Driving on ice: The Vauxhall Ampera takes on the frozen Baltic Sea

Driving on ice: The Vauxhall Ampera takes on the frozen Baltic Sea

During the chilly winter months, the roads out of Estonia's capital Tallinn are a frozen wasteland. An almost endless stretch of snow-covered tarmac, lined by icy forests of birch with little more than the odd decrepit building and tiny village breaking up the otherwise barren landscape.

Suddenly, the sat-nav in the Vauxhall Ampera I'm currently piloting flashes up something interesting. The roads we are driving on appear to lead straight into the sea but peering through the salt-splattered windscreen says otherwise.> In winter months, Estonia and its surrounding islands battle days that barely rise above minus 5 degrees and nights that see the mercury drop to 20 below. That means the Baltic Sea that usually separates these tiny specks of land is frozen solid and brave locals have come to driving across the icy mass in order to shorten their daily commutes.

A sign up ahead spells out the strict rules of crossing an ocean in a car: all drivers must keep their speed between 10 and 25 km/h or 40 and 70 km/h, any speed in between results in the tyres emitting a specific frequency that can crack the fragile ice below. The second rule is that all cars must travel at least 300m apart, any closer and the weight bearing down on a small area of ice can also cause it to splinter.

"The ice only has to be thicker than 25cm for it to be open to the public," says Christopher Rux, coordinator for Opel brand communication in Europe, in his comically direct Teutonic accent.

"That's only the thickness of two iPhones stacked on top of each other," he adds as the Ampera's front wheels gingerly roll onto the frozen surface.

Driving on ice: The Vauxhall Ampera takes on the frozen Baltic Sea

We are here to dispel the myth that electric vehicles and range-extended hybrids don't work in extreme climates. "The hardest part of selling the Ampera is not the price tag or the styling, it is the many common misconceptions people have about electric vehicles, most of which aren't true. They perform at their peak no matter what the weather," explains Rux.

And he has a point, the Ampera has been solid so far, making it very clear that it won the inaugural European Car of the Year because it drives, handles and feels like a quality car, let alone one that barely emits a whiff of carbon. It started with no problems despite braving a night with lows of minus 16 and the motor proved it had poke when needed yet provided a surprisingly quiet and comfortable ride.

Back on the ice road, the view ahead is breathtaking. Not a single speck on the horizon, simply a vista of blanket white for miles around. Small birch branches line the ploughed route across the frozen Baltic and only the occasional road sign reminds me that I am not having some kind of Lapland-based hallucination as we thunder across the mottled surface.

As we continue our four-wheeled crossing I ask our photographer - who happens to be a local - if many vehicles have fallen through the ice. "Not on these main roads because they are carefully maintained and regulated but some locals have begun to create their own ice roads," he explains.

Vauxhall Ampera Ice Drive
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Driving on ice: The Vauxhall Ampera takes on the frozen Baltic Sea

The icy wilderness is a staggering sight.

The sat-nav gets portrays us miraculously driving on water.

Drag racing an ice breaker. 

The beginning of the ice road warns away swimmers.

Boats on the road? A strange sensation. 

Hat is model's own.

Ice road workers test the depth of the ice.

A man in a caravan takes down our numberplate. 

Nothing but snow, ice and more snow.

Stuck buoys mark out the area's aquatic past. 

The ice road proves it eats suspension. Luckily not the Ampera's.


And who would blame them? This particular route saves local commuters around 45 minutes in the winter due to its directness. "But those hand-ploughed roads are dangerous," adds our snapper.

"Just last week some guy loaded a truck up with building materials and tried to cross the ice. His truck fell through, I think he was ok, though."

A small lump appears in my throat upon hearing these words and thanks to the sheer white wilderness and low-hanging sun, there doesn't appear to be an end to this road.

But just as I begin to entertain thoughts of becoming stranded and never seeing my family again, the photographer points to the passenger window and shouts something in Estonian.

There is a ferry just a few yards from our car breaking its way through a channel in the sea. As weird driving experiences go, drag racing a rusty old icebreaker is up there with the best of them.

The end of the ocean crossing is marked out by a man in a caravan who scribbles down the number plate of the car as we rumble past. The Ampera has made it, I'm not an icicle in the ocean and the Ampera's display says we still have an incredible 200km of range left, despite covering half of the country and crossing a sea.

That's plenty of juice to get me to the airport and back to the sweet pothole-covered roads of the UK.

I'll take those over a possible case of hypothermia any day.
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