When we’ve driven electric cars before, the verdict tends to read something like ‘fine for short trips, but too compromised for day to day travel because of short range and sparse charging infrastructure’. Providing the exception that proves the rule is the impressive Tesla Model S. And perhaps, Renault’s idiosyncratic Twizy.
So, how about trying an electric car that makes no attempt whatsoever at suitability for anything other than short trips? One that nails its colours to the urban runabout mast, and to hell with range quibbles...
That’s the Renault Twizy. The tandem-seat, 474kg quadricycle is the entry-level point into Renault’s ZE (Zero Emission) range, which also includes the Zoe supermini and Fluence family saloon. The Twizy starts at £6895, but for our top-spec ‘Technic’ test car, packing luxury extras like alloy wheels and carbon-effect paint, you’ll need £7595. And to lease the 100kg, low-mounted battery off Renault? That’ll cost between £45 and £67 per month, depending on mileage and contract length.
Read our guide to the best electric cars and EVs on sale in the UK
But that’s as expensive as a Renault Twizy gets, right?
Wrong. Our test car came fitted with £1205-worth of optional extras, of which we’d deem the £840 of scissor doors and plexi-plastic zip-up windows necessary. The storage net and hands-free phone kit might look sensible, but neither really enhances the Twizy’s minute practicality, and you can’t hear yourself think about 40mph with the headwind attacking the unsealed doors, yet alone have a coherent conversation via Bluetooth.
The zip-up, easy-fit windows do make a palpable improvement to wind-whip (and wind-chill) at more than 30mph, and keep out most of the spray too. That makes them just as compulsory for British Twizy buyers as a thick pair of socks in winter.
Click here for CAR’s Renault Zoe EV review
Let’s talk performance
Even with a mere 690kg to shift, you wouldn’t expect a 17bhp, 47lb ft electric motor to feel fast. And yet, because of the eager initial getaway, lofty driving position, and sense of open-air exposure, the Twizy is suited to urban dogfighting. Acceleration tails off beyond 40mph – the top speed is a limited 50mph – but reachable speeds in London and the like are rarely above thirty, where the Twizy will even out-sprint kamikaze cyclists from the lights.
It’s not silent, eerie progress, mind: the Twizy whines like a golf buggy as it scuttles to 30mph in 6.5sec, while the lightweight, vertical-opening plastic doors rattle in their locks over the merest surface imperfection.
Bit of a boneshaker, the Twizy?
Afraid so. Look at the cute, futuristic Twizy when static and you’ll spot the double-wishbone suspension front and rear. Proper sports car damping, in other words. Unfortunately, there’s about as much compliance as a track day nuttermobile too – necessary to stop the tall-toes Twizy leaning over in bends and teetering onto its side.
Renault’s choice has made for chuckable, game handling – the unassisted steering is a delight and the Twizy’s balance is really neutral, with high grip limits before safety understeer kicks in. But, we’ve got to judge it as a poor match for pockmarked British roads. Especially in town, ironically, where there are frequent scars like drain covers, sleeping policemen, and roadworks debris to bounce over. Day-to-day, the uncompromising, brittle ride is likely to be more of an irritation than having no radio, no heater, a tiny 31-litre boot, and a maximum range of between 40-60 miles, depending on your driving style.
Objective shortcomings are easier to forgive in the Twizy than, say, a Zoe though. Trying driving one of these open-wheel electro-pods without grinning is a bigger challenge than stretching the range above 50 miles. It gets looks wherever it goes – even from the cynical, hurried British motorist, and it’s not the sort of sneering jibes that something else with scissor doors (Lamborghini Aventador, anyone?) might attract. Children point, white van men bip cheerfully, and elderly drivers double take like H.G. Wells’ extra-terrestrial invasion has made landfall in Cambridgeshire.
Cheerful, but not cheap?
Not to buy, but the Twizy should cost peanuts to run. Of course, there’s that battery lease fee, but a full 3.5-hour recharge will cost around £1 on low-rate electricity, and the Twizy (unlike its sister, Zoe) can be charged from a standard three-pin household socket without the need for an adaptor. If you’re squeamish about leaving a vulnerable cable trailing across your street, you won’t be buying a Twizy anyway – it cannot be locked shut, and the lockable glovebox is more insecure than Miley Cyrus.
On purely economic grounds, the Twizy doesn’t stand up well to posh scooters, which are cheaper, more nimble, and have comparable stowage space and range. But as a motor car, the Twizy is up there with the Morgan Three-Wheeler as a joyful novelty – except here it has urban purpose behind the brio. If you’re a city dweller – preferably in warmer climes than these, then it really should be on your test drive list.
>> Stay tuned to CAR Online for our blog on what it’s like to live with a Renault Twizy as your sole car during the depths of a British winter…