Review and road test of the Peugeot iOn (2011 - 2020)
By Jonathan Crouch
Full-electric cars are still in their infancy but in the 21st century's second decade, several affordable ones arrived on the market. Models like this one, Peugeot's iON. The French brand claimed that switching to this citycar-sized runabout from something conventional would be pretty painless. They even reckoned that despite the premium outlay required, the right kind of buyer will find that ownership costs add up. And of course, the eco-benefits speak for themselves. Few believed the brand's claims when this car was new. But does it make sense on the BEV used market?
5dr Supermini (BEV [47,64,67KW])
Peugeot is a maker with plenty of track record in this form of propulsion, with an electric history going all the way back to the VLV model of 1941, several hundred of which found their way onto the streets of Paris. In the years since, they've sold more electric cars than any other manufacturer, selling over 3,500 battery-charged versions of their little 106 hatchback between 1995 and 2003. Very few of those though, reached the UK and even fewer reached the hands of private buyers. The brand hoped that things would be different with this car, the iON, launched in 2011.
This was a very different car from any electric vehicle Peugeot had bought us to date. The iON made good use of the then-new lithium-ion battery technology, clothing said battery and the associated electric motor in a design shared with both Citroen (the C-ZERO) and Mitsubishi (the i-MiEV). This citycar-sized ION took on these rivals, Nissan's larger all-electric LEAF model and the 'E-REV' or 'Extended Range Electric Vehicles' then on offer from Vauxhall and Chevrolet that offered less battery range but backed it up with emergency petrol power. The ION started out in 47KW form, but was later upgraded with a 64 or 67KW powerplant. It sold until 2020. So how does it stack up as a used buy? Let's find out.
What You Get
This ION certainly won't put off any prospective buyers with its very conventional looks. It's clearly a little sub-supermini citycar, if a rather high-sided one. At 3.5m in length, it's more akin to Peugeot's 107 of this period in size than the company's 207/208 supermini, though the 1.6m height makes it feel pretty big inside. If you find that high-sided look very Japanese, you're absolutely right. This is essentially a Mitsubishi, Peugeot and their PSA group partners Citroen having turned to the Oriental brand for help in sharing the massive development costs of this car. The Japanese maker was looking for development shortcuts too, basing this model on its Mitsubishi i, a conventionally powered city runabout with a design dating back to before 2007.
Having to base this thing on a little citycar wasn't ideal for Peugeot. Whereas in this era, rivals Nissan could point to a relatively small price gap between a top-spec diesel Focus-sized family hatchback and their comparably-sized all-electric LEAF model, the French maker acknowledged that there was a yawning price differential between the cost of an urban runabout like their 107 and this ION. But they did point out that within the confines of its compact dimensions, this car offers a surprising amount of space inside. True enough, it does feel surprisingly airy inside. Certainly the cabin is narrow as it has to be given that the car is under 1.6m wide but unless you're trying to transport a trio of rugby players, you shouldn't feel it too much.
At the wheel where you sit rather higher than some drivers might like, you shouldn't expect especially high standards of fit and finish. Still, the Japanese production line screwed everything together pretty well and ergonomically, the layout is sound, with excellent all-round visibility. Taking a seat here for the first time, the only clue most would have that this was not conventional petrol powered citycar would be the fact that the dash displays a petrol pump with, somewhat oddly, an electric plug hanging out of it. Is that better or worse than using a mobile phone when topping up? We're not sure.
As for rear seat room, well thanks to the fact that the propulsion system is very compact and the underfloor batteries don't impinge too much on cabin space, there's enough space for two adults - or even three children - to feel quite comfortable on the kind of short to medium journeys this car will be making. Boot space is pretty limited though, with just 166-litres below the parcel shelf. Of course though, if you're not using the back seat, you can push forward the 50/50 split-folding rear seats to free up much more space.
What to Look For
Make sure the battery on your ION hasn't been severely depleted; the car may have been sitting on a dealer lot (or someone's drive) for months with flat charge before being jumped into life for your visit. The manual says you should ensure a full charge every 15 days, so it must be important. As part of ownership, Chademo rapid charging is fine so long as you don't over heat the car such as repeated use on long road trips. Don't leave the battery at 100% for any longer than absolutely necessary. As for tyre pressures, well make sure they're on the dot as under-inflation, even by a couple psi, can make a big difference to range. The radio and phone/satnav will make no difference to that range, nor will use of the wipers or rear-screen demister - or even the lights. Use of the heating though, will make a huge dent in range capability; in winter, it could knock off 15 to 20 miles off if you want a warm car. Buy some good warm driving gloves for the winter and get into the habit of keeping your coat on when driving..
Speed will also make a huge difference to range. Try and keep the power needle as far left as possible while driving - ideally to the left of the text of the word "Eco" on the power dial as much as possible and passing the "o" of "Eco" only when you're in danger of getting too slow. Also, don't fall into the trap of thinking you can blast the speed and then gain it all back in regenerating brake energy harvesting - you will get back no more than about half of what you used to speed up by regenerating. When possible, drive at 50mph or slower, but don't significantly hold up the flow of traffic as you will be causing a danger and giving EVs a bad name. When you have spare charge though (on short trips) do use it as it can be fun!
