First drive: PEUGEOT iON

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Badge-engineering – that's the cynical, and accurate, description of a manufacturer's re-labelling and rebranding of someone else's car in order to call it their own.

Examples today include the Citroen C-Crosser and Peugeot 4007, both of them lightly reworked versions of Mitsubishi's Outlander four-wheel drive, allowing these French manufacturers to enter a market that they have no expertise in for little investment.

Other examples? Seat's new Exeo is no more than a lightly modified version of Audi previous-generation A4 and one of Mazda's earlier Mazda2's was simply a rebadged Ford Fiesta.

Now Peugeot and Citroen are doing it again with Mitsubishi's i-MiEV, the Japanese company's small electric city car. The Gallic versions are barely altered, and will appear next autumn as the Peugeot iOn and the Citroen C-Zero.

That gives the pair a near-instant entry into the electric car market, although unlike many manufacturers, they do have a history here, having previously sold electric 106s and Saxos, though only in France, whereas the iOn and C-Zero will be sold in Britain too.

Autoblog grabbed an early chance to try an iOn before it was shipped to Copenhagen for the climate change conference. Peugeot badges apart, the iOn looks identical to the i-MiEV, which is to say long, tall, narrow and almost funky.

And it's one of the easiest electric cars to drive out there. You just twist the key, ignore the fact that nothing seems to happen because you only hear silence, move the gearlever into drive and accelerate away. Quite briskly too; the 63bhp electric motor's fat 131lb ft of torque allowing the iOn quite useful acceleration to 40mph. It tails off a bit after that – hence its less than scorching 13sec 0-62mph time and 81mph top speed – but the iOn's performance is adequate for commuting, a role that its range pretty much limits it to anyway.

Peugeot reckons it will do 81 miles on a charge – less than the 100 miles Mitsubishi claims for the i-MiEV, oddly – and extravagant use of the accelerator will drop it well below that. So this is very much a second car, and not a cheap one if the £350 per month lease deal Mitsubishi is offering on the i-MiEV is a guide. That said, Peugeot has yet to announce pricing, and government subsidies may eventually help. But as so often with new technologies, there are compromises if you fancy adopting early.