Renault Twizy Urban review
by David Finlay (14 August 2012)
The Twizys were parked not quite at the front door of the hotel, but within a few paces of it, and for most of the afternoon arriving guests broke off from their journey to the reception desk to stare at these strange devices that looked more like mascots than cars. The PR people complained mildly that they were spending more time giving passenger rides to members of the public than doing their real job of sending journalists out on test drives, while the journalists joked that, if the PR people started taking orders, Renault could become the first manufacturer ever to make a profit out of a press event.
You may appreciate the Twizy and praise Renault for having invented it. You may hate everything it stands for. Neither opinion matters. What matters is that the man in the street loves this thing. I know. I watched him doing it.
The all-electric Twizy (you can see for yourself that there's no room for an engine) hardly qualifies as a car at all. Renault itself describes it as a possible alternative to a motorbike, and strictly speaking the correct term is "quadricycle".
It can't be easy to make a quadricycle look elegant, and it's fair to say that Renault hasn't come close. From the front it looks like some sort of bug; from the rear it reminds me of Leela from Futurama. I'm not entirely sure that I want to be seen driving something like it. But it's more practical than you might suppose.
Despite appearances, for instance, it's very definitely capable of carrying two large adults, as I found when I sat in the front and a colleague - two inches taller than me at six foot five - sat behind me. I wasn't hugely pleased about finding myself so close to another gentleman's personal area, but he seemed happy enough, and reported that his alarmingly widely separated knees did not touch either of the doors (which, rather unusually for the motor industry, are a £545 optional extra).
Clearly, there isn't much room for luggage, but there is a lockable compartment behind the rear seat which is deep enough to house a laptop computer, and also so deep, with such a narrow opening, that you wouldn't want to drop a set of keys into it. There are two gloveboxes at the front, one of them lockable, and Renault will also supply little storage nets which are certainly useful but, at £50, hilariously overpriced.
The grounds of the hotel seemed the most natural environment for the Twizy, since it's very quiet, it's handy and there are no great concerns about range anxiety. The only negative point is that the unassisted steering is fairly heavy at very low speeds.
In town it's still okay, though by the time you reach 30mph what had previously been a low-pitched hum from the electric motor has become a more insistent whine, and the chances of being wiped out by a bus or lorry whose driver didn't know you were there have reached a worryingly high level.
The safety aspect of driving on the open road is even more concerning. I have no reason to believe that the Twizy's structure is anything other than robust, but there isn't very much of it, there's almost no crumple zone at the front or rear (though there is an airbag), and the consequences of a side impact don't bear thinking about. In these circumstances it's best to think of yourself as a cyclist rather than a driver.
That aside, the Twizy behaves quite well at speed, largely because the locations of the battery and electric motor are mounted very low down (under the driver's seat in the former case), keeping the centre of gravity near the ground and making the Twizy far more stable than it looks like it should be.
You can build up a fair turn of speed, too. Renault quotes a maximum of 50mph, but I saw 52 on several occasions, and I'm told that a fat man driving steeply downhill once achieved 61. Not impressed? Well, you should try going that fast in a Twizy, with the wind roaring around you and the electric motor now screaming its little heart out. Just don't try doing it for very long, or you'll drain the battery before you can say "zero emissions veh-"
The Urban model tested here is the most basic in the Twizy range, though ironically enough the extras fitted to it by Renault - metallic paint, alloy wheels and a hands-free phone kit in addition to those already mentioned - raised its value from £6690 to £8185, which is more than the list price of the range-topping Technic.
These prices are not the full story, though, because as with the much larger (but still all-electric) Fluence Renault won't sell you the battery pack but instead leases it to you at a rate dependent on how long you want the contract to run and how many miles you cover.
There are many options, and the cheapest of those published by Renault means you pay £45 per month for three years, assuming you drive no more than 4500 miles in each year. There are modest price increases if the contract is shorter, or if your mileage is higher to a maximum - rather an unlikely one, I can't help thinking - of 9000 miles.