Just like the watch on your wrist, the car you choose as a company workhorse sends out a clear message to your existing and prospective customers.
So, in these trying economic times, isn’t it time to consider a car that telegraphs a message of empathy for both the economic and ecological challenges the world is facing right now?
Enter the electric car but not just any electric car, the ONLY electric car that will give a busy sales professional a decent working range to visit all the prospects on his or her territory – the Vauxhall Ampera.
This is the acceptable face of ‘green’ technology because, unlike other electric cars, the Ampera actually boasts a real-world driving range. A range that will get you from London to Manchester without having to take a week off work to spend loafing about in motorway Travelodges waiting for the vehicle to charge up its batteries. That’s because the Ampera uses a 1.4-litre petrol engine almost exclusively to charge its lithium-ion battery pack to power the electric motors that take on the lion’s share of forward acceleration. What’s more, it works and works very well indeed. Because much of the time the Ampera is totally silent and you get to enjoy the benefits of green technology and a climate conscience image with a Big Bang Theory academic coolness that fans of the geek US sitcom know that Sheldon would swap a first edition Marvel comic for.
It also boasts stand-out looks that underscores the driver’s intentions not to follow the herd in his transport choices. Essentially, the motor acts as a ‘range extender’ to the battery pack, augmenting its 40-50 mile capacity to a full real-world touring range of 350 miles. But the motor will not, beyond extreme loads, put any power to the wheels restricting itself to the role as a simple generator to supply power to the electric motor. For those you have yet to drive an electric car, the instant silent acceleration is always a joy and worlds away from what you would expect that you’ll remember from your days on the dodgems with sparks lighting up the wire netting above your head. This means a bright performance time of 0-62mph in just 8.7 seconds and top speed limited to 100mph to preserve the electric motors.
I liked the fact that the battery pack is smaller than other EVs and so fully charges in six- hours and costs only about £3,500 to replace after 8-year 100,000 mile warranty – useful for residual values and those who like keeping cars for a long time. Also that real-world electric only range of 40-50 miles will mean most owners with charge points at home, or even more cheaply at work, will almost never use petrol. It’s the perfect corporate transport for the sales manager/director who is largely office based but needs to glad-hand customers once or twice a week and doesn’t want to see their tax burden loaded up for the sake of a more flashy company chariot.
Typically, a Manchester-based sales manager, commuting about 50 miles a day between home and office with a client meeting trip to London and back that week, will see a fuel economy average of more than 70mpg. Only scooters come close to that sort of real-world economy.
Build quality is superb and funky almost retro Space Age feel interior fit is up to the best in class and befits the price tag, which is just as well. At launch, the Ampera only comes in high specification with a starting price of a cool £28,750 including the government’s £5,000 EV grant. More importantly for the company car owner benefit in kind (BIK) taxation stands at a lowly 5%, saving about £6,000 over three years compared to like specification Vauxhall Insignia.
Handling is good and predictable and not overly affected by weight from the slimmed down battery pack. And, although based on the Astra chassis, the body is considerably larger and provides nearly mid-market executive cruiser dimensions with plenty of legroom and storage space and a boot of 300-litres swelling to just over 1,000-litres with rear seats folded.
There is enough electronic gadgetry to please the whole cast of Big Bang plus an innovative pre-flight mode where you can time the car to warm itself to full operating temperature so no more shivering in the car waiting for the heater to work!
However, there are still some glitches in what could be the perfect software suite because the Ampera is some £10,000 more expensive than an equivalent Insignia and private customers will not see a return on that investment for many years.
As with all electric plug-in cars, drive or garage charging is essential because high-rise living city dwellers with just on-street parking will have to depend more on petrol range than battery-only use. Also the steep price tag results in an equally steep monthly lease of just under £500 – deep into Audi A4 country.
On top of that, no-one really knows how long the government’s EV grant is going to be available after 2015 while purse strings are drawn tight and other motorists, quite rightly, raise well founded objections. Nonetheless, the Ampera is definitely the best interpretation of an electric car to date and has a cool factor worth considering for those sales professionals trading on a more tree-cuddly image.
You can follow all Paul’s automotive and transport news on Twitter @PaulMyles_
Engine: Electric motor plus 1.4-litre petrol generator
Top Speed: 100mph
Economy: 70 mpg
Insurance: 21E Price: £28,750 (with grant)
Audi S3 Sportback
We expect bigger, better, faster from so much of both our working and social lives that it comes as little surprise that Audi launch a ‘hot’ version of its all-new A3 at the same time as the standard hatchback and new saloon body-shape.
Yet, rather than take the more commercially challenging booted body for the news S3, Audi box clever, and safe, by making the compact back-lane blaster the more practical Sportback variant which goes some way to providing the carrying capacity of a small estate – perfect for the sales professional used to carrying samples to customer meetings!
And, with 297 brake horsepower to play with, there’ll be little excuse to turn up late for that last minute sales presentation. That said, the biggest risk is how much time the driver is likely to spend finding the most recreational route to the final destination. Because, thanks to Audi’s iconic Quattro all- wheel drive system, the car grips corners longer and harder than almost anything in its class.
It is so easy to lose yourself in a hedonistic world of burying the motor into every country lane bend and marvelling at the poise, feedback and control the S3 delivers back to driver along with the huge grin of driving satisfaction.
On top of this the acceleration is ferocious although, and I will caveat this with the fact the car I tested was an early production model, the six-speed manual I found notchy and too long and indirect in throw and this probably explains the S-tronic’s near half a second faster 0-60mph time of 4.9 seconds against that of the manual.
Yet, the S3 is no hard-edged sportster ready to shatter your dentals and pitch you into the nearest undergrowth. The car remains an incredibly user-friendly piece of transport and, even with the optional larger 18-inch alloys, the ride is quite comfy for a ‘hot-hatch’ and becomes even more so choosing the comfort setting of three driving modes available.
You will also have enough boot capacity for those product samples and presentation pop-ups thanks to a luggage capacity of a healthy 340-litres swelling to a mighty 1,185- litres with the rear seats folded back. Naturally, build quality is superb and the interior combining a sporty ambience with an understated executive quality appeal.
Standard equipment is impressive although the techie junkies will doubtless want to spend the £1,795 for the Audi Connect package feature 4G mobile connectivity for navigation and entertainment options.
Naturally, too, none of this quality and pace comes cheap but for just over £30k you do get the class leader in performance and economy so the S3 must feature on any aspirational sales professional’s company car shopping list.
Engine: 2.0-litre TFSI
Top Speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 5.3secs (4.9secs S tronic)
Economy: 40.4mpg (claimed)