"The electric Renault Twizy city car offers urban drivers something genuinely different – if you can live with its inherent limitations.”
As soon as you see a Renault Twizy in the flesh, you can’t help but smile. It may seem ridiculous but it's most definitely fun. An innovative pure-electric two-seater “quadricycle” (half car/half motorcycle) sits its occupants in tandem – the passenger behind the driver. Looking like a prop from a Star Trek movie, its small dimensions make it perfect for nipping around town – it can go places an ordinary car can’t. Once you embrace its revolutionary take on personal transport, it's enormously enjoyable to drive. You can charge it from your home electricity supply using a normal three-pin plug, with three-and-a-half hours of charging time completely topping up the batteries. A full charge gives a range of between 30 and 50 miles, depending on traffic, average speed, etc. The base model is open to the elements on both sides, but you can add scissor doors (for £545) or zip-on windows (£295) to make it feel more conventional, but on a sunny day in the city, it's a unique experience – feeling like a motor scooter with a roof.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The purchase price is appealing and the Twizy's quirkiness does charm, but it's worth factoring in the monthly battery lease charge of £49 a month, which is subject to a 36-month/6,000 miles per year agreement. This is balanced out somewhat by cheap charging, with a full charging taking around 3.5 hours from a standard three-pin plug. Topping-up from a standard household socket costs around £1, giving you a realistic range of around 40 miles. Renault also claims that the rest of the Twizy's costs are 15 per cent lower than those of a three-wheeled scooter.
Interior & comfort
There's a surprising amount of room in the driver's seat, which slides back and forth on rails. The steering wheel has no adjustment, however, so you may have to sacrifice legroom for control of the super-responsive quadricycle. The rear passenger seat is certainly cramped – but you can see that just by looking at the Twizy. So, you basically get more comfort and protection from the elements than you would with a traditional scooter, but a less than perfect seating arrangement. And let's not forget it's noisy inside, the electric motor does whine a bit at high speeds (above 30mph) and the lack of a heater means you’ll have to wrap warm when travelling in any conditions other than blazing sunshine.
Practicality & boot space
It's never been easier to look at a car and assess its practicality in one glance. In conventional it's not practical, but in context, buzzing around town, it creates a new kind of practicality. It's only 2.34 metres long (a smart fortwo is 2.60 metres) and it's scooter-like dimensions are roughly half the size of a standard city car. It's roof, half-height doors and four wheels give extra protection over your standard scooters. Its turning circle is tiny, so u-turns are easy, but it's a tad too wide to drive between traffic like a bike. Obviously, there's no boot, but the Twizy does have a 31-litre lockable storage cubby underneath the rear seat that is large enough to carry some small bags, a laptop or a modest amount of shopping – it is a bit fiddly to open and close, though, and its piddly lock wouldn’t stop a determined thief from pinching your iPad. There are also two glove compartments, positioned either side of the speedometer, that offer eight more litres of storage. Drivers over six-foot and any passenger will be relatively comfortable over short journeys – unless it's raining of course, when the wisdom of spending the £295 on the soft plastic zip-on windows becomes abundantly clear. You can order an optional booster seat for the back plus a blanket to keep you warm in the winter.
Reliability & safety
As the Twizy's not strictly a car, you don’t have to wear a seatbelt if you don’t want to. This is not something we’d recommend, however, because the same reason means it doesn’t qualify for the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, so we don’t really know how effective its driver's airbag, seatbelt pre-tensioners and deformable crash structure really are. Electric car technology is still quite new and is therefore largely unproven – but at least the Twizy has a battery-lease plan that makes getting hold of replacement power packs really straightforward if anything does go wrong. In terms of general reliability, the rest of the car is so simple that there isn’t much that could actually break. However, do read the small print as the battery lease is subject to annual mileage limits and a minimum term contract. It is covered by Renault's 4+ warranty package, though, which gives four years of roadside recovery and servicing included in the purchase price.
Engines, drive & performance
You only need to look at the Twizy to know it's good fun. You get in, press the Drive button on the dashboard and the 17bhp electric motor powers the rear wheels and you’re off. The whole vehicle only ways 450kg, so its incredibly responsive and will whizz up to its 50mph top speed – more than enough for city driving. The forward and reverse gears are also activated by more large buttons on the dashboard, where a blue digital readout displays the range and speed. The electric motor is basically silent, but there is of course lots of wind noise when you hit 30mph – even the optional windows let sound in thanks to their slats, which lets let in air so that the interior doesn’t steam up. It's got great grip, but the suspension is very firm, so avoid even small bumps and potholes that'll leave you shaking and juddering over the place. In truth, the novelty can wear off pretty quickly if you’re not driving in warm, smooth conditions.
Price, value for money & options
Alas, the Twizy is exempt from the government electric car subsidy because of being classed as a quadricycle. However, it is still much cheaper to buy than most plug-in cars, whether you go for the entry-level Urban model or the “high-spec” Technic. The cost of leasing the batteries (£49 a month) does reduce the fuel savings somewhat but you can rest assured you're doing less damage to the environment. So, it's cheaper than a Smart fortwo electric drive but comes with a load of compromises including a reduced range and limited practicality. What's more, it's more expensive than a scooter, yet lacks the ability to zip between cars and use bus lanes. In fact, if the electric vehicle aspect isn’t of that much interest, a Dacia Sandero is cheaper.