5

This is a three seat electric city car, with a central driving position, twin sliding doors, a rear-mounted electric motor and a steel spaceframe body hung with dent-resistant plastic panels.

It’s built in France by a German-backed company called Mia Electric whose staff include former VW design boss Murat Gunak and ex-Bertone design chief David Wilkie, and it’s in production now at the former factory of coachbuilders Heuliez.

The Mia’s city car role is vital to understanding it – although it weighs only 810kg including batteries, the modest 13bhp electric motor and a range of around 80 miles underline the fact that it is not meant for long distance drives.

Instead, it’s about ease of urban use, zero emissions and low running costs. Ease of use includes maximising the Mia’s interior space, the combination of its arrow-shaped seating layout and clever packaging of the under-boot battery pack and rear suspension producing a three-seater that’s only fractionally longer than the two-seat Smart Fortwo. And rear passengers enjoy exceptional legroom and a boot that’s more than adequate for minor shopping missions.

Unlike the Reva G-Wiz, the Mia is homologated as a car rather than a quadricycle, which means that it must meet more stringent safety tests besides coming with an airbag and ABS as standard. UK models also get a comfort pack that includes an aluminium instrument pod finish, Bluetooth and MP3 compatibility, extra power sockets and auxiliary heating and storage nets.

This is an intriguing car to look at and even more so to drive. Cutaways in the sills and roof ease your passage to the driver’s seat, which you can get to from either side. The manually latched doors on this prototype weren’t the easiest to use, and felt a little loose on their runners, but UK cars will get low-effort electric latches and panels that slide more silkily.

Once on-board you’re inevitably struck by the novelty of sitting in the middle of the car – unless your regular drive is a McLaren F1 – potentially with a pair of out-riding passengers who will enjoy virtually unlimited legroom.

You sit behind a deep screen bounded by (rather fat) A pillars, and confront a wide and pleasingly modernist digital dashboard pod planted on top of a rather less stylish wraparound lower bulkhead area. Still, that provides a surface for iPads, sat navs and cup-holders to create a rather unusual driving environment.

Driving the Mia is as simple as it is in most electric cars – you turn the key, press a button and whirr off. But unlike many volt-mobiles, the Mia does not bound enthusiastically towards the horizon. It’s just about brisk enough for the cut and thrust of city traffic, but on the open road its acceleration feels disappointingly gradual.

That’s still more of a shame when you discover the Mia’s modestly entertaining handling. Despite its low-geared, unassisted steering, a bit of body roll and the occasional bounce over bumps, it scoots around bends with some zeal, and tuck sits nose in to a surprising and entertaining extent when you lift off.

However, that’s not the point of this compactly boxy city car, which is easy to see out of, easy to manoeuvre and easy to park.

This pre-production example had a number of troubles that Mia is fixing, including a noisy heating and ventilation system that was less than effective even after you’d mastered its baffling controls, too much noise at speed and a cabin of very patchy finish, the shiny in-cabin mouldings and cheap A pillar trims providing an unfortunate contrast to the neat instrument pod and high quality seats.

As with every electric car, the Mia’s high price makes it look poor value against petrol-powered city cars Smart Fortwo or a Kia Picanto, and in the UK, where it costs significantly more than in its native France it’s not great value against the cheapest Leaf either.

For just under £4000 more, the Nissan provides substantially more performance, more range, more seats, more equipment and a vastly better standard of finish.

Sadly, the Mia is simply too expensive. That’s a shame, because the concept has plenty to offer in terms of space efficiency and convenience, besides its sheer novelty.

But the Mia’s case is further undermined by its dull performance, question marks over its refinement and of its finish too.

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