We road test the Peugeot iOn – an all-electric city car that needs no petrol, emits zero-CO 2 tailpipe emissions, and makes complete sense for driving around cities such as London, especially for businesses.
Model/Engine size: iOn
Fuel economy combined: N/A mpg
Green Car Guide rating: 6/10
The iOn isn’t actually a Peugeot at all, it’s just a rebadged Mitsubishi i-MiEV. The Citroen C-Zero is also the same car underneath its badges.
All three vehicles are based on the petrol-powered Mitsubishi i four-seater Japanese city car, which has its engine at the rear, so although it may look like it, it’s not designed from the ground up as an electric car.
The basic car is ideal for urban use, as it’s so narrow. Add a 16Kw lithium-ion battery and electric motor to the mix, and you get a small car that is a dream to drive around cities, as there are no gears and no clutch, and it’s virtually silent. Of course there are no tailpipe emissions, so the Mayor of London will be very happy with anyone who buys this car in the capital as it will help to clean up the city’s highly polluted air. As well as the zero-tailpipe emissions, you could also claim zero emissions in its entire use if the car was recharged with electricity on a 100% renewable energy tariff (although you’ve still got the emissions involved in the production of the car). Peugeot’s own figures say that if the car is recharged with the average UK energy mix, then it emits 44 g/km CO 2 .
If you think that such a car might struggle keeping up with traffic in a city, then think again. As electric motors provide 100% torque from standstill, acceleration is progressive and very linear, and the powertrain is smooth and refined, all of which is likely to surprise most people who have not come into contact with an electric car before. The car also recovers energy when decelerating and braking.
Although the iOn is designed for city use, it doesn’t have suspension that copes particularly comfortably with the challenges of city driving. You don’t feel cushioned from urban road hazards such as speed bumps and pot holes (in fact the car’s track is too narrow to position the wheels either side of the speed bumps that sit in the middle of the road). The all-electric Nissan LEAF offers more refinement in the chassis and suspension department.
As you would imagine from the car’s narrow width and skinny tyres, the iOn hardly displays sports car levels of handling and grip (despite its low centre of gravity), and the steering is vague. We did drive the iOn on motorways, which is possible thanks to its 81 mph top speed, but it doesn’t feel particularly stable at such speeds, and the car is noisy – more from lack of sound proofing than any powertrain racket.
The iOn feels fairly basic inside, with hard plastics, an old fashioned-looking stereo, and of course space is at a premium both in the cabin and in the boot. There’s no steering wheel adjustment – either for reach or height – and although the driver’s seat goes up and down, it doesn’t do so by much, so you feel perched quite high up when driving.
The iOn only comes in one trim level and it actually has reasonable levels of equipment for a city car, including air-conditioning, front and rear electric windows, remote central locking, a CD player and alloy wheels – although we failed to see a clock. But be aware that if you’re over-enthusiastic in the use of items such as the heating, then the battery range display will start to plummet. The car theoretically has a 93 mile range before you have to recharge it, however during our time with the iOn in winter we struggled to come close to achieving this official range.
One day we had to cover 16 miles, having not recharged the car over the previous two evenings. You wouldn’t be worried about such a distance in a petrol or diesel car, but in an electric vehicle such as the iOn in the cold and the dark, you’re very aware of the impact on the driving range every time you use anything that sucks energy from the car’s system. So if you’re constantly using luxuries such as lights, heating, fan, windscreen wipers, radio, you’re very conscious that your finite driving range is depleting rapidly. In a petrol or diesel car, the engine provides the heating; electric cars don’t have this ability and so it takes a lot of energy to demist the windscreen in poor weather conditions. Perhaps the NEDC test for the range of an electric car should take into account driving with average energy use from ancillary equipment to make it more comparative with combustion-engined vehicles.
