Engine: 1.8-litre petrol/E85
Performance: 124mph, 125PS (123bhp) at 6,000rpm, 0-60mph in 10.2 seconds, 38.7mpg
Worth considering: Audi A3 diesel, Ford Focus FFV, Saab 93 BioPower
Car manufacturers and supermarkets are at the top of most people's lists of environmental villains. The reason is obvious; big thirsty SUVs and sports cars, extravagant packaging and free plastic bags are among the more obvious examples of excess that we encounter in our everyday lives.
But there's one environmental story in which the carmakers and one leading UK supermarket chain are the good guys. E85, a fuel containing 85 per cent renewable bioethanol and 15 per cent unleaded petrol, has been available in the UK for a couple of years now.
Saab, Ford and Volvo have introduced cars capable of running on E85 here. They cost the same as standard models in the case of Ford, or a small premium is charged – £300 in the case of the Volvo C30 sampled by our reader-testers this week. Morrisons sells E85 at a small but growing number of its filling stations, including the one at Crowborough in East Sussex, where our readers had a go at refilling with the stuff.
However, there are two reasons why E85 hasn't taken off in the UK as it has in some other countries, notably Sweden. First, while the Government has provided a tax break for renewable fuels, in the case of E85, this translates into an advantage of only 2p per litre at the pump compared with unleaded because of the different prices of the underlying fuels and the greater economies of scale in the distribution of unleaded. Given that a car running on E85 delivers fewer miles per gallon, anyone who uses it will end up out of pocket.
Even that shouldn't be an insuperable obstacle to the adoption of E85, given that well-off middle-class consumers are often ready to pay more for organic, free-range or Fairtrade products that address their ethical or environmental concerns.
So, if that sounds like you, go on; buy an E85-capable C30. You'll be doing your bit for the planet, and getting a jolly nice car into the bargain. And if you do get fed up with paying through the nose for E85, you can put petrol in it instead.
David Kelly, 44, Rebecca, 8, Megan, 5
IT development auditor, Uckfield, East Sussex
Usual car: Citroen Xsara Picasso
Having been told I'd be driving an environmentally friendly Volvo, I was not expecting to be impressed by its looks and the drive. It has an eye-catching, sporty look, and the drive was comfortable but cornering on country lanes was not brilliant. I was quite impressed with the acceleration in the higher gears. The interior can only be described as adequate, and the dashboard disappointing. The C30 didn't appeal to my children; Rebecca said she couldn't see out of the side windows, and Megan fell asleep! The scarcity of bioethanol fuel negates the environmental benefits of buying this car; Gordon Brown take note!
Phil Barton, 43
Record shop owner, Brighton
Usual car: Saab 900
I liked the styling. The test car came with brown body trim, which may not appeal to all. The bioethanol angle is a bit lost on me, and that's because the Government needs to take the lead on reducing the duty. As it stands, a litre of bioethanol is 2-3p cheaper but delivers 25 per cent less fuel efficiency. If every car had to run on both bio-ethanol and unleaded, maybe the uptake would be better. At least bioethanol smells sweeter than petrol. Filling up with it at one of the very few garages in Sussex that stock it confirmed my fears; I was the first person to use the pump in three months. The car was nippy without being bullet-like. Although the handling was precise it didn't feel as exciting as a sports hatch should.
Gavin Hook, 40
Insurance underwriter, Brighton
Usual Car: Seat Leon TDi
Initial impressions were good. The Volvo looks sporty, but the performance didn't live up to the looks. This is not due to the biofuel, which did not appear to harm either the performance or the refinement of the engine. Inside, I immediately found a good driving position, the layout was uncluttered, and build quality looked and felt very good. On the road, the Volvo felt solid and secure, the ride firm but forgiving. I liked the C30, but I'm not sure where it fits in the market; only available in two-door, the boot too small for a proper hatch. The 2+2 seating means it has pretensions to being a coupé, but it looks like a hot hatch. For a family car or a sports car, I'd look elsewhere.
If you would like to take part in The Verdict, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.
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