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Road Tests

Peugeot Ion

You'll save thousands on fuel, and might even help save the planet, but the new Peugeot Ion will end up costing you a packet

Another electric car? I reported on the Nissan Leaf a few weeks ago, and now here's Peugeot's interpretation of the idea.

The new Ion is really a re-badged Mitsubishi i-MiEV, itself an all-electric version of the rear-engined Mitsubishi i supermini (a car which comes across as a lengthened, four-seater Smart), and Citroë*too will have a version called C-Zero.

Why Mitsubishi? It's a quick and convenient way into the electric-car market, and the relationship already existed because the Peugeot 4007 and the Citroë*C-Crosser are a lightly remodelled Mitsubishi Outlander. Not that Peugeot lacks history in electrical motivation: it once made electric versions of the 205 and, more numerously, the 106.

You can buy a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, but currently it will cost you an eye-watering £28,990. Peugeot won't give a retail price for the Ion and instead offers a leasing deal of £415 a month (including the Government's electric car subsidy but excluding VAT – the scheme and the car are aimed at business or public-sector fleets). The deal runs for four years, to include maintenance, a warranty, and the Peugeot Connect telematics information system. It includes the battery pack, so a major potential worry is removed. It's another variation on how to pay for an electric car. You buy a Leaf and its battery pack outright; buy a Renault Fluence saloon and you lease the battery pack in a separate, deal. It sounds attractive at first, but £19,920 plus VAT seems a lot for a small car which you hand back after four years. Or you can keep it for another four years, with the same benefits, but pay a lower fee – currently estimated to be around £315 a month. Total: £15,120. Over eight years, then, your Ion has cost you £42,048 including VAT and rather less maintenance than a normal car.

Of course, the energy costs are massively lower. Peugeot estimates an average of £2.50 for every 120 miles covered, compared to maybe £20 for a supermini. If we assume eight years at 10,000 miles a year, then at today's prices fuelling the Ion costs you £1,667, a regular supermini around £13,300. So you save £11,333 over eight years. But then the supermini costs maybe £10,000 and is worth maybe £1,500 after eight years, so it has cost you £8,500 plus maintenance at perhaps £4,000, a total of £12,500. The Ion has cost you £29,548 more than that, but has saved you £11,333 in fuel. You are therefore paying £18,215 for the privilege of having been green for eight years, less the tax incentives, cheaper parking and zero congestion charging that go with electric power.

An extra cost of £2,277 a year is hardly a resounding case for the electric Ion, is it? I suspect that the Peugeot scheme's figures are just an opening salvo in the electric onslaught to come, a view reinforced by the fact that Peugeot anticipates selling no more than a few hundred Ions a year to start.

So, what about the car itself? It looks suitably futuristic with its bubble shape, its short nose and little wheels. There is a remarkable amount of passenger space, and even the boot is worthy of the description. The 330-volt lithium-ion battery pack is slung under the floor, and powers a rear-mounted motor able to produce 64bhp and, from rest, 133lb/ft of torque.

Maximum speed is 81mph, but not for long, and driven gently on the wholly unrealistic EC test cycle it can travel just over 90 miles on one full charge. Sit in a traffic jam, let the Ion off the leash on a bypass, use the heating, the headlights, the wipers and the air-con, and the range will be half that, or less.

Such is the way of electric cars, and it's enough to make you rue every last wiper sweep. Electron-less electric cars marooned by the roadside will become a common sight, I fear, although the power is reduced and non-essential systems – heating, air-con – are gradually shut down before expiry to eke out your final miles. A full recharge takes six hours on a domestic socket, and quick-charge top-ups from dedicated high-power points en route can restore a maximum of 80 per cent charge in half an hour or 20 per cent in five minutes.

Driving the Ion is quite fun. It feels solid and suffers little road thump or wind whistle, the sounds easily thrown into prominence when the power unit emits no more than a distant whine. It has strong regenerative braking, slowing down determinedly when the accelerator is released; this is the one functional difference between an Ion and an i-MiEV, and it's why Peugeot claims its version can travel up to 30 per cent further on a charge.

The cabin is airy and functional, and can be had in a less-stark version with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, some soft-touch surfaces and blue trim details. Instrumentation is very simple, but it's surprising that the vital range-remaining indicator is just one entry in the trip computer's menu. It should be more prominent.

As with all electric cars, the getaway from rest is very lively and ideal for the urban Grand Prix. And, of course, all you have to do is accelerate, brake and steer.

Will the Ion catch on? With fleets keen to be seen as green, perhaps it will. With the individual buyers to which it is rather pointedly not to be marketed? Not at these prices. They'll buy a Leaf instead. Which makes you wonder just what, exactly, is the point.