Is it a car, a quadricycle or a glorified go-kart? Who cares? Jonathan Crouch loves the Renault Twizy, a model that makes most sense in entry-level Expression form
Ten Second Review
The Renault Twizy represents a fresh direction in electric vehicle development. With a sixty mile range and a 47mph top speed coupled with a three and a half hour recharge time, the Spanish-built Twizy looks ideal for urban commuters with a garage in which to recharge overnight. With prices starting at way below £7,000 for the entry-level Expression variant we look at here (excluding battery lease charges) it looks strong value too.
Although it's premature to say that the electric vehicle has come of age, there's one branch of the EV family that seems a good deal further along its evolutionary path. It's the lightweight urban-specific vehicle and none represents the current state of the art better than Renault's Twizy. The reason? It's not even pretending to be a conventional car.
Whereas many manufacturers start with a supermini, tear the engine out and try to find a home for batteries and such like, Renault has approached the genre with a clean sheet of paper. The Twizy seats two, is built light and can slot through gaps only a tad broader than a motorcycle with panniers. In other words, it's ineffably fit for purpose. You can buy glorified well specified versions, but for us, this is a model that makes most sense in its most affordable 'Expression'-trimmed form.
Looking nothing like a car means that you approach the Twizy unburdened by expectations for it to drive like a car and it doesn't disappoint. Yes, it has a steering wheel, a windscreen and fore-aft seating but that's about as far as the similarities go. Unless you specify them as options, the Twizy has no doors so you can see the tarmac whizzing past, adding to the sensation of speed. You'll also see the front wheels turning and you'll get the wind in your hair. A bit.
Motive power comes courtesy of a 20bhp electric motor that drives the rear wheels and is mounted under the rear passenger seat. Fully charging the battery from empty takes three and a half hours, after which the Twizy is claimed to run for up to 72 miles, depending on how enthusiastically you choose the pedal the thing. Renault quotes a top speed of 47mph which is more than enough for urban use but a couple of colleagues have seen better than 50mph. Unlike some electric vehicles that are spookily silent, the Twizy has a bit of motor whine but it's nothing too intrusive.
Design and Build
Most electric vehicles look decidedly dorky. The Nissan LEAF's appearance isn't too exciting, the Mitsubishi i-MIEV and its Peugeot and Citroen doppelgangers are nearer the ticket but most have had to put up with vehicles like the G-Wiz, which looks broken even before you've managed to crash it. The Twizy is different. It's something you'd want to show off to your mates. Twizy seats two, one behind the other and is tall and narrow. Thankfully all the weight is mounted down low so it never feels as if it's going to tip over. The ride is firm and it'll understeer benignly if you fling it recklessly at a hairpin rather than gripping and flipping.
Renault will sell you a pair of optional demi-doors that open up and out, and also offer an apron that'll at least keep your lower half dry if the heavens do open. There's also a tote bag that stores up to 50-litres. The build quality of the pre-production version that I experienced looked surprisingly good. The clear roof panel adds to the airy feel when at the wheel, but its worth remembering that with no doors, the Twizy is something that benefits from secure parking.
Market and Model
Providing that you go for the entry-level Expression variant we're looking at here, the price - way under £7,000 - is attention grabbing. Even this base version features a driver airbag, four-point seatbelt in the front, three-point seatbelt in the rear, four linked disc brakes, an immobiliser and steering column lock, two glove boxes and closed compartments beneath the seats. There's a plusher Dynamique model for £600 more if you want it.
Whichever Twizy model you choose though, there is a financial catch. You'll also need to pay £40 per month to lease the battery pack. This includes VAT and is on a 36 month/4,500 miles per year agreement. Over the course of the lease this totals £1440, which means the Twizy really starts at around £8,000 for a typical three year ownership period. That's still not at all bad when one considers the leasing charges attached to other electric vehicles. Heck, it's comparable to some of the high-end push bikes I was looking at in my local branch of Evans Cycles.
Cost of Ownership
With zero tailpipe emissions and a range of around 60 miles, the Twizy is perfect for urban commuting. You'll need three hours and thirty minutes for a full recharge or three hours for 80% charge, so if you have a place to charge the Twizy up while you're in the office, longer commutes are a viable proposition. To maximise simplicity, the Twizy includes a charger and three-metre charging cable beneath a hatch at the front of the vehicle. The great paradox of this is that if you only have access to on-street parking at home the Twizy is a bit of a non-starter, ruling it out for many of the urbanites the Twizy would otherwise be ideally suited for. City recharging points are becoming more commonplace but for many, this remains a significant barrier to ownership.
Classed in law as a heavy quadricycle, the Twizy is legally allowed to drive on motorways but I can't imagine anything that would be much more terrifying than negotiating the western stretch of the M25 in the dark with bleary-eyed truckers bearing down on me.
The Renault Twizy is the closest we've come to a real and workable electric vehicle solution. Where it differs from its rivals is in offering the fun and manoeuvrability of a scooter with the controls, comfort and relative safety of a car. By pricing it somewhere between the two and giving it some funky styling, Renault has created a formula that seems certain to succeed.
I'd have personally liked to see a scooter-sized 'range-extender' gasoline engine included to take the anxiety out of the Twizy's countdown to zero volts, but Renault has stuck to the EV formula and done a great job of making the technology accessible and attractive. Especially in the no-frills 'Expression' form we've been looking at here. If I had a garage I'd be tempted.