Central driving position
Being looked at, and laughed at
When the government’s Plug-In Van Grant scheme was announced in February 2012 there were two surprise names on the list of approved vehicles – Italian manufacturer Faam and French firm Mia. Both are modern electric vehicles but moulded in the early 21st century definition of the word – distinctly unusually looking – rather than the current crop of electrified panel vans by established manufacturers. Yet unlike the pioneering quadricycle-based mobile sandwich shop type vans, these are proper machines with decent top speeds and a useable mileage.
Without sounding too superficial, the Mia is perhaps the ugliest commercial vehicle on sale, but there is real promise and ingenuity under its plastic skin. Entering the cabin and parking yourself on the single central driving seat for example would ordinarily prove a major problem, especially given that this van is just 1.5m high, but a section of the floor pan has been thoughtfully cut away to allow you to get in closer to the seat. This prevents you from having to overstretch to reach the footwell and allows for easy entry and exit. The sliding door – which co-incidentally is released by pressing the flower-like Mia logo – curves under the floor, and when pulled into place covers the cut away section. Once inside the seat is comfortable and driving position commanding. Storage could be improved, but the clarity, layout and appearance of the instruments are ideally suited to this quirky model.
Available in four configurations with one, two, three or four seats, it’s the U version of the Mia that is of interest to the commercial sector, thanks to its panelled rear and 1.5m3 loadspace. Weighing in at a paltry 1180kg gross vehicle weight, the Mia U allows a maximum 415kg payload with the 8kWh battery pack or a 365kg capacity with the upgraded 12kWh batteries. Respectively, these are good enough for a claimed 50 mile (80km) and 78 mile (125km) range, and unusually for past vehicles of this size and design, a maximum speed of 62mph. Realistically the operational range is probably closer to 40 miles and 65 miles.
While looks bare no correlation with performance, vehicles of this ilk have long had a certain stigma attached to them. Motorists assume the worst and look to overtake at the earliest opportunity, anticipating slow progress from these rudimentary-looking automobiles. Yet travelling in the Mia U could not be further from this misconception, and once moving the Mia U’s performance is dazzling. Granted, the first 5mph are slow, as the driveline pushes power to the wheels, but once moving acceleration is brisk. It’s not supercar fast, and barely even supermini fast, but there’s more than enough power to outwit pushy motorists and keep well ahead of the pace of the city. Ride comfort too is good.
Lightweight, small wheelbase vehicles tend to bounce around, but the Mia U rides our roads remarkably well, and although at speeds above 40mph a great deal of noise does penetrate the cabin (mostly from the tyres with some from the axle and motor) it is a comfortable van to be in. Because the driver sits in a central position, the pedals can be mounted further forward, placing you closer to the front axle than in a regular vehicle. While this position is bad for visibility – the two thick A-pillars create large blindspots – it enhances the enjoyment of the sharp steering, the cliché of driving a go-kart is arguably more apt in this vehicle than any other. Its biggest dynamic let down is the massive amounts of understeer, the tiny 14-inch alloy wheels carry you wide in every corner when travelling above 30mph. The ‘Eco’ button, an ever-present in any modern vehicle (electric or not) functions as a power limiter, while boosting the regenerative force of the braking. As a preference we preferred the Eco level of retardation, but found its power limiting far too much to enable a decent getaway from a standstill.
Our test vehicle, on loan from Kinghams of Croydon car dealership, is actually a pre-production model but for the most part the Mia U seems the finished product. An updated version is due in the UK later this year, and providing the government grant remains in place the £16,995 starting price and competitive monthly contract hire prices planned by Kinghams should ensure sales.
It needs more instantaneous power, and corrections to prevent such massive understeer. More storage surrounding the driver and some reworking of the Eco button functions would also help, but on the whole the Mia U is a great addition to the UK electric vehicle fleet, with luck fleet operators and the local odd-job man target customer will look past its appearance and embrace this ugly duckling.