First Big Trip – Saltash to Ambleside 360 Miles

Having taken delivery of our shiny new Vauxhall Ampera last Monday we had little time to get to know it before we had to drive to Ambleside in the Lake District, some 360 miles away. On the one hand it was a great opportunity to get to know the car better but on the other it was early days to be doing a journey of that length without knowing the car better… if you see what I mean!

The plan was to drive as normally as possible, without enbarking on “eco” driving techniques although having said that, we don’t drive fast by anyone’s standards and our normal speed is between 60mph and 70mph most of the time on motorways and this is pretty much what we did whenever the opportunity allowed.

The beauty of the Ampera over our other car, the Nissan Leaf, is that although it is electric it also has a petrol generator so when we run out of battery power the car can continue using petrol. The issue then initially was when do we use the battery and when the petrol. Clearly, we could just run on battery until it ran out and do the rest of the trip on petrol but we experimented a little. We used HOLD mode (petrol) when on faster roads and EV mode (battery) when on slower roads or in town. Our basis for this is that the battery is better in slow or stop/start traffic as the petrol generator doesn’t need to stop and start so often.

I have to say that the jury is still out over whether there is any significant benefit to be gained from using the battery in this way and it will need more testing but for now that is how we are using the Ampera. However, on most of the legs we did get well over 40 miles on a full charge.

Just one caveat to this… if you do this with your Ampera or Volt remember, it is important that when you next fully charge (i.e. charge to 100% full) that you start the charge with zero battery remaining and this means that if you use HOLD mode in this way you must remember to switch back to NORMAL so that the remaining battery can be used up before your arrival at your final destination. It would be silly to go through all this effort to minimize your petrol use only to not use all the cheaper power from the battery each time. Top-up charges (i.e. charges to less than 100%) don’t count and you can do these at any time providing you empty the battery before you next fully charge.

We had to see someone at Stoke-on-Trent so we decided to stop overnight at Newcastle-under-Lyme. The Premier Inn had offered us overnight charging. We were going to have to stop at least once anyway so we thought we would take the opportunity to stop at a Welcome Break and top up at the Ecotricity top-up station at Michaelwood. After plugging in we went off to get our coffee. With a stop of just 45 mins we were not expecting it to make much difference to our mpg or electric range but it made a noticable difference to both! We managed over 47 miles on battery and our petrol use was 61mpg. That may not sound too impressive but remember, we are at motorway speeds and so 61mpg is pretty good in my book.

The overnight stop was uneventful. We were told to park near our room window and plug in to the socket in the room. I think with the Nissan Leaf charging cable I would not have been so happy doing this. The Leaf cable is a fixed 10A and so it can push the cabling and sockets a little if they are not in 100% condition but the Ampera cable is switchable to 6A and that should be perfectly safe on any 13A rated socket. We woke with 100% charge next day. Simple, easy, charging.

We really should all be encouraging hotels and B&Bs to install dedicated charging stations. Simple, 13A/16A charging, without clever smart card systems, is all that is needed for overnight stops like this.

The hotel in Ambleside had also offered us charging. They had an IP rated 13A socket box on the wall near the car. It even had its own builtin RCBO so it was perfect for car charging. Again, I charged at 6A as time was not an issue and so we had a fully charged car for local trips every day. As it happened, we were there for a bit of walking and the hotel was in town so the car wasn’t needed again until our return. However, this showed us one of the real benefits of the Ampera… yes, we needed a bit of petrol to get to our destination (albiet less than our previous car!) and once there we could do up to 45 ish miles every day without petrol. More if there is an opportunity to top up. Surely this has to be a better way to visit tourist destinations so that we do not clog up those destinations any more than we have to.

On our return we stopped overnight with family in Litchfield and charged overnight there on their garage 13A socket, again at 6A.

However, it was on our trip from Litchfield to home that we hit a hiccup with top up charging. We stopped at Michaelwood services with the intention to use the Ecotricity top-up station but it was out of order 🙁 I realise that this technology is still pretty new and so perhaps we can expect that it won’t be 100% reliable just yet. However, had we taken the Nissan Leaf it might have resulted in us having to call out assistance to get charging. It is vitally important that charging stations are kept working if we are to be able to rely of them and don’t forget… the Ampera is fine, we have a petrol option, but 100% electric cars rely totally on charging stations working and right now there are usually no other options within range. I have reported the failure to Ecotricity and I am sure that will get on the case quickly.

The trip went very well and we were very impressed with the overall performance of the Ampera. The figures speak for themselves really:

784 miles
67.5 mpg
About 50kWh of electricity

I say that is a superb result given that a good percentage of that was at 70 mph on motorway. If we had managed to charge, even for 45 mins, each time we stopped this would have been even better.

As you can see from this last snap of the power screen on the car, the lifetime petrol use 81.9 mpg. OK, we have used some electricity too but I think this shows how the Ampera can significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

So, all in all a great start to our Ampera ownership and it bodes well for regular 40+ miles in EV mode and petrol only fuel use of around 55 mpg. How exciting!

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