REYKJAVIK, ICELAND—Believe it or not, the Indian-made Reva EV is the most popular electric car on the planet today—there are more than 2,000 on world roads. The Reva is a comparative bestseller (nobody’s selling a lot of EVs yet), despite the fact that the car is, to put it mildly, not very good.

The great advantage of the Reva is a) It’s cheap; and b) It benefits from European laws favoring EVs, such as free parking and freedom from the London congestion tax.

But did I say it’s not a very good car? With much hilarity, a team from the British show Top Gear crashed a Reva into a table. The table won. Independent safety tests had appalling results. The British media have had a lot of fun with the Reva. I’d never actually seen one until encountering an example here at the Driving Sustainability ’09 conference. I was blithely handed the keys, my first drive ever in Iceland. Here’s a look at the car on video:

The two-seater Reva had a Blaupunkt Mumbai stereo with “My Sweet Lord” playing as I took my drive, sliding front windows (saves weight), cloth seats, a red painted metal dash and a small dial gearshift. There are a variety of models, but no big difference between them. With lead-acid batteries (a lithium-ion version is also available), it has a range of about 50 miles—if you’re willing to stay in it that long.

I floored the Reva on the busy streets of Reykjavik and found myself doing a heady 30 mph (after a while, that is). Then I reached a stoplight, which allows me to say categorically that the Reva has the worst brakes I’ve ever encountered on a car.

But help is on the way. At the Frankfurt Motor Show today, Reva showed off its NXR, a much improved (and much cuter) car with lithium-ion batteries. Icelandic entrepreneurs have been looking for available EVs to jump-start the country’s electric car infrastructure, and I would suggest looking only at the NXR, not the dismal one I drove. In Europe, the NXR will sell for 15,000 euros. There are no current plans to sell any Reva in the U.S., but don’t lose sleep over it.

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.