Citroen C-Zero/Pegueot iOn driven

* French electric cars driven * Citroen/Peugeot pair virtually identical * Based on Mitsubishi i-Miev...

Citroen C-Zero/Pegueot iOn driven

What are they? Four-seater electric city cars
Price £415 a month exc VAT
On sale Lease only, from December
CO2 0g/km at tailpipe

Suddenly, electric cars from major manufacturers are no longer a distant dream but just around the corner. The near-identical Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot iOn will be available by the end of the year, beating even the much-vaunted Nissan Leaf into the showrooms by a month or so.

The French duo will be on offer only on a leasing scheme, a move intended to calm the nerves of potential customers worried about battery life and costs, and targeted at government departments, local authorities, energy companies and people involved in the growing green industry.

If you're prepared to sign a four-year/40,000-mile contract you can have either for £415 a month after reclaiming the VAT a not-inconsiderable sum, but far from absurd. Just add electricity, to contort one of Peugeot's current marketing campaigns.

Both are based on the Mitsubishi i-Miev and built in Japan, and there's an interesting story to how they came about. Mitsubishi originally intended the i-Miev to be a petrol-only city runabout, principally for Japan, but it barely scratched the surface of the company's ambitious sales plans. Mitsubishi then took the decision to develop an electric version and to invite Peugeot and Citroen on board.

The French haven't simply copied the i-Miev lock, stock and absence of smoking exhaust pipe, though. They've modified the drive selector so that it looks like a conventional automatic gearbox shift lever, for instance, and the battery charge indicator looks like a regular fuel gauge, all to add a note of familiarity for those who've only ever driven petrol or diesel cars before.

More crucially, Citroen and Peugeot have managed to stretch their cars' range by 30% over the Mitsubishi, to around 93 miles, by increasing the amount of battery charging during deceleration and braking, although that range can be halved by a heavy right foot or excessive use of the heating or air-conditioning.

We're going to have to learn to drive all over again. Recharging takes six hours, but you can restore the batteries to 80% of capacity in 30 minutes from a quick-charge point.

Take a restrained approach and you'll still easily keep up with the flow of traffic. Go for broke, and with a 47-kilowatt (64bhp) electric motor developing 140lb ft of torque from standstill you'll be amazed at how brisk electric cars can be to 30 or 40mph. Obviously, this is at some detriment to the distance you can go before the batteries are dead. The powertrain is impressively refined, too.

The C-Zero and iOn are fairly tall cars and they stir up quite a bit of wind noise at relatively modest speeds, but with the mass of the batteries and motor concentrated beneath the floor they feel pretty stable, and they even ride well.

Claims that they're four-seaters largely revolve around who the four to be seated are, but they'll get by at a pinch. They'll be as well-specced as high-end petrol or diesel small cars, but the furnishings aren't up the much-improved standards seen on other new Citroens and Peugeots in recent years. Ultimately, though, the attraction (or otherwise) will be that all-in monthly leasing deal.

Which is better? Depends on whose dealer is nearest, really.

What Car? says

A fair start for the brave new world of electric cars