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Electric Picnic

WHAT do you call an RTE presenter in a Prius? Maura Derranged.

Or ... . What do you call Maura Derrane in a Prius? Anything you like, she ain't going to hear you at 145kph.

C'mon people, you can't blame us here at Herald Top Gear for honking uncontrollably at the tale of the Penelope Pitstop of television and her N7 hybrid exploits.

It seems that the Four Live presenter has driven straight into the record books by becoming the fastest woman in history to drive a hybrid car from Waterford to Dublin.

And isn't there something terribly sexy about a beautiful woman who cares so much about the planet, but who has so little regard for her own safety?

But seriously, who in their right mind uses a hybrid to travel 300 miles a day?

Anyone who's ever driven a battery operated car knows that they are perfect for urban driving, but are demons on the juice on the open motorway.

Anyway, as Maura Derrane escaped a driving ban after she agreed to pay money to a dogs and cats home somewhere, I found myself enjoying the very latest Prius on the market, the Plug-in Hybrid.

As a huge fan of the Prius I hotly anticipated the latest generation, but not as much as my first plug-in experience.

As the car arrived the man from the ESB was busy putting in a special outdoor socket, which would be the charge point from which the battery gets its power.

It only takes an hour and a half to charge her up, which is even less time that it takes to get my BlackBerry buzzing.

Unfortunately I live a good half an hour outside town though, not the ideal distance to truly experience the merits of Hybrid driving.

It was only once through Newlands Cross every morning did the battery get any use, but as my driving is off peak even this was limited due to the almost traffic-free roads in and around Dublin these days.

The Prius never ceases to amaze on the open road though -- a car that is effectively built to help save the environment, it performs with such pace and acceleration, I can almost empathise with any unfortunate celebrity caught speeding in one.

Impressive

At one stage I was travelling at a good old crack and the car just glided effortlessly with impressive pace thanks to a delicious 1.8 litre VVT-i petrol engine, a powerful electric motor and a high performance lithium battery unit.

All these elements collide together to whack out a superb 136bhps, which even Maura Derrane would be proud of.

On the city streets, if you are a peak time driver, you will get 20kms out of a full battery which for such a concept still in its embryonic stage, is a good innings.

The Prius I drove is one of a handful that are based in Ireland for the next year as part of a vehicle demonstration programme to introduce companies and individuals to the Plug-in concept.

The Prius Plug-in Hybrid will cost an estimated €27,000 when it comes on the market next year -- the price is heavily discounted by green motoring grants.