Top Gear Tests Nissan Leaf, Peugeot iOn: A Fair Assessment?

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Top Gear, Filming in Lincoln, England with 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Peugeot iOn. Reproduced with permission, The Lincolnite

Top Gear, Filming in Lincoln, England with 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Peugeot iOn. Reproduced with permission, The Lincolnite

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It's the episode electric car enthusiasts have been itching to see- and now the guys at BBC motoring show Top Gear have tested two electric cars to see whether they make any sense for the car buying public.

Now we already know that Top Gear hasn't had the greatest history with electric cars. First, they tested the Tesla Roadster in December 2008 and their assessment resulted in Tesla filing a lawsuit back in March for the harm done to its reputation.

Then, amateur videos started appearing in May showing Jeremy Clarkson and James May drawing a crowd in the UK city of Lincoln searching for a place to charge their 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2012 Peugeot iOn, a close cousin of the 2012 Mitsubishi i sold in the U.S. Were the lads going to ridicule EVs again? Had they learned their lesson after the Tesla debacle? Would the episode be anything like the amusing Top Gear EV spoof that an All Cars Electric reader pointed us towards back in June?

As it turns out, the test wasn't as negative as we'd thought.

Driving the cars

Both the Nissan and the Peugeot drew initial praise. Clarkson said the Leaf felt like a normal car to drive, only without the sound you'd usually expect. "It just... hums" he noted, and the efforts Nissan had made to reduce noise such as the aerodynamic light clusters and quiet windshield wiper motors getting a mention.

May too seemed impressed by the car-like experience of the Peugeot. Although they remarked that neither is particularly fast, they felt comfortable driving them on the roads.

Peugeot iON Electric

Peugeot iON Electric

Examining the electric duo

Any snide remarks or ridiculous assessments? Again, no. Both appreciated the Leaf's large trunk volume and the optional solar panel for accessories was lauded as a clever idea. They even described the iOn as "like a Porsche 911"... though they were only talking about the motor's rear-mounted position. Clarkson even hinted that electric cars are becoming "cool", and described himself and his colleagues as dinosaurs for lusting after gasoline-fuelled vehicles.

Neither car was without criticism though. Both described the prices as too high, especially the Mitsubishi-based Peugeot, which costs £3,000 ($4,900) more than the Leaf in the UK, for considerably less car and with poor equipment levels.

What did they think about the range?

With the iOn on 19 miles and the Leaf on 14, they drove into Lincoln in search of a charging point. We know that the cars had been deliberately driven to reduce their charge before the journey began, "to inject suspense into the mission of finding a public charge spot". Clarkson noted the Leaf's estimated 11-hour charge time displayed on the Leaf's instrument panel, which then increased to 13 as his car eventually ran out of power. Local students helped push the car to the university where finally both cars were put on charge.

Though the whole scenario was clearly staged and far beyond the experience most owners would have, neither were the cars ridiculed in the way you may have been expecting. Not openly, at least - we suspect many EV owners will feel the whole scene was a little too close to Top Gear's assessment of the Tesla Roadster.

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Comments (11)
  1. I'll reserve judgement until tomorrow's work lunch conversation, but I thought it was the usual "build it up / knock it down" Top Gear MO.

  2. There was an aspect of that I think, but I thought they were actually quite complementary about the cars themselves, and even the concept of electric cars. The range/recharging scenario was dramatized but obviously so, unlike the Tesla episode in 2008. The only glaring inaccuracies were the "5 year battery life" thing, which I suspect Nissan won't be happy about, and the comment about charging costs.

  3. I think Top Gear's comment about themselves is very accurate when they said that they are just old fossils out farting around. I like Top Gears sense of humor, but that humor eliminates their credibility, and like the GOP in the U.S., can never be taken seriously about anything they say.

  4. By not trashing them 100% Top Gear may have actually done us a favour, they may have taken a lot of the wind out of the previous anti-EV nonsense. Perhaps they woke up and the coffee smelled better than they though.

    David; your lunch conversation is the acid test though.

  5. EV's will ne the only technology in which I have never been a first adopter - partly down to lessons learnt (8 track, betamax, HDDVD), but mainly I can't afford.

    Regardless of what many early adopters owners say, range is one of the big issues, as is charging points. Yes, they will both get better.

    If range isn't an issue, why do Tesla not make a 100 mile car for less money? And why are manufacturers promising longer range on future models - if 80 miles in a Leaf is OK. Yes we all know daily mileage for many is well within the capabilities. But we also know that many who can afford have a second fossil car for those longer journeys - meaning more insurance and maintenance costs.

    Overall, I thought TG test was fair for todays EV's

  6. You do know that Top Gear it an entertainment show rite? So their reviews are more entertainment then fact.

  7. I can't see the upside of this review. Yes they say a view nice things about the cars , but the only thing that will stick with the audience is stranded cars being pushed. This is everybody's nightmare and playing into it was of course very much Top Gear's intention. Another fear they are playing into is that of being an early adopter and ending up buying the automotive version of Betamax or laserdisc. May's uninformed opinion that hydrogen with all it's downsides is somehow the real future drives this point home. This at first glance not too negative review was in fact the most effective attack on EV's they could have gotten away with.

  8. Yet another fear they are playing into is that for batteries, based on many consumer's experience with abused batteries in cheaply build electronics. Note Clarkson's grave face when he will have you believe that even with careful use batteries (that have an 8 year warranty in the US BTW) may only live 5 years (based on what?). It's really the number one rule of manipulation: play into people's fears......

  9. there is probably something more useless than what top gear has to say about evs, but i cant come up with anything at the moment.

    in a nutshell, gas cars beat out evs on price and range. evs win out on everything else.

    we will sell whatever can be manufactured.

  10. It's interesting that in this same episode in which Clarkson and May go out of their way to ruin any chances of a favourable market reception for EV's Richard Hammond has a heartbreaking piece about former British troops who lost their limbs by petrodollar funded IED's in oil/petrodollar related conflicts preparing for participation in the Dakar rally. One really wonders what's wrong with these people....

  11. I think the battery statement may be more accurate than you like. Tesla warrants their battery for only 3 years. It is likely to last longer, but how much longer? Nissan does not warranty the life of their battery at all, their warranty states replacement against original "workmanship" and than customers should expect degradation of the battery. Nissan also stated that all leased LEAFs would have their batteries replaced before being sold after the lease was up. If they really believed the battery had a 10 year life they wouldn't do this. Only GM has a 8 year warranty that includes a 80% charge guarantee and we all know that the Volt has a 16kwh battery and only uses 12kwhr to prolong useful battery life.

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