Short test drive in an Opel Ampera

Opel Ampera electric car

Today at work suddenly an Opel Ampera electric car appeared, and it was available for short test drives. Of course I didn’t need to be told twice and I was allowed to make the first test drive with this interesting car.

The Opel Ampera is the first electric car by Opel. According to the factory specifications it should be able to travel 80 km in full-electric mode on its 16kWh lithium-ion battery. By comparison: the Nissan Leaf (which I was allowed to test for a  week last year) can travel 160km on its 24kWh battery. Many people suffer from ‘range anxiety’ and the Ampera could cure this with a so-called ‘range extender’. This is a 1,4 litre petrol engine which, when the battery gets depleted below a certain point, starts up and keeps the battery charged. The petrol engine is not connected to the wheels, it’s purely a generator. This makes it possible to make short journeys (e.g. commuting) on electricity, while longer distances can be travelled on the petrol engine. The Ampera can be charged from any wall socket or at a charging pole which have been shooting up out of the ground everywhere for the past year.

Design

Design?

I have no feeling for the design of cars. According to many people my view on cars is ‘weird’ because I consider it machines that can take you from A to B when public transport can’t easily do so – and nothing more than that.

Many of my colleagues, however, were distinctly positive about the Ampera’s design. Of course, I can tell Opel made something special here. A much-heard remark today was “finally an electric car which doesn’t look as dull as the Prius”.

When looking at the photo above here the car might seem somewhat short and squat but in reality it’s quite a large car with its 450cm length. It’s also no lightweight at a 1700kg curb weight – as much as a Volkswagen Transporter T4.

Behind the wheel

Behind the wheel

Sitting behind the wheel the two displays stand out. The display behind the wheel shows shows information about the range on battery and petrol tank, the current energy consumption of the car, the odometer, the position of the gear lever, etc. The centre console display (which is a touch screen) operates the air conditioning, the radio/CD-player and the satnav system. When reversing this display shows the image from the backup camera. The keys on the centre console are all touch keys without a tangible switch moment. I don’t really like that because that means you have to look at the keys whilst driving and that is distracting. The same applies to the touch screen. The operation is quite intuitive, but the amount of information on both screens can be overwhelming at first. Of course the car is an automatic drive, so aside from switching between forward and reverse drive, no shifting is not necessary.

The seat is comfortable, with a typically German firmness. The seat can be moved forward and backwards over quite a large distance, so people of nearly any size should find a comfortable position in this car.

In the back seat

Not much leg space...

Things aren’t so rosy on the second row. The photo to the left shows the front seat very close to its middle position (it can move forward and backwards quite a bit from this position) and I was actually stuck between the back of the back seat and the front seat. My legs aren’t particularly long so tall people will be very cramped in the back.

This situation will also make it difficult to install a child seat which has the child facing backwards without moving the front seat forwards.

...and not much head space either.

If the leg room in the back seat is nothing to write home about, neither is the head room. The roof line slopes towards the rear quite severely and people in the rear seats of anything more than average length will not be comfortable. With my 1m88 I had to bend my head forward or to the side – absolutely not comfortable for anything but a short journey.

Fortunately only two people at a time can be subjected to this torture because the back seat seats only two. The battery is Tshaped and positioned under the centre console and the rear seat, making the centre position unavailable to sit on.

Getting in and out of the rear seat is not very comfortable, too, owing to the sloped roof line. All this makes the rear seat suitable for children and small people.

Driving

Let’s get back behind the steering wheel then, it’s much more fun there. The car key can stay in your pocket and the Ampera starts with a button. The car’s startup music and animation are just bit less exaggerated than the Leaf’s but I still don’t like it. I remember from my week with the Leaf that you get used to it quickly but I still wonder why manufacturers things these kinds of things are necessary.

As is usual with electric cars it remains silent after the annoying start-up music has died down, except maybe for the soft hum of the ventilation system. After having put the car in ‘D’ and after having released the brake the car creeps forward. As soon as the accelerator  is pressed the car hums away silently on its electric motor. The acceleration is brisk because the electric motor has much torque at low rpm. According to the factory specifications the Ampera should be able to do 0-100km/h in just over nine seconds. I didn’t get to test that in the short test drive I made but I believe it.

I didn’t drive for much more than a kilometre, and only at relatively low speeds. That means I can’t say much about how the car drives but from what I’ve seen there’s not much wrong with it. Because the battery is positioned very low in the car the car is very stable in corners.

I hope to be able to make a longer test drive in the Ampera at a later point in time, which will allow me to make better founded comments on several aspects of the car. For now I think this is a very nice car, technically very advanced, the first of its kind and it’s a car that might make electric cars acceptable for more people. That would make it a nice intermediate step between a purely fossil car and a purely electric car.

