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pounds 5,000 off but going green comes at cost.

Byline: Edward Stephens

VAUXHALL is about to launch its quiet revolution - with the arrival of the Ampera.

This futuristic-looking, extended-range electric vehicle, which will run for up to 50 miles or so on electric power before bringing in a petrol engine to generate more electricity, is completely silent in operation. It takes a bit of getting used to - and pedestrians had better watch out because they won't hear it coming.

Built on the platform of a Vauxhall Astra but with a much bigger body, the Ampera will hit the streets of the UK in early 2012, having already gone on sale in Germany in November.

But while the Germans will have to pay the full price, UK buyers will benefit from a Government subsidy of pounds 5,000, bringing the price down to pounds 28,995.

And while that's still relatively expensive for a fourseater car - there are two sculptured seats in the rear and just two seatbelts - you have to factor in how much you will save at the pumps.

Vauxhall says 15,000 kilometres (9,320 miles) will cost you around pounds 438 of electricity but to cover the same distance using a petrol engined car would set you back three times as much.

The Ampera is probably about half as cheap to run as a small diesel as long as you don't exceed the 50 miles per day range, which most people travelling to and from work in Britain don't.

Unlike pure electric cars, however, if you do exceed that range there is no problem.

The car switches seamlessly to its 1.4-litre petrol engine with a further range of 310 miles. And even when using the engine the wheels are powered by electricity as the petrol engine powers the on-board generator.

Once home, a full charge is achieved in four hours and costs around pounds 1. When I sat in an Ampera I couldn't help thinking that the dashboard looked something like I would have imagined on the Star Ship Enterprise.

Instead of the conventional dials there are two high-definition colour displays, one showing a green ball sitting between two vertical lines.

To achieve maximum economy the idea is to keep the ball at the midway point. Accelerate heavily and the ball rises and changes colou r.

Then there is a green spring-like graphic showing you just how much power you have left. Every time a coil of the spring loses colour it means a reduction of energy stored. In addition, a central console shows the rate of flow of electricity to drive the wheels. Conventional this vehicle is not. The car uses a fully automatic gearbox but you can switch between Normal mode and Sport mode.

When you sit in the Ampera and push the starter button you feel initially as if nothing has happened because everything remains totally silent.

You put your foot on the accelerator almost expecting no response. But response there is, and the Ampera glides silently forward.

What's even more surprising is just how much kick this car has got, whether running on full electric power or petrol.

On the motorway, particularly in Sport mode, there is an instant surge as you dip your right foot. The Ampera has a 0-60 mph time of under nine seconds and is particularly fast to 30mph, achieved in just 3.1 seconds. The top speed is 100mph.

If you think electric cars are sluggish the Ampera will change your mind for you. On the road, it offers a very comfortable, stable ride in a very refined manner.

Despite its size, the Ampera is agile and sporty with great handling thanks in part to a low centre of gravity, long wheelbase and wide track.

There's plenty of space for front and rear seat travellers, although the sloping roof means anyone very tall sitting in the back might find their head close to the rear window and despite carrying re-chargeable batteries the Ampera still offers a hefty 300 litres of boot space, ensuring it's a very usable everyday car.

As Europe's first extended range electric vehicle the Ampera offers a credible car for everyday use as opposed to a pure electric vehicle which limits the owner's flexibility to go anywhere.

It will be interesting to see how many people are willing to pay almost pounds 30,000 to go at least partly green.


Great handling: Edward Stephens behind the wheel of an Ampura.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Jul 22, 2011
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