The technology is genius on the new Opel Ampera and it is one of the smartest new cars around. It just might be a little pricey for Irish buyers.
In the Metal: 4/5
Most people will be fairly well used to what the Ampera looks like by now, because the car has been a regular sight at the major motor shows in concept form and we have previously driven these concept models. The finished car doesn’t look too different from the early prototypes, but they have refined the look for the production version. It is a dramatic looking car with very striking design features. At the front there are the distinctive ‘boomerang’ headlamps, which is now part of the Opel design language and will feature on the new Zafira later in the year. The car has the typical aerodynamics hatchback shape that we have come to expect from cars such as these but it doesn’t look awkward like the Prius does in some areas. The large alloy wheels even have black plastic inserts to ensure proper aerodynamics.
Inside, the design is quite futuristic. There are no conventional instruments instead there is the Driver Information Centre, a bright graphic display. There is also a full-colour, touch-screen display in the top of the centre stack, where you can control the audio system, air conditioning and also scroll through energy monitoring displays. Inside the cabin is spacious and it will seat four adults in comfort. There is a 310 litre boot, which is pretty small for the class and there is also no proper parcel shelf and that is pretty annoying.
Driving it: 4/5
After you jump into the Ampera, you press a starter button and as is more increasingly the case with these cars (such as the Nissan Leaf) they start up more like a computer than a car. The car turns on silently and displays indicate how much battery power you have left, which will enable you to drive in EV mode. The wheels of the Ampera are electrically driven at all times. A 16kWh lithium-ion battery pack feeds a 150hp electric drive unit to deliver between 40 and 80 kilometres of electric-only driving with no emissions. 0-100km takes 9 seconds and the top speed is a very quiet 161km/h. Most owners would hope to work within this range, charging the car up fully in four hours. The difference with the Ampera is that if you do run out of battery power, you aren’t necessarily in trouble. There is a also a 1.4-litre range extending petrol engine. But rather than directly powering the front wheels, this engine is used to generate electricity if and when the battery has run out of charge. We managed about 60km before the range extender kicked in and it is all super quiet, even with the range extender working. The car itself feels well balanced, although we did take a while to get used to the braking which requires quite a firm plant.
What you get for your Money: 4/5
The Ampera is likely to cost around €45,000 in Ireland, even with the €5,000 Government grant, but for that you will get a car that will have very low running costs and which comes fully loaded with equipment. There is everything from climate control, cruise control, satellite navigation, electronic handbrake, voice recognition and hard disc music storage. It feels like a very high-end car, but then again its price is going to be pitching it against the likes of the all-conquering BMW 520d, Audi A6 and Jaguar XF.
The car is going on sale soon in Europe, but right-hand drive markets such as our own are going to have to wait until 2012 for the car. Would-be owners will be able to put down deposits in dealerships right away.
The Opel Ampera will be the perfect solution for some buyers who want the EV experience but can’t or don’t want to have to deal with the associated risks. We really rate it very highly, but we would be concerned about the car’s price tag, which is perhaps a little too expensive.