What is it?
A plug-in hybrid. The Ampera differs from traditional hybrids like the standard Toyota Prius in that you plug it in and charge it up from the mains. That allows the car to run on electricity alone for much longer periods of time and at all speeds, so it doesn't just pootle along on electric power.
Vauxhall reckons you'll be able to drive for up to 50 miles on electricity alone from a full charge, but the good news is that you've got the reassurance of a 1.4-litre petrol engine and a fuel tank when you need it, so the car can travel for much longer.
Is it any good?
Slide into the Ampera's futuristic cabin, push the start button and you'll hear a Microsoft-style powering up noise. It's a bit cheesy but some buyers are bound to love it - you hear a similar powering down sound when you switch everything off, too.
That's about it for noise, though. The Vauxhall's hybrid drivetrain is silent save for a faint whirr and the cabin is exceptionally well insulated from wind and road noise. Even when the electricity runs out and the 1.4-litre engine kicks in, the Ampera is still quiet - you only notice the petrol unit when you're accelerating.
Speaking of which, it's not bad at that either. Electric cars have a reputation for being sluggish but that's not the case here. The Vauxhall has a total of 148bhp and 273lb.ft of torque, which makes it good for 0-62mph in nine seconds. All of that pulling power is available from zero 'revs', too, so the Ampera feels brisk from the off. It's pretty punchy on the move as well, with equivalent performance to a conventional 2.0-litre engine.
The way the batteries are laid out means that there's a big, central tunnel running through the centre of the cabin (a bit like what you'd find in a sporty rear-wheel drive coupé), so the Ampera is a strict four-seater. Apart from the lack of a central back seat, it's very roomy. There's plenty of space for front and rear passengers and a 300-litre boot.
Should I call the bank manager?
Here's the bad news. The Ampera will cost £28,995 when it goes on sale in the UK in 2012. That's after the Government's £5,000 electric car grant, too, so it's really very expensive for a family-sized, four-seat Vauxhall. The all-electric Nissan LEAF has been panned for its steep price but that's about £3,000 cheaper than the Ampera at £25,990.
On the plus side, Vauxhall reckons you'll see an average of 176mpg, taking into account both petrol and electric driving. Emissions are only 40g/km, too, so you won't pay a penny for road tax or congestion charge.
Yes, it's expensive, but if you can see past the lofty price tag then the Ampera is a real game-changer. It's far more realistic a prospect than a fully electric car and much more green than a normal hybrid. Until battery drop stations, fuel cells and a hydrogen infrastructure start to take hold, plug-in hybrids like the Vauxhall make so much more sense. If only it were cheaper...