like a dream and saves you pennies...

What is a hands on review?
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Think of an electric motor, and you’d be forgiven for picturing a compact SMART car-like road warrior that lacks a beefy exterior, a decent engine and a tech-laden dashboard.

But forget that old image. The days of bare-faced emotors are over. The Vauxhall Ampera is the family-friendly car re-mastered for the 21st Century punter, who demands giant leaps in fuel efficiency and in-car technology.

While most ecars rely solely on an electric engine the Ampera does things differently: it has an electric engine but with the boon of a petrol back-up, so you have a reliable source of power once the battery runs dry.

But while it's impressive and, in some ways, evolutionary, it still has a lot to learn as we found out when we took it for a spin…

Vauxhall Ampera: Tech

As the demand for high-tech dashboards grows, car manufacturers are increasingly hitting a brick wall when it comes to packing their motors with kit.

The decision on what to and what not to include can be tricky, particularly when you're pitching to a modern day consumer who lives their life through their gadgets. So hey, we guess the ideal solution would be to just include everything, right? Wrong.

The list of in-car tech in the Ampera is endless, and while cars such as Range Rover’s Evoque do well in catering for the tech-hungry market without compromising on the quality of the vehicle, Vauxhall, on the other hand, has failed miserably on this occasion.

The Ampera, as impressive as it is, is a victim of over manufacturing. There are too many buttons, too many options, so much so that it all blends into one messy carnival of kit that, quite frankly, is confusing to operate.

Take the sat nav for example. While we found it easy to input addresses using the touchscreen display, the option of turning off, say, voice guidance was all but easy.

There was a lot of playing with the system, a lot of buttons with confusing logos hovering above them - overall, without using an instruction manual, it took T3 just over 15 minutes to work out how to get the annoying voice that tells you to turn right in 300 yards to shut up.

It gets worse. The system sometimes was a tad slow at responding to requests, a bug-bear we encountered several times when we attempted to change between tracks on our iPod playlist.

But it’s not all bad news though: the speaker system is extremely clear – you have the option of using the integrated CD player, or to connect your MP3 device to the infotainment system via USB.

Also on board are two 7-inch LCD displays, one in the centre, the other above the steering wheel which displays the essentials, such as the petrol and electric engine status.

There’s also a Drive Mode button to switch between Normal, Sport, Hold and Mountain, a nifty feature that can make the car toggle between electric and petrol power when conditions require it.

Vauxhall Amerpa: Specs

- USB connectivity
- Intergrated sat nav
- Electric & petrol engine
- CD player
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Two 7-inch LCD displays
- Four drive modes

Vauxhall Ampera: Performance

The Ampera’s electric motor can be charged using a domestic socket, through which a full charge takes around six hours.

In theory, depending on your driving habits, this should allow you to travel up to 35 miles on electric power – once the battery has run flat, the car will automatically start guzzling the contents of the petrol tank.

We found the Ampera comfortable to drive and the engine, while running on electric power, barely made a noise. The car is solid – whether you’re running on electricity or petrol, it revs up nicely and can tackle turns with ease.

If you’re a sucker for comfort, you’ll love this car. With plenty of electric adjustments on the front seat, it’s easy (and safe) to get comfortable. There are also two seats at the back - the Ampera a strict four-seater - both of which are extremely spacious and comfy.

Vauxhall Ampera: Verdict

The Ampera has done what most electric cars have failed to do: house a fuel-efficient engine into a crust that’s beautiful, functional and extremely comfortable.

It performs beautifully on the road, and its capability of switching between an electric and petrol engine is nothing short of evolutionary. The amount of space available, both in the boot and the back seats, is a massive bonus, making it ideal for long-haul journeys.

Now don’t get us wrong: the Ampera is an amazing car, but the messy dashboard makes the overall usability of the in-car functions a tad confusing and tricky to operate - especially while driving.

The tech is impressive though – Vauxhall clearly put a lot of effort into the innards. It’s just that on this occasion, they tried a bit too hard.

Vauxhall Ampera availability: Out now
Vauxhall Ampera price: From £32,250

Words: Bertan Budak

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.