Engine: 10.5kW electric motor
Performance: Top speed 35mph, charging time 8 hrs
CO2: 0g/km (local pollution)
Worth considering: GoinGreen G-Wiz; Piaggio Porter Diesel; Tanfield Faraday
I have to admit that I wasn't particularly excited at the prospect of testing the Piaggio Porter Electric. All I knew was that it was a small, electrically powered van with a top speed scarcely higher than the 30mph limit. How much fun was that going to be?
By the time it turned up a couple of weeks ago, things were looking different.
The price of petrol was breaking through the £1-per-litre barrier, and the fuel protesters were on the television news bulletins threatening to bring the country to a halt. Suddenly, any vehicle that could be charged up from the mains was starting to look pretty attractive.
My feelings towards the Piaggio remained warm throughout our test. But in order to appreciate electric vehicles, you have to understand the limitations and characteristics of the type. The 35mph top speed and maximum 85-mile range seem, on the face of it, to be restrictions that would be almost impossible to live with. However, in town, 35mph is enough. Electric vehicles provide a lot of torque at low revs; if anything, take-off from rest is rather abrupt. Driving is otherwise extremely easy. A small lever between the front seats is moved forwards or backwards, depending on the direction of travel. There is no clutch or gear lever - you just press the accelerator to go and the brake to stop.
It takes eight hours to recharge the Piaggio, which can be a bit awkward to organise. Nobody wants to leave a downstairs window open overnight, and most letter flaps were not designed to have plugs posted through them. A catflap would work best, or a space in your garage with access to a wall socket.
The Piaggio did once run out of puff on a near-full charge, after one of our Cambridgeshire readers ran it at high speed uphill on the Ely bypass (" high speed" and "uphill" being relative concepts in the cases of the Porter Electric and East Anglia respectively). After a short push and a rest, it was able to continue as normal.
One obstacle to the take-up of electric vehicles is the high initial price. Whether the sums add up depends on your pattern of driving and the value you place on reducing local pollution; the power station that produces the juice for your electric car is probably on someone else's doorstep, not yours. Electric vehicles are exempt from road tax and the London congestion charge.
In all, the electric experience was a surprisingly enjoyable and interesting one. If, in order to save the planet, we all end up driving Piaggio Porter Electrics, it certainly won't be the end of the world.
Mark Tyler, 35, general practitioner from March, Cambridgeshire, and Emma Tyler, 6,
USUAL CARS: CITROEN C5, ELEGANCE ESTATE, GRINNALL SCORPION 1100, LAND ROVER SERIES 3 SWB DIESEL
"The driving position was so high that your view through the windscreen was obscured by the rear-view mirror and roofline. I was stooping to get a clear view of the road. The clearance between the front seat base and the A-pillar was very narrow. The ride itself was very reasonable, but the absence of power-steering made for hard work."
Emma says: "It was a quiet comfortable ride with a good view through the big windows. I though it was too high for small children to get in and out of easily."
Mick King, 50, paramedic from Warboys, Cambridgeshire
USUAL CARS: BMW 3-SERIES, PEUGEOT 206
My initial impressions were very poor and in keeping with most electric vehicles - why can't we have better styling on battery-powered vehicles? The start-up procedure is simple, with one lever for forward/reverse drive (no gearbox) and the vehicle is driven almost like an automatic car - however, this is where the similarity ends! On inclines the Piaggio can be held on the brake but once this is released the vehicle has a tendency to roll back before the throttle picks up. It can be held on the handbrake but this emits an ear-piercing warning - not ideal. Overall the driving position was excellent and comfortable, but the drive itself is very underpowered.
Derek Morris, 45, consultant from Sawston, Cambridgeshire
USUAL CAR: LEXUS SC430
Driving it around town was fine - I didn't like the accelerator pedal, though, which had an "on-off" quality. The suspension was a bit stiff so there was some harshness over speed bumps. Acceleration and speed were sufficient around town but out on the open road you quickly begin to hold up the traffic even at the indicated 40mph or so that seemed to be its top speed. It was surprisingly roomy inside and the driving position was fine despite being bus-like, although the unassisted steering was a little heavy. The interior trim, although it may be normal for a small van, wasn't really up to the price; I was amazed there was no radio, for example.
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