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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