Dyson's Motorhead cordless vacuum challenges your classic upright

Like many companies, when Dyson's not trying to develop a genre-busting product, it's usually at the drawing board fine-tuning existing lines. That's certainly the case with its recent twist on the DC59 Animal cordless, aptly named the Motorhead. While the original model was a step up from the electric brooms I've used in my appliance-poor youth -- both in performance and price -- this newest iteration challenges conventional vacuums at tackling bare floors and carpets with the gusto of a full-sized machine. It's only a fraction of a pound heavier than the earlier model and just as petite and portable, but it boasts a 75 percent increase in suction with its new motorized cleaning head. It arrives today on Dyson's website and other select retailers costing $550 -- a slight jump in price over the previous version -- and should hit more retail outlets in the fall. I took it for a quick test-drive through my Brooklyn apartment to see how it stacks up against its portable predecessor and find out if that price boost delivers a significantly better machine.

The overall package on the Motorhead model is almost a mirror image of the original Digital Slim, right down to the accessories. However, you'll notice its wand extension has a fresh pink color to help differentiate it from the other's purple tone. If you were hoping to save some money and simply buy the new motorized head for your last-gen DC59 Animal, you're out of luck. We're told that the new brush portion isn't compatible with the body of the previous model.

On the inside, the Motorhead model sports the same V6 digital motor as before, but Dyson claims that it's "1.5 times more efficient than its predecessor." Audibly, there is a noticeable difference between the two, as the Animal delivers a higher-pitched whine than the new model. The Motorhead's battery life is listed at 24 minutes on a charge (without the power-draining Boost Mode engaged), which is only a couple minutes short of the Animal's 26 and isn't too shabby considering the extra power needed to run an additional motor.

So what's the deal with this new motorized head? If you've used the DC59 Animal, you're probably familiar with its modular flexibility, wall-mountable docking station and multiple brush extensions that let you roam free throughout the apartment to keep entropy and dust at bay. The downside to the Animal's lightweight, cordless convenience is that its suction power is decent for hardwood floors and just middling on carpets. It's a bit like poking a stick around since since there's zero traction or feedback. The Motorhead model definitely addresses that problem and manages to grip the floor as you push it around, making the experience more tactile and improving its ability to suck up dirt and debris from difficult surfaces like rugs and carpets.

There are some additional changes to the brush head beyond the power boost. Fewer and shorter bristles wrap around the rotor, reducing potential tangles and helping to capture dust and dirt a bit more effectively than before. It did mitigate the amount of dusty dreck that can build up on and around the brush head, and seemed to pull in debris better than the standard version, whose bristles now seem rather flimsy in comparison.

The DC59 Motorhead is definitely an improvement over the previous Digital Slim, in that you feel like you're pushing a more robust vacuum about when using the motorized brush head attachment. For environments with mixed hardwood and carpet surfaces, urban space limitations and various nooks to get at, the Motorhead could be a good fit -- as long as you can handle the sticker shock. There's still a lot more oomph in traditional upright models, but if dealing with cords and limited mobility keeps you from doing your chores, that extra expenditure on a cordless might be worthwhile.