Gavin Green on the car he most wants to drive in 2012

Published: 13 December 2011

Of all the anticipated new 2012 cars, the one I most want to drive is the slowest, the cheapest and the smallest. I can hardly wait to drive the new Renault Twizy. I’m told it will happen soon, well before UK sales start in spring next year. In fact, as I write I’m expecting the nice man from Renault to confirm a date.

Tandem seat, small, open-wheeled and electric powered, this is a ‘think different’ city car. Which is precisely what is needed for urban transport. City cars – apart from the ingenious Smart – are all now too bloated, too thirsty, and too inefficient to deserve much respect. They are invariably truncated versions of everyday hatches, mostly five-seaters when – as our eyes tell us every day – commuter cars are usually enjoyed solo. So are most cars that ply our cities and suburbs.

The highlight of the Frankfurt Show – one of the very best car shows I’ve attended – was the trio of Twizy-like single or tandem seaters, namely the Audi Urban Concept, Volkswagen Nils and Opel RAK-e. The Audi may go into limited production; the Opel is possible. Perhaps Volkswagen, who were suggesting at Frankfurt that the Nils had nil chance of sitting alongside a Golf at a VW showroom, will re-evaluate.

Tandem seat cars are perfect for congested cities

These tandem seat cars are exactly the ‘big leap’ that drivers, and our cities, need. Think about it. Their narrowness (although the Audi needs to shed a bit of girth) means two lanes of traffic could become three, with huge benefits to congestion. EV drive means no tailpipe pollution. Parking is a cinch. Plus, for the car enthusiast, they all promise miles of smiles – thanks to their agility and responsiveness – and not just in cities.

Think of them as part car, part motorcycle, part F1 single seater and with a touch of Star Wars’ pod racer thrown in. They are all, by some margin, the cleverest electric car concepts I’ve seen, apart from BMW’s i3. That’s because they are light and small, maximising the range and performance of the battery powertrain. The Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and other new watt cars have merit. But they are hamstrung by their conventional architectures. You know a same-size, similar-style Golf or Focus – or any other petrol hatch – can do much more, for less. (Plus if you live in a country with smelly coal power stations, there is no enviro benefit anyway.) The tandem-seat EVs are new-breed cars with new expectations.

I fear that, like so many other clever concept cars that have intrigued the masses and charmed the critics, these smart prototypes may actually languish at the bottom of the engineering ‘in’ tray, in a section marked ‘too hard’, while the development boys concentrate on the next-gen Golf, Astra or A4, and their latest hybrid crossover.

I urge them to be brave and follow Renault’s lead. 

By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience