"The electric Renault Twizy city car offers urban drivers something genuinely different – if you can live with its inherent limitations.”
The pure-electric Renault Twizy is a revolution in personal transport. This futuristically styled car has space for two, sitting in tandem, and its small size means it's perfect for town. It's charged via your home supply: 3.5 hours will see it completely topped up, at a cost of around £1, depending on your supplier. This allows a claimed range of 35-50 miles, depending on traffic. Although the open-air styling is an acquired taste (zip-on windows are a £295 optional extra only), the innovative Twizy makes more sense if you think of it as a motor scooter with a roof.
The Renault Twizy is fun. Its 17bhp electric motor drives the rear wheels only and is very responsive, given the car only weighs 450kg. The Twizy can reach up to 50mph – which is plenty for city driving. Forward and reverse gears are selected with large buttons on the dash and a blue digital readout displays speed and range. Although the motor is silent, the open sides mean there's a lot of wind noise above 30mph (even the optional windows have slats to let air in so that the heater-less cabin doesn't steam up) and the firm suspension shakes and judders over even small bumps and potholes.
The driving position is roomy and the seat slides back and forth on rails, but the steering wheel is fixed in place and rear passengers feel cramped. The Twizy certainly offers greater comfort and protection from the elements than a traditional scooter, which may go some way to luring two-wheeled riders on to four wheels. And because of the lack of a heater, you’ll need to wrap up warm when travelling in anything other than hot sunshine.
The Twizy's battery technology is an unknown quantity, but at least the battery-lease plan means obtaining replacement power packs won’t be a problem should anything go wrong. The rest of the car is so simple, there isn’t much that could break – but check the small print: the lease is subject to annual mileage limits and a minimum term. Also, you don’t get the crash protection of a conventional car, although the Renault does boast a deformable crash structure.
Measuring only 2.34 metres long (a Smart ForTwo is 2.69 metres long), the Renault Twizy has scooter-like attributes that make it great for buzzing around town, but with the added protection of half-height doors (optional), a roof and four wheels. A lockable 31-litre cubby underneath the rear seat is only large enough to carry small bags and a laptop, or a modest amount of shopping. Two glove boxes, either side of the speedo, add eight litres to the storage space. Six-foot drivers and passengers will be comfortable on short journeys, but that changes in cold, wet weather, when you'll wish you spent the £295 on the zip-on windows.
Value for money
Buyers of electric cars benefit from a government subsidy to ease the impact of high prices, but as the Twizy is classed as a quadricycle, it's excluded from the deal. Nevertheless, it's much cheaper than most plug-in cars, in either base Urban or high-spec Technic form, but the cost of leasing batteries reduces your fuel savings. The Twizy is cheaper than the smart fortwo, but offers a more compromised driving experience. It's also a lot more expensive than a scooter, yet lacks the two-wheeler's traffic-busting benefits.
While the purchase price is appealing, buyers should also factor in the monthly battery lease charge of around £40. This is offset by cheap charging: a full 3.5-hour top-up from a household socket should cost around £1 and will take you 35-50 miles. Renault claims the Twizy's other running costs are 15 per cent lower than those of a three-wheeled scooter.