Renault Twizy review
by Richard Dredge (2 April 2012)
Images by Magic Car Pics
In a risk-averse world, it's great to know that some companies are prepared to stick their neck out, even if doing so in the past has done them no favours. While Renault has taken its fair share of commercial gambles that have failed to pay off, this time it's hoping to hit the big time with its EV strategy, which kicks off with its new entry-level model, the fabulous-looking Twizy.
It's by far the cheapest electric "car" on sale, but it's the most fun; think of it as an alternative to a motorbike, jetski, or some other luxury purchase, and it starts to make sense.
However, that suggests the Twizy is so madly impractical that you could use it only very occasionally, which isn't the case. Renault likes to think of it as an alternative to a motorbike, rather than a car; looked at in those terms, it's safer and offers extra weather protection.
Unlike a motorbike, though, the Twizy has a 60-mile range that's more like 40 in the real world, and a top speed of 50mph from the 27bhp motor, so it's suitable only for relatively short hops. However, you can plug the nose-mounted cable into a domestic three-pin socket to top up the lithium-ion batteries at any point, with a full recharge taking 3.5 hours.
It's the perceived impracticality that's most likely to put off potential buyers, who see the Twizy as a car (not bike) alternative. There's hardly any luggage carrying capacity and not much weather protection without the optional £545 doors, which are actually only half-doors, as they're fully open above the waistline.
But its compact dimensions and seriously tight turning circle mean parking is easy, and so is negotiating traffic. The Twizy is 36cm shorter than a smart and 32cm narrower, while it can turn in just 3.4 metres; even the class-leading Toyota IQ is rated at 3.9 metres. But there are also just two seats - and if you're large or tall the back is out of bounds. That's why the Twizy is best viewed as a single-seater, with the back seat reserved for luggage.
The perceived lack of safety could be off-putting too, but Renault has taken care of this, to a point. The Twizy's two occupants sit within a tough safety cell, which has been crash tested, but not by Euro NCAP, so it doesn't carry an official rating. And although there isn't a huge amount of safety kit as standard, the driver gets an airbag along with a four-point seatbelt - the passenger gets a three-point restraint. But while there are disc brakes all round there's no ESP, and disappointingly there's no ABS either.
So it's cramped, basic and has a limited range; doesn't sound especially enticing, does it? Well, put in those terms, no. But if you take a glass half-full approach, it's plenty big enough for one, it has all the kit and creature comforts you need and the range is ample on more occasions than you'd think - especially if you see the Twizy as a second or third car, which it's easier to when you consider that the road tax is free, it's congestion charge-exempt, insurance should be cheap and it's easy to park thanks to that tiny footprint.
But who cares about boring practicalities when the Twizy looks as sensational as it does? It's worth buying one as a piece of sculpture – it's a great piece of design. With its narrow body, single pantograph wiper, stick-out wheels and (optional) lift-up doors, there really is nothing else remotely like it.
And the good news is that it's fun to drive too, largely thanks to the torquey rear-mounted electric motor that drives the back wheels. As an urban runabout, the Twizy is geared (in every sense of the word) towards low-speed use.
As such, there's reasonably vivid acceleration up to 30mph or so, then things tail off a bit, with inclines blunting performance further. On the flat, 50mph is easy enough, but the range is compromised as a result. Using the Twizy is incredibly simple though; just turn the key, press D on the dash and accelerate or brake like any other automatic car. Or motorbike.
While performance feels stronger than you might expect, the rest of the driving experience is more of a mixed bag. With the wheels pushed out to each corner, Renault has done its best to keep the ride supple, but the Twizy's wheelbase is so short there's only so much that can be done.
It's the same with the track; the Twizy's lack of width means Renault has done well to keep the Twizy feeling as stable as it does through the bends, although the tall body means you have to adjust your driving style before you can tackle corners enthusiastically.
Meanwhile, the steering is numb but well weighted, and the brakes lack feel, even though there's no servo; it's the regenerative braking that does it. However, when you lift off the throttle it doesn't feel as though the brakes have been applied – a criticism that can be levelled at some of the other electric cars on the market.
While the dynamics are good without being exceptional, the fiscal argument could be the one that sways it. Electric cars are generally very expensive to buy, and while fuelling them is cheap, hefty depreciation pushes up running costs.
It's different with the Twizy though, as you can buy one from under £7000, so annual running costs should be low. However, there are battery lease costs too, with prices starting at £45 per month, but a full recharge costs just a pound or so and the annual service is meant to take just an hour.
With such low purchase prices, there's not much standard kit, but there are three trim levels. Cheapest is the £6690 Urban which comes with a quick-clear windscreen and plastic wheeltrims - and that's it. Move up to the £6950 Colour and Renault throws in some floormats, a choice of interior colours and a different type of wheel trim, while the range-topping Technic weighs in at £7400.
This comes with 13" alloys, metallic paint and a natty paint scheme - but there's still no heater, even as an option. Options include rear parking sensors (£85), satellite navigation (£120) and a Bluetooth hands-free phone kit (£270) along with a transparent plastic roof for £195.
Buy an entry-level car without doors and you've got some distinctive transport that's dirt cheap to run - and all for the cost of the first year's depreciation on a Mondeo. Sure, there are limitations on usefulness, and there are conventional superminis that will do a similar job for the same (or even less) money.
But if you want to be a pioneer, Renault is offering you the chance – so in an increasingly conformist world, I'd implore you to help it make the gamble pay off.