Renault Twizy: firstdriveText and images © eco-drive 2012 unless otherwise stated. No reproduction without express permission.
Renault are bucking the automotive trend by entering (actually, re-entering) the world of Electric Vehicles with not just one electric model but a range of three - at almost the same time - with a fourth (the game-changing Zoe) to follow shortly. Whilst Kangoo ZE and Fluence ZE need the 'Zero Emission' label to distinguish them from their conventional counterparts, Renault's third EV child, Twizy, is designed from the ground-up as an EV.
Coining the new term of an 'urban compact' vehicle, Renault have jumped boldly into unfamiliar territory for a manufacturer with little experience of smaller vehicles such as scooters. With a kerbweight of 450kg (less than half the weight of a Twingo), shorter than a Smart car, not much wider than a scooter, Twizy officially sits in the 'heavy quadricycle' category so falls into that grey area between motorcycles and small cars such as the ubiquitous Smart car. And, like a Smart fortwo, scooter or motorcycle, it has seating for two, one behind the other, but with proper seat-belts and even a driver's airbag.
No picture adequately portrays how Twizy appears when seen in the flesh in 3-D: there's something just so damned cute about it: the tandem arrangement, the aesthetically pleasing yet strong shell and the outrigger wheels are all in proportion. But jumping behind the wheel still surprises: you're not ready for the sense of security, quality or solidity. The almost tardis-like interior prompts you to step out and re-affirm that there is indeed a back seat which can accommodate someone of at least 6'2" (1.88m) We've had someone of 7'2" (2.15m) in the back and it didn't feel like a record breaking attempt! The front seat slides forward to allow the passenger easier access to the rear - and they can release the seat themselves to get out.
Standard equipment is sparse (but remember we are not talking about a car here) but the full-size driver's airbag is standard fit, as is the electrically heated front windscreen (there is no air flow ventilation on Twizy) to ensure clear vision on frosty mornings. There are two glovebox compartments in the top of the dash, one each side of the steering wheel: one lockable, one not; and a lockable narrow-but-deep storage pocket behind the passenger seat.
Twizy is intended to be personalised, so what exactly
can you do? Choosing from Twizy Urban, Twizy Colour or
Twizy Technic as a starting point gives you an
increasing diversity of colour-coded seat padding, dash
trim and roof panel; Technic giving you a white driver's
seat shell and alloy wheels as standard. A glass roof
and half-height doors are options across the range, but
specified at the time of ordering as they are factory
fit only. Renault are promising some graphic
'wrap' options too - and you can bet more will also be
available from independent sources.
There is no conventional 'car stereo' in Twizy, but there is a dealer-fit accessory Parrot Bluetooth audio kit which allows wireless music playing from an iPhone etc. or via a wired iPod connector, audio jack or USB connection, with a detachable dash control and an LCD display & microphone above the windscreen for hands-free phone calls! Try getting that to work on a scooter! The standard fit stereo speakers in the roof, just behind the driver and ahead of the passenger, are perfectly placed and seem to envelope you in sound: strangely seeming to add to the sense of security, even without doors!
The 'rain apron' accessory which fits in a storage bag on the side of the driver's seat and secures across the drivers lap (and the passenger's feet) with velcro, restricts the legroom for the rear passenger when it is stowed in the bag and, frankly, is a bit of a faff to get out - and even more so to stow away again. We would definitely recommend the doors in the British climate and a 'loose' cover or weatherproof over-trousers.
The scissor-action, Lamborghini-style doors with glazed lower panel afford some extra weather protection and a reassurance in dense traffic, but officially do not add anything to crash worthiness. Being an 'urban compact' (quadricycle) Twizy does not fall under the remit of Euro NCAP testing, but Renault's own in-house front impact testing at 30mph shows
To meet homologation standards and to avoid having to
wear a helmet, the standard 3-point inertia reel
seatbelt (without pretensioner) has to be supplemented
by a second inertia reel strap over the other shoulder
to stop you falling out that side in hard cornering or a
side impact. The passenger also has a 3-point belt but
does not require the additional belt since they are
secured by the vehicle body. Twizy will be the same in
both left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive markets, with
the driver's seat belt upper fixing always on the left
side: meaning that the shoulder strap restricts access
for the passenger on what is the nearside (kerbside) for
us who drive on the left. It's probably not a deal
breaker, on such a narrow vehicle, to expect passengers
to get in and out on what is normally the traffic side.
