• May 20th 2011 at 8:04AM
  • 11
Opel Ampera

One of the joys of this year's Michelin Challenge Bibendum is getting to drive a lot of Europe-only vehicles. In GM's case, that means the Mervia all-electric hatch and the Opel Ampera, more commonly known stateside as the Chevy Volt's better-looking twin.

Opel also had two Amperas at Bibendum, one in the ride and drive (short review: it's a Volt) and one rolling chassis on the stand. The Ampera on the road is a pre-production model that is basically just one step before production. Opel will begin delivering the Ampera at the end of this year. As the "Volt for Europe," what did GM do to make it more continental? The biggest change that GM made - aside from improving the looks with the new, kick butt fascia, is something called "battery hold."

When you engage battery hold, you're telling the drivetrain to keep the battery at its current state of charge. Then when you get to, say, the outskirts of the London congestion charge zone, you can drive using your electrons and not have to pay the congestion fee. We don't have congestion charges in the U.S., but battery hold certainly sounds like a good idea to have as an option.

We also got to drive the Mervia around the test course. The all-electric Mervia program was not a priority for GM. The three cars GM made were kind of cobbled together from the GM parts bin – it uses the battery from the Volt/Ampera and a motor taken from GM's hydrogen system – to prove that GM could make a modern electric car and to gain knowledge. The Mervia program is pretty much over with but we still wanted to see what the concoction drove like (short review: it's an electric hatch). It accelerated and drove fine, but was a bit noisy thanks to the pure prototype/test vehicle status. There was a nice bit of coast when I let my foot off the accelerator, but our driving host told us that there are three levels of regen that the engineers can program in.

The real reason for the Meriva EVs was to work with MeRegioMobil to learn about charging habits and abilities. What happens when people top off their battery with short charges? Can the car tell the utility when the driver wants to leave and let the utility charge the car in a way that works best for the utility (to smooth out the grid, for example)? These were the questions GM wanted answers to, and the information gleaned will be used in other plug-in vehicle programs, especially in regards to battery warranty planning.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      JE MY
      • 3 Years Ago
      Him I believe Volt still look better in front but Ampera looks better at rear. Volt looks much more manly type... it is a great car anyway...We love our Volt. King of Hybrids.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I wonder if you could swap out the front pieces of the Volt with those from the Ampera? If it was easy to do, I would certainly consider doing it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I kinda like the 'cheetah stripes'.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I disagree that the Ampera looks better. It's certainty more distinctive and noticeable, but that's not the same thing. Given a choice, I'd get a Volt.
      George Parrott
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nick Chambers, of PluginCars.com has reported on how to do a "battery hold" in the current US version of the Volt. Using "mountain mode" driving option appears to switch the US Volt immediately to ICE operation and reserve whatever battery capacity exists when that mode is selected. In the US Volt, switching back to EV operation then does require that you stop and turn off the car, it seems, but then upon restart, you switch back into whatever EV range remains in the battery. I wish I had figured that out, but kudos to Nick !
        • 4 Years Ago
        @George Parrott
        I think it is hilarious that you need to stop and reboot in order to switch modes.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @George Parrott
        You don't have to "turn off" the Volt to switch between drive modes, it can be done on the fly. Mountain mode turns on the ICE to preserve the charge that is in the battery so you can climb steep hills without completely running the battery down to it's lowest allowable levels. There is no "EV Mode" in the Volt. Normal mode will allow the maximum available electric only range.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It seems there is a market here, I'm not sure whose motives they are following and why. Anybody out there want to make a car "inspired by" their design and make good business decisions?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Why does the Ampera get a picture and headline when the Renault Fluence that beat this car (and the Teslas, Peugeot, etc.) in the Challenge Bibendum inter-city rally gets mentioned below the fold under a picture of a science project?
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