Road test: Two lap drives impress at EcoVelocity
One of the most exciting features of the EcoVelocity Motor Show is the free test drives available to people wanting to experience the latest in new green cars.
Drivers can get a taste of how the cars feel and it is a great way of comparing the weird and wonderful vehicles on display compared to the tamer but very capable new hybrids and diesels.
So, what can be said about a car in two laps? Well, you could never do a full road test in that time slot, but the bumpy road surface helped to review the ride and the 30mph speed limit gave me some leverage to test acceleration and agility.
1. VW Touareg Hybrid 3.0 TSI V6
At just over £57,000 on the road, this was one of the most expensive cars available to drive. The Hybrid system worked brilliantly, and while throttle control may take a while to get used to stop the engine kicking in and gain maximum economy, the transition from the engine is silky smooth and effortless when power is needed. When the electric motor is running, the car wafts along in an eerie silence - the only audible noise coming from the tyres meeting tarmac. The Touareg glided over pot holes and grazes in the road with ease. Noteworthy differences inside include a Hybrid badge on the cigarette tray and a fancy screen showing electricity consumption on the media display.
2. Lexus CT200h Hybrid
Dubbed the world's first full hybrid luxury compact, the CT200h feels refined and as well built as any model in the range. The interior looks classy with easy reach hand controls and a computer mouse-like joystick to operate the built-in media unit. The mouse system is very easy to use, even for ham fisted people like myself. There are three driving modes available; normal, sport, eco and EV. Eco mode feels somewhat restrained when accelerating and its clear that the full potential of the car is held back in favour of economy. The transition into engine power is nice and smooth, although engine noise is quite noticeable for a car that leads the 'quiet revolution.' EV mode uses only battery power and it is then that you start to appreciate the silence.
3. Renault Fluence Z.E.
Boris Johnson's choice of car for the show opener, the Renault should be available next year in the UK. Turn the key, put your foot and brake and press the power button. It's a strange sensation then when nothing happens except for a green light reassuring you the car is ready. Move off and there is no noise whatsoever. It also has a great burst of power which is not expected from this otherwise sedate looking four-door. The interior lacks refinement though and is filled with cheap plastc with clunky switchgear. It handled the road surface less well than smaller competitors such as the SEAT Ibiza. So, why did Boris choose it? Apparently, he loved the look of the Fluence although I found out later it was more likely that Renault were the first to ask him!
4. Fiat 500 TwinAir
The Fiat was a surprise. Its peppy two cylinder 875cc engine was lively and responsive for a unit which claims the lowest carbon emissions in the world. With a 0-60mph time of 11 seconds and a top speed of 108mph, it's no surprise that Fiat won International Engine of the Year 2011. The engine note is a little strained and fairly loud, but this is a small criticism of a very capable car.
5. Seat Ibiza 1.2 TDi Ecomotive Copa
One of the best suited cars for learner drivers who have just passed their test, the Ibiza is capable of 80mpg combined, with an accommodating interior and well laid-out dashboard. The steering wheel looks funky but can be uncomfortable because of the bulging plastic trim. The engine is smooth, but it lacks grunt and struggles to accelerate from low speeds in second gear.
6. Honda Insight
My 'Star of the show', the Honda Insight is the most sorted hybrid vehicle. An instantaneous shift from battery power to petrol power is evident when you put your foot down. The petrol engine lights up if you touch the accelerator. The dashboard is futuristic and welcoming and includes a head-up digital speedo display which is a great feature but not distracting. The Insight automatically slows down when you come off the throttle and the electric motor kicks in; a convenient feature when traffic is approaching.