CAR blog: living with A Renault Twizy – in a British winter

Published: 16 January 2014

In my Renault Twizy CAR review from late 2013, I alluded to the fact that electric cars come ready attached with foregone conclusion baggage. Nice idea, but you wouldn’t want one in real life, right? You’d stick to your turbodiesel Teuton, thanks very much.

Well, I decided to test that theory. How? In the only way that’s fair: to live with the Renault Twizy as my only car, for a week. Commuting, weekend errands, Christmas shopping, even lifts for mates – all were to be done in Britain’s cheapest electric car. In the height of British winter, as the biggest storm surge in half a century bore down upon the East Coast. Let it never be said we’re not exhaustive in our testing at CAR…

First, some context. I live 12 miles from the CAR office, and usually commute on a dual-carriageway stretch of the A1, bookended by some urban pootling at either end. However, for a week with the Twizy, I elected to avoid the tightrope of impatience that is the Great North Road between Stamford and Peterborough. Instead, I’d take ‘the back way’ – an 18.6-mile jaunt of A-road, twisty country back lane and quiet B-road. It’s the route I choose to punt all test cars down to assess how they cope with classic British cross-country – but not ideal territory for a 17bhp electric quadricycle with the performance of a 1960s-era Citroen 2CV.

Read our guide to the best electric cars and EVs on sale in the UK

Now then, let’s address the range. Renault claims the Twizy has a maximum range of 62 miles, according to official test procedures, but gamely suggests the real-world best is 50 miles, when coaxed along efficiently. I’d be spending mile after mile hammering along at the limited 50mph v-max, so the full-charge range of 40 miles displayed on the dashboard was unedifying on day one.

The £295 zip-up windows are must-have for winter Twizy motoring. They do a valiant job at dropping the in-cabin draft from a Category Five hurricane to merely severe windchill – I took to wearing two pairs of gloves, and sitting on alternate hands when the road was mostly straight.

Granted, I’m not doing much for perceptions of the Twizy as an everyday all-weather machine here, but it must be said that the heated windscreen and wiper worked more effectively than those of several ‘proper’ cars I’ve tested recently, and I never got splashed on while bucketing along, having my pelvis assaulted by the brittle suspension.

The Twizy gives an average punter a taste of the exotic supercar experience for eight grand. Look, you even get a strange tax-disc location…

… and exposed suspension!

Plus, there are the scissor doors, a central driving position, open-wheel chassis, minimal practicality, and everyone looks. And points, waves, cheers, jeers, or wants to have a ride. People stop and question me when it’s parked, are waiting with queries when I return, and without fail, it puts a smile on faces. Including the driver’s, of course.

Passengers tend to shriek more with fear and surprise, but the sense of humour remains. The unmitigated joy expressed by a schoolboy upon sighting the car and squealing ‘Mummy, look, a Twizy!’ will live long in the memory. As will the jibes asking when I was first prescribed a mobility scooter.

Not much is easier to park, though…

From a full charge, the lowest the range dropped while commuting in the Twizy was 18 miles remaining. On the final day, I gambled on setting off with a half charge. This turned out to be a grave mistake. The cold weather did no favours for the battery’s performance, and as I approached the gates of CAR Towers, the Twizy began a committed impression of a circa-2000 Nokia mobile telephone, panicking as it runs low on juice.

Pleading bleeps for power wailed out from a hidden speaker, and a battery-empty icon flashed helplessly on the dash. Performance entered ‘safety, get there, just about’ mode™, with the top speed dropping to 34mph, and time taken to achieve it requiring a calendar, not a stopwatch.

So, would you have to be absolutely barking to run a Twizy every day?

You’d certainly have to pack light …

But, it can be done. You can survive a winter’s week in a Twizy, with no radio, no heater, no door seals and a top speed of fifty miles per hour (plus a bit more on slopes)

 You’ll never concentrate harder – on clipping apexes, braking late, and the route taken. Piloting any machine propelled by repeated explosions now feels oddly wasteful, and over-complicated.

The Twizy is by any yardstick, an absurd piece of kit car, but I applaud Renault for signing it off and selling it as much as I do the future-classic R26.R Megane hot hatch. Maybe Renault should make more cars without a radio…

by Ollie Kew