Before we’d made it safely back to the electricity supply at the house, the battery charge indicator dropped to zero and the driving range showed just 3 miles remaining. This was a vivid example of range anxiety, and if you then need to get somewhere else in a hurry, forget it, as you’ll need seven hours (ie. overnight) to recharge from a domestic supply.
This is the next issue – electric cars are ideal for motorists in cities such as London, but the vast majority of people living in such cities don’t have a drive or a garage to allow secure recharging of the car at night. A recharging infrastructure is being rolled out, but not everyone will be able to guarantee that their schedule and geography will mean that they have sufficient access to public recharging points when required.
If you are able to recharge then the recharging process is not a problem, and it’s probably preferable to having to visit petrol stations. It’s just that you have to do it more regularly.
Recharging is also very cheap. Peugeot claims that you will spend just £1.93 to recharge the car for a 93 mile journey, which the company says translates to a saving of £1765 over 10,000 miles compared to petrol.
However you’ll need very low running costs because of the purchase price of the iOn, which is £33,155. Our test car also had metallic paint at an £420 option. This compares to the estimated purchase price for the car of £6000 from a random cross-section of members of the public who came into contact with the car during our time with it. There is the £5000 government plug-in car grant to slightly soften the blow.
Peugeot also calculates that you could save £2520 per year on the Congestion Charge if you’re in London, and potentially £1939 for free parking in areas such as Westminster. Together with the fuel savings, this results in a total potential saving of £6224 per year for London motorists compared to a car that isn’t Congestion Charge exempt. An extra significant advantage for businesses is that the iOn has a zero company car tax BIK rate.
If the car is to be used as a small vehicle to cover occasional small distances in cities, then £33,000 is a lot of money to invest in such a machine, even it’s via the £415 per month (plus VAT) contract hire deal. You could buy a number of new or nearly new sub-100 g/km CO 2 city cars that would still be exempt from the London Congestion Charge for less than £10,000 – ie. less than a third of the cost of the iOn, and they’re likely to have a range of around 300 miles and then the ability to fully refuel in less than 5 minutes.
Much of this may sound like a negative message about electric cars, but it’s just realism. Electric cars make complete sense for certain people in certain areas, for instance electric vehicles can be ideal for businesses in London that cover regular small distances every day. Anyone buying an electric car needs to carefully consider whether it’s the right solution for them.
The Peugeot iOn – or the Mitsubishi i-MiEV or the Citroen C-Zero – makes complete sense for driving around cities such as London. In fact when issues such as its Congestion Charge exemption, free parking in some areas, low running costs and zero company car rate are taken into account, the iOn can start to look like an attractive proposition for London businesses.
It’s also ideal to drive around cities thanks to its electric powertrain; there are no gears and no clutch, it’s virtually silent and has zero tailpipe emissions. The iOn also offers the added bonus of very narrow width.
However it only has a driving range of 93 miles according to official figures, or more like 80 miles in real life. Most people will then have to recharge it overnight to drive another 80 miles. There’s also not much room and it is not as refined to drive as the larger Nissan LEAF .
So as a car for occasional use in the city, it can make sense. What won’t make sense for most people is the price tag; at £33,155, or even at the leasing price of £415 per month, the figures for zero emission motoring just won’t stack up for the majority of people. That’s why the Peugeot iOn gets a Green-Car-Guide rating of 6 out of 10; £33,155 is a lot to pay for a car with so many limitations, especially when you can buy a new small petrol-engined city car with sub-100 g/km emissions for less than £10,000.
Fuel economy extra urban: N/A mpg
Fuel economy urban: N/A mpg
CO 2 emissions: 0 g/km if recharged from renewable energy; 44 g/km for average UK energy generation
Green rating: VED band A – first year £0
Weight: 1120 Kg
Company car tax liability (2011/12): 0%
Price: £33,155 (qualifies for the £5000 plug-in car grant)
Insurance group: 28
Power: 63 bhp
Max speed: 81 mph
0-62mph: 15.9 seconds
Range: 93 miles
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