KNOW what the big problem with a lot of electric cars is? They’re too car-like. That might sound odd but if it looks like a car, seats five like a car and drives like a car, then surely it is a car. And we expect our cars to do the weekly shop, take the kids to school, visit the in-laws on the coast at the weekend. That last assignment is where the problem lies. You don’t have the range, and that can only lead to disappointment.
Alternatively you could buy something like this Renault Twizy. It doesn’t look like any car I’ve ever driven and, as a result, it doesn’t get judged, consciously or otherwise, on car-based criteria. As a result, it’s a lot easier to like than most boring electric vehicles, especially in the mid-range Colour trim I tried.
Renault isn’t positioning the Twizy as a solution for the one-vehicle household. It freely admits it’s too compromised for that. But, as urban transport, does it make more sense than a conventional city car like a Twingo? Or indeed a scooter?
Let’s nip another preconception in the bud. Tall and narrow cars have an inconvenient tendency to fall over if you get a bit enthusiastic with the steering wheel, yeah? Not in the Twizy’s case. Why? While the Twizy weighs just 475kg, 100kg of that is accounted for by a lithium-ion battery pack that skims along a few inches above the road surface.
There are three specs available – basic Urban, mid-range Colour and top Technic – but the differences between them aren’t great, and motive power is the same. There isn’t much of it. Floor the throttle and it’ll whine its way to about 50mph. You soon learn that inclines are your enemies and tailwinds are your friends, but there’s the constant nag in the back of your head that mashing the throttle pedal to the floor probably isn’t the greenest way to be making progress.
There’s no traction control or ESP stability control fitted and in the wet you can overcome the grip afforded by the tiny 125/80 13in front tyres if you really try. It’s rear wheel drive and has a respectable slug of torque so bear that in mind if you’re accelerating away on a gravel track. It’s entirely possible to pebble dash a family sitting at a picnic table if you’re a bit heavy on the throttle pedal.
With its wheels flung out at each corner, its two seats in tandem, and the ovoid passenger cell nestled into the chassis, the Twizy is resolutely unconventional. It’s not trying to convince buyers that it’s remotely car-like and I quite like that.
Getting in is relatively straightforward. This one’s got the optional flip-up doors fitted and they’re almost fingertip light on their gas struts. Once behind the wheel there’s an odd arrangement of twin seat belts to contend with. The first is a normal diagonal inertia reel belt, while the second loops over your right arm. At first you think you’ll feel trussed up like a Christmas turkey but after a while you stop noticing them.
The fascia is straightforward, and to start the car you turn the ignition key in its slot to be greeted by the sound of, well, nothing. Press the “D” for drive button on the left side of the steering column and it will give an apologetic bleep. Release the rather awkwardly located handbrake under the fascia and then prod the throttle to see if it’ll creep forwards. Et voila.
There’s decent front headroom and plenty of fore and aft adjustment on the front seat, but the steering wheel is fixed in place, as is the rear seat. The rear passenger sits with legs splayed around rather than behind the front seat. It can be a bit of a limbo getting in and out but there’s plenty of space back there.
Assessing the Twizy’s value proposition is tough. After all, what are you to compare it with? Prices start from just under £7,000 and you’ll pay close to that figure for the mid-range Colour variant that I tried. This version builds upon the standard spec with “Snowflake white” wheel trims and floor mats. Doors are still optional (!), and you’ll also need to pay more for gear such as alloy wheels and metallic paint. Don’t get into that though before discussing the extra-cost battery lease with your dealer: no, the battery isn’t included in the asking price.
All Twizys do come as standard with a three-metre charging cable, a battery gauge and range indicator, an engine immobiliser, waterproof seat coverings and a lateral wind deflector. The modest options list also includes that most useful of accessories, a blanket to prevent hypothermia on a cold January morning. And there’s a Parrot Bluetooth kit so that you can natter on your phone as you drive.
Safety gear includes a driver’s airbag, the four-point seat belt system and an anti-submarining front seat design. Remember that there are no anti-lock brakes or stability control systems available for the Twizy, so be a little bit circumspect when it’s slippery outside.
As for cost of ownership, the range you’ll get out of it will depend on your driving style and the electricity bills will depend on how cost-effective your supplier is. Say you drive the thing in a heroically eco manner and manage 40 miles on one charge. Best case scenario is that this would cost you around £11 per month on a typical UK electricity tariff. A typical city car, by contrast, would cost you about £115 in fuel for those 40 miles per day.
But fuel bills aren’t the big cost. You’ve also to separately lease the battery, which will cost between £48 and £67 per month dependent on contract. So that running cost steps up to around £60-75 per month – still about half that of the city car. If the battery goes wrong or starts to lose charge, Renault will replace it – it’s their problem, not yours. There’s an 18,000-mile or one-year service interval and a four year/100,000-mile warranty and servicing deal that also includes roadside assistance.
Unlike many electric vehicles, the most refreshing thing about the Renault Twizy is that it doesn’t promise what it can’t deliver. It’s an unashamedly urban vehicle that sticks to its task very well. If you do live in town and have a predictable commute that public transport doesn’t really cover, and you don’t fancy getting knocked off a scooter every other month, take a look at the Twizy. It’s not expensive, it’s enormously good fun and it’s something a bit different. Just don’t call it a car.
VEHICLE Renault Twizy Colour
PRICE £6,950 + monthly battery hire fee (£45-£67)
PERFORMANCE Max speed 50mph; 0-60mph N/A
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