It was a great experience getting to know the car.

9 thoughts on “Short test drive in an Opel Ampera

  1. @ Jeroen: Wat bedoel je met: de benzinemotor is niet met de wielen verbonden??
    Het is toch ook mogelijk om alleen met de benzinemotor te rijden?

  2. Bij hybrides zoals de Toyota Prius en de Honda Insight kunnen zowel de elektromotor als de verbrandingsmotor de wielen aandrijven, in elke gewenste ratio. Dit wordt wel ‘parallel-hybride’ genoemd.

    Bij de Opel Ampera is alleen de elektromotor aan de wielen gekoppeld. De verbrandingsmotor wordt alleen ingezet als generator om stroom aan de accu’s en/of de elektromotor te leveren. Technisch gezien heet dit ‘serie-hybride’.

    Echter omdat de term hybride niet meer ‘hip’ is en ‘elektrische auto’ wel noemt Opel de Ampera dus een elektrische auto met range extender.

    Dus ja, je kunt op de benzinemotor rijden, maar die drijft dan een generator aan die stroom opwekt, en op die stroom draait dan de elektromotor die de wielen aandrijft.

  3. Wat Jeroen nu beschrijft is de manier waarop de marketingafdeling van GM dacht dat de Ampera/Volt gebouwd zou gaan worden. Uitendelijk drijft ook de benzinemotor van deze Ampera via een planetair plantwielstelsel direct de wielen aan, net als de Prius. En daar is een goede reden voor: directe mechanische overbrenging geeft minder omzetverliezen dan de electrische omweg. Zodra de stroomlading van de Ampera “Op” is, komt ie in een modus die vrijwel gelijk is aan dat van een normale Prius. De motor drijft de wielen aan en de accu wordt alleen nog gebruikt als energiebuffertje. Een groot verschil met de Prius is dat de Ampera geen efficiënte benzinemotor heeft, waardoor die in “Prius-modus” ongeveer 1 op 14 rijdt, tegen 1 op 20 voor z’n japanse voorbeeld.

  4. @Okkie: Daar lijkt het toch niet op. Van de Opel-website (http://www.opel-ampera.com/index.php/mas/ampera/how_it_works/erev_voltec):

    “Enter the Range Extender. This on-board “power station” is a compact gasoline-powered generator whose sole purpose is to supply electricity when you want to drive beyond the range of the battery. It runs at several optimized rpm levels, which have been calibrated for maximum fuel efficiency.”

    Ook op alle autotestwebsites lees je steevast dat de verbrandingsmotor niet mechanisch aan de wielen is gekoppeld en alleen als elektrische generator dienst doet.

    Heb jij andere bronnen?

  5. GM liegt graag een beetje en autojournalisten zijn meestal niet echt technisch onderlegd of nieuwsgierig genoeg om zich verder in de materie te verdiepen dan wat de persberichten dicteren, getuige o.a. de onzin die er over het algemeen over de werking van de Prius en afgeleiden wordt verspreid. Hoe vaak moet ik niet lezen dat er een “nederlandse vinding” in zit, waarmee ze op de CVT doelen. Erg lachwekkend als je wel weet hoe e.e.a. in elkaar zit.

    Maar goed, dit is wel een mooi startpunt om te lezen als google “volt vs prius planetary gear” je teveel informatie geeft:
    http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/alternative/1108_2011_chevrolet_volt_vs_2011_nissan_leaf_vs_2011_toyota_prius_comparison/

    Zie ook hoeveel complexer de aandrijflijn van de Volt is, vergeleken met de Prius.. ;-)

  6. @Okkie: Hmmm, je kon wel eens gelijk hebben. Als ik deze presentatie kijk lijkt het er inderdaad wel degelijk op dat de verbrandingsmotor via dat planetaire tandwielstelsel de wielen direct aandrijft in sommige modi. Echt duidelijk is het allemaal niet en dat geeft inderdaad het gevoel dat GM/Opel iets willen verhullen, nl. dat de Volt/Ampera ‘gewoon’ een serie-hybride is. Op zich is dat helemaal niet erg, het gaat uiteindelijk om de verbruikswaarden, maar je hebt ook nog zoiets als ‘de schijn vermijden’.

    Ik vind het nog veel mooier om te zien enorm simpel de aandrijflijn van de Leaf is :)

  7. Volgens die presentatie heeft ie een mooi intrekbaar landingsgestel. Ik betwijfel echter of we nu op dezelfde altitude zitten.

    Als je overigens meer over de Prius en de mogelijkheden om een tweedehands Prius om te bouwen tot plug-in, ik woon hemelsbreed zo’n 1500 meter bij jou vandaan…