On the road, the conventional car controls feel so
familiar that it barely feels like a new kind of vehicle
at all... the push button 'gear' selection and the
under-dash handbrake being the least familiar to those
who haven't driven certain Japanese pick-ups with the
same set-up! The 100kg battery sits centrally and low,
beneath the seat giving great road-holding and the
all-round disc brakes, despite being non-assisted and
without ABS, nonetheless give positive braking when you
slam on that pedal. The low centre of gravity
makes it very 'chuckable' and great fun to drive!
Twizy has the best turning circle (6.8m wall-to-wall) of any 4-wheeled road vehicle although using all of this ability means energetic use of the non-assisted steering, although in normal driving the steering is not heavy.
We noticed a slight noise from the motor/electronics which is not present in other production EVs, even similarly 'open' scooters, but the model we were driving in November 2011 was pre-production. This may be lessened when it comes to market in the UK in March 2012. It is far, far quieter than even a four-stroke scooter so we are being a bit picky!
Whilst in continental Europe there will also be a lower-powered 'Twizy 45' denoting a 45 km/h (28 mph) top speed which can be driven by teenagers without a licence - or those who have lost their licence due to driving convictions - the UK will only get the full powered 80 km/h (50 mph) version, called simply 'Twizy.'
Twizy is such a radical and novel vehicle that it's easy to forget that it is also electric! With its attached 3 metre (10 foot) curly cable hidden under the minimalist 'bonnet' at the front (alongside the windscreen washer bottle) and a lower-than-average 2 kW draw, Twizy does not require a dedicated wallbox home charger (although a new charging socket may be required with appropriate earthing, depending whether it will be charged outside or inside of a garage)
The 6 kWh battery gives a range of between 40 and 70
miles (55-115 km) depending on driving style and speed,
but can recharge from empty to 80% in 2.5 hours (16-28
extra miles per hour of charging) and fully in under 3.5
Following Renault's model of 'buy the vehicle, rent
the battery' that applies to all of their EVs, Twizy
comes in only about 10% more expensive to purchase than
a 3-wheeled scooter such as Piaggio's MP3 and avoids the
associated costs such as helmets and protective
motorcycle clothing: Twizy Urban starts at £6,690; Twizy
Colour with roof/dash/seat accents adds £260; Twizy
Technic adds a further £450 for standard alloy wheels
and unique black/white scheme. Doors are £545 extra on
any of the models and are advisable in the UK for all
but 'fair weather' usage, but must be specified at the
time of ordering: they cannot
Battery rental is charged at between £45 and £60 per
month, depending on mileage and contract length. We
estimate about 20-25% on top of that for energy, giving
running costs of about 10-12p/mile, or the equivalent of
about 55-65mpg, or better as fuel prices increase!
As with the other electric models from Renault, the
contracts can be varied to raise or lower annual mileage
allowances, so even a relatively low annual mileage
should not cost disproportionately higher. The
minimum contract mileage is 4,500 miles per annum,
equivalent to just 90 miles per week.
As a safer alternative to a scooter, Renault Twizy
offers comparable performance to a maxi-scooter, is
easier to park than even the smallest of cars (end-on to
the kerb where permissible) and has running costs not
dissimilar to either. Cities are being encouraged to
adopt and support the new vehicles since 3 of them can
park in one normal car space.
Whichever specification (Urban, Colour or Technic) you
choose we strongly recommend opting for the doors, even
if you plan for fair weather only usage, since it will
be far more appealing when it comes to resale - they
cannot be fitted later - and avoid the rain apron
accessory if you want a rear seat passenger to fit
properly. A custom-made 50 litre backpack
accessory which can be secured in the rear seat gives
you a practical 'boot' for shopping or carrying kit,
when driving solo.
Falling outside of the 'car' category it does not
currently qualify for any funding from government such
as the Plug-In Car Grant, but the economics still look
pretty good compared to a larger scooter, especially the
Oh, did we mention that it's also a LOT of fun?!
Renault Twizy will be available from March 2012 from £6,690 inc VAT + battery rental at £45-£60 per month.