Is the new Renault Twizy a revolution in enthusiast motoring? Not quite, says Chris Harris
Prepare to have your preconceptions shattered and your love for the internal combustion engine defeated. Actually, on reflection, stay as you are and keep close with the crude: much as it would be exciting to report that the new Renault Twizy represents a new paradigm in the move towards electric vehicles, the reality is less profound. But, as I'm learning, there is information to be excited about here.
Looking butch next to a Twizy is not easy
It is not possible to write an especially extensive first drive evaluation of the Twizy. It has a 17hp electric motor, weighs 475kg and runs little 125-section tyres. It moves away silently from stationary and then offers the world a shriek of some unease - like Beaker from the Muppets ceaselessly mewling - which turns out to be gearbox whine.
It will cover 0-28mph in 6.1sec, on a flat surface, but inclines add to that figure and downhill I saw 53mph.
Dynamically, what we have here is a lightly evolved golf kart. Struts at each corner with a coil-over damper, and the claim that Renaultsport (the people who jab hot pokers into Clios) were responsible for all calibration and settings. Being charitable, they probably did the best they could.
A replacement for a car it is not
You see the Twizy isn't really a car, it's a form of short-distance transportation classed in this country as a quadracycle. You climb into the driver's seat, twist the rather disappointing Clio key, watch the LCD dash light-up, select Drive, wrestle with the handbrake and head-off. A minute later you're already looking, and failing, to find stuff to comment on, and places to go and misbehave. You already know the ride is poor, bordering on compressed-vertebra, the performance is barely adequate on the open road and that on Ibiza, at nineteen degrees, having no windows is ideal. Should you carry a passenger, they will be crammed in directly behind you. It's possible, but not for too long.
If you intend on driving fast, this is no problem because the Twizy will run out of puff after about 40 miles, perhaps less. Keep it rolling, creating more regenerative energy, and that figure could rise to around 60 miles. I especially like the naturally cautious range-meter: it always showed 30-50 miles from a full charge and then increased if it could. Nothing worse than watching the number fall, as they do in the Tesla, and beating yourself up for being a rubbish eco-driver.
But as an alternative to a scooter...
The steering is unassisted, fluid and pleasant. The brakes have no ABS, and there's far more grip than you'll ever need, unless you're an 18-year-old on holiday which, come to think of it, is probably the core market for the Twizy. Renault could quite literally clean up in Mediterranean holiday destinations with this machine: local governments will love the message and the sight of them bobbing around the place.
And this is where I started to get a little bit more excited about EVs. Not because I found the Twizy especially engaging, but because it made me understand just how niche EVs will be for the coming years. They have limited capabilities, but if your own needs fit within them, they could be a clever solution. From a normal domestic electricity supply, it will take around 12 hours charging time to give you that 60 mile range. Upgrade your supply and you could cut that to 4 hours, but unless you trust the neighbourhood youths to not tamper with your cable, the Twizy really is for people with off-street parking.
Expect this on an island in the Med soon
Strangely, I could really benefit from a Twizy. I live over the Severn Bridge, but head into Bristol regularly. In a car that averages 30mpg, each return trip costs me £20, including the crazy £6 bridge toll. Being a quadracycle, in a Twizy I wouldn't have to pay the toll any more, and the electricity costs would be less than half of the fuel costs. If it was a daily commute, the saving would be in the thousands, despite having to pay a £45 per month battery rental charge.
But if it rained, I'd have to wear one of those blanket things moped riders sport in Paris, and I probably wouldn't have much fun staring at the axle-cases of HGVs as they pounded past me. We all know that the real killer for EVs in the UK is the complete lack of meaningful infrastructure outside the M25, leaving the Twizy handicapped into the role of cute curiosity. Get used to them on hot islands though; they will soon be very popular.
RENNUALT TWIZY 80 TECHNIC
Engine: 3CG - electric asynchronous (induction)
Transmission: single-speed auto
Torque (lb ft):42@0-2,100rpm
0-28mph: 6.1 sec
MPG: 62-mile range