But then you see it. The G-Wiz's gawky looks make you appreciate what a design masterpiece the Smart is. If you think it looks silly at the kerb, wait till you see someone driving it - they sit so high that they look in danger of a banged head as it goes over bumps. Yet if we face global melt- down, the least a car user can do is put up with a set of uncool wheels. You may look like Postman Pat but at least you're saving the planet.
Steel-framed and plastic-bodied, the G-Wiz is made in Bangalore, India, and marketed in the UK by Goingreen. The cheaper version, with DC electrics, is £7,499, while a more powerful AC model starts at £8,797. The electric motor sits under the boot floor and the battery beneath the front seats (hence the high driving position). The rear seats are small. According to Goin- green, it achieves the equivalent of 600mpg, making it easily the cheapest car you can run.
The key to the usefulness of any electric car, however, is its performance and how far it goes on a charge. Here, the G-Wiz is wanting. The DC version has a modest top speed of 40mph and a meagre 40-mile range, and using wipers, lights, heater and stereo can knock this back as effectively as hills. So will cold weather - one owner reckons on 18 miles in poor conditions.
The AC version, however, pushes the range up to 48 miles and the top speed to 45mph, with 50% more pulling power from 20mph. New batteries (needed every three years) cost £1,200. I sampled the lesser DC version, in a fetching leopardskin-print paint job. The G-Wiz is not as uncomfortable as it looks, even if you do sit close to your passenger, and its narrowness and high seating make it easy to thread through town. It gently whines its way to a comfortable 25 mph, the next 5 mph taking longer. Not a problem if the streets are congested, but any manoeuvre requiring acceleration must be well judged. And forget using it on the open road for any distance.
Instead, consider the G-Wiz as a town-bound device. You could use it to take small kids to school, but there are no airbags, antilock brakes or modern crash protection. Goingreen claims the G-Wiz is carbon-neutral from its construction through to its first two years of use, thanks to carbon offset. The car requires real sacrifices and is not a serious answer to environmental problems, but it might prick a few consciences.
Price £7,499 (Reva G-Wiz DC version)
Max power 4.8 Kw (6.4 hp) continuous, 13.1 Kw (17.6 hp) peak
Max speed 40 mph
Recharge time 80% 2.5 hrs, 100% 6 hrs
Fuel consumption c.600 mpg
CO2 emissions n/a
Smart fortwo LPG c. £9,000 Aftermarket conversion offers low CO2 emissions and congestion charge exemption.
Nice MEGA City £9,995 Dearer but easier on the eye, this electric two-seater offers similar range and performance.