Is the Vauxhall Ampera better than the Nissan Leaf?

As you may already know, I have had a Nissan Leaf from April last year and done 11,000 miles. I also have a Vauxhall Ampera and done 1,000 miles. Which is better… there is only one way to find out….. FIGHT!!!

Oh no, sorry. I got carried away there and slipped into a Harry Hill sketch! I shall have to try to avoid that in future.

So which actually is better… the Vauxhall Ampera or Nissan Leaf?

Everyone will have their own views on that and so all I can do is give you my views, or should I say our views because my views are very much in parallel with those of my wife Sally.

The problem with trying to answer this question is that we are dealing with very different beasts. One, the Nissan Leaf, is a 100% electric car. It plugs in, charges up and goes 80-100 miles. the other, the Vauxhall Ampera, plugs in and goes for about 50 miles and then the petrol generator takes over from the battery and continues to provide electricity for the motor.

On the surface they seem very similar but the Ampera has the generator and can go on past the empty battery stage. Almost the same kind of car aren’t they? Well, no. I don’t think they are and this is why.

In an ideal world, in my ideal world anyway, we would all drive 100% electric cars. Their range between charges would be similar to current ICE (internal combustion engine) cars of about 400+ miles and they would charge in minutes similar to filling an ICE with diesel or petrol. Dream on I hear you say and you would be right. That is a way off. I am sure we will get there but right now we have to accept that electric cars, 100% electric cars like the Leaf, are not well suited to long distance travel.

Even with the launch of the Tesla Model S “Signature” edition and its 300 mile range charging will still be a bit of a compromise with only limited charging able to deliver power in any reasonable time frame for everyday long-distance travel. The Leaf, with its DC fast charging, is in a reasonable position to do some long-distance trips but even then it requires frequent stops for 30+ minutes to get just 60 miles or so of charge. Nope, 100% EV long-distance travel is a way off.

So what exactly are 100% EVs good for? Are they worth the money because they are still quite expensive in spite of the Renault concept of battery leasing? My year of owning a Nissan Leaf shows quite categorically that they are worthwhile but mainly for shorter trips of under 40 miles each way. For the fast majority this is hardly any restriction as most of us do just 20-30 miles a day.

For me though, the biggest problem with 100% EVs is the fact that once the battery power is gone you stop! Completely. This means that although the Leaf has a usable range of 80-100 miles you wouldn’t want to drive that far because you would be very close to running the battery flat. So even with a descent range, or potential range, the amount we can use that range is limited to how close to running out we are prepared to go. For me that is 60 miles in winter and about 80 miles in warmer weather. This is modified depending on the terrain, speed etc.

Now, consider that Ampera. A EV range of about 45-50 miles and then the petrol generator after that. On the surface it sounds like it has an EV range of about 1/2 that of the Leaf but in practise this is not actually true. The Leaf’s absolute range might be 100 miles but because I don’t want to risk running flat my usable range is 60-80 miles. However, with the Ampera I have no issues running out of battery power because the petrol generator will just take over and so I can use all of the available battery power. All 50 miles of it!

So, directly comparing the EV ranges of both the Ampera is only about 1/3 down on the Leaf and yet it can still do the vast majority of my daily journeys in EV only mode.

So as an everyday EV the Ampera and the Leaf look like they both can do all my daily driving in EV mode. Yet the Ampera can go that bit further. It completely removes all worries about range. It means I can have just one car for electric, local travel and still drive it to Auntie Flow 300 miles away when I need to. It means I can use my EV in exactly the same way that I use my old ICE car and it means that I am not forced to make lengthy stops on the way and/or to deviate out of my way to get to a charging station just to complete my journey.

I know that many people have pointed out that it is not the best EV on the market. There are others that are more efficient and cost less. Neither is it the best ICE car (petrol or diesel) out there right now. There are many ICE cars that will return more mpg although I have to question how many will return 55mpg at 70mph in actual conditions although I know there are some that will. No, that is not what the Ampera or Volt are about. They are about owning an electric car. An electric car that you can drive day in, day out, on electricity alone, but with the capability to do those long trips without the hassle and inconvenience that would come with a 100% EV.

It is about compromise – a reasonable EV and a reasonable ICE – creating a great car to live with.

So, which is better?

Well, the Leaf is a better EV and it is perfect for local trips and town driving and is probably better than the Ampera in that respect. However, the Ampera is an EV that everyone can live with, not just the enthusiast or early adopter. The only real issue right now though is one of cost but over the coming years I see that being overcome too and the ER-EV (Extended Range-Electric Vehicle) becoming more popular.

In parallel I also see battery and charging technology, along with the charging networks, improving hugely and prices coming down making 100% EV ownership progressively more viable for the everyday bloke in the street but until that is all in place ER-EVs might be a great stepping stone between petrol/diesel cars and 100% EVs.

If you need one car then the Ampera is the only sensible option without considerable inconvenience when on longer trips. However, if you need 2 cars or are happy to accept that inconvenience then the perfect combination is one of each. Both are excellent for the everyday trips locally but the Ampera can do the longer trips too. It is a pricey option right now but prices will fall and secondhand models will be available at prices most people can afford in a year or two. 

It is a very exciting future.

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