(approx based on a 2017 ION 67KW excl. VAT) A pair of front brake pads are around £38 depending on brand. A pair of front brake discs are around £130. Wiper blades sit in the £3-£13 bracket.
On the Road
You tend to approach a drive in an electric car expecting a futuristic driving experience - which this Peugeot is very careful not to provide wherever possible. The idea here was to create something able to make the transition from an ordinary petrol or diesel-powered small car as easy and unfrightening as possible. So you get in and find a conventional cabin with drive marshalled by an ordinary auto gear selector. Ahead of you are equally conventional dials - or so it appears at first glance. Peer a little closer and in actual fact you'll find that what looks like a fuel gauge actually denotes your remaining battery charge. Which isn't much help unless you know just how far said charge might take you. For that, you've to scroll through the options on the LCD circular display that sits the other side of the digital speedo until you find that displaying driving range.
Peugeot reckon that the figure you'll need to see displayed here won't need to be too big since apparently, the average urban journey is no more than 23 miles. So let's assume that you're charged up and ready to go. There's a conventional ignition key to fit into the conventional ignition, but there's nothing ordinary about the silence greeting you when you twist it. Or about the way that this car shoots away from rest. It doesn't do so quite as quickly as its design stablemate, Mitsubishi's MiEV, but that's because this ION uses a simpler, more frugally-orientated auto gearbox. Use the first portion of throttle travel and this Peugeot will be in Eco mode. Give it a firmer prod and it surrenders the remaining part of the useful 180Nm of torque on offer. Despite this, from 0-30mph, this car really does feel quite rapid, but progress slows as the revs rise, culminating in a 0-60mph of around 16s time that's no better - but certainly no worse - than a conventional rival petrol citycar.
Get fully up to speed and there's an academic top speed of 80mph, with enough overtaking punch to get from 37 to 56mph in about six seconds, but approach either of those figures on any kind of regular basis and you'll find the figure on your range indicator dropping like a stone. And this, we'd suggest, is a read-out you're going to be staring at rather a lot since it'll determine exactly how and when you're going to be able to use this ION. Peugeot always claimed that from fully charged, this car would have a NEDC range of up to 93 miles, a figure which appears to have been calculated on the basis of someone motoring very slowly indeed. We certainly never saw anything like that amount of projected mileage on this indicator our time with this car, but that's because the computer driving the read-out bases its calculations on previous use, artificially lowering a range figure you can then extend by driving carefully.
Unlike Nissan, Peugeot doesn't provide a useful sat nav system which when you're out and about would guide you to your nearest charging point, so you're going to have to be organised on this before you set off. Which shouldn't be a problem. A quick scan on the internet at sites like www.ev-network.org.uk can quickly bring you up to speed. An even better site we've found is on www.nextgreencar.com where there's a map that not only shows charging points around the UK but designates the different types.
When you've to get your car on charge, you'll find that connecting everything up is mess and hassle-free. The ION has two charging flaps, one on each side. One is for a 'rapid' charging lead for those times when you're fortunate enough to find a 'rapid' charger. Most of the time though, you're going to be plugging in at home or out-and-about to a 'fast' (or possibly 'slow') charging point, so you'll be using the flap on the other side of the car. It releases just like a petrol flap so you can plug in.
Like its other EV rivals, this one's synchronous electric motor (47kW on earlier models, up to 67KW on later ones) makes no noise whatsoever, which in itself can be a bit of a menace to dozy pedestrians or the partially sighted who aren't alerted to its presence as they would be by the artificial noise created for safety purposes by a rival Nissan LEAF. So you'll need to have your wits about you when inching your way down congested city streets or manoeuvring about carparks. Here, the compact dimensions and impressively tight 9m turning circle are both a boon, as is the finger-light power steering.
Leave the city limits though, and that same lightness at the helm is less welcome but handling is much better than the tall stance and skinny tyres lead you to expect. This is due to well controlled body roll thanks to the fact that the heavy 88-cell battery pack has been strategically located underneath the centre of the vehicle to give a low centre of gravity and balanced stability. Heavy side winds and the turbulent wake from enormous HGVs can upset things a bit though. But one of the most abiding feelings you take away with you after a drive in this car is that of how little you have to use the brakes. Approach a corner, a junction or a roundabout and the regenerative braking does most of the slowing down for you, replenishing battery energy as it does so. Such is the cleverness of BEV technology.
It would have been fascinating to see what this French maker would have produced if, like rivals Nissan, they'd been able to create their approach to this from scratch. Still, even in adopting Mitsubishi technology for this little iON, they were able to show the Japanese brand a thing or two about what the market wanted from a car of this kind.
Yes, it's rather small, but as a second or third car or an urban runabout, you're going to want that. Yes, you'll need a garage to charge it. And a short-mileage lifestyle, a financial approach that plays the long game and an eco-friendly mindset. These can be hard boxes to tick, but perhaps that's as it should be. The reward for doing so is, after all, ownership of one of the most eco-friendly used cars from this period on the planet. Proof that as Peugeot says, electricity really does rhyme with reality.
Peugeot iOn (2011 - 2020) review by Jonathan Crouch