Renault Twizy: Road Test

March 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Let’s get this out of the way first: the all-electric Renault Twizy is not the answer to all your automotive needs. It’s not intended to be the only – and perhaps not even the second – car in your household. It has its limitations, and will suit only a narrow niche of buyers, and the best way to think of it is not as a car at all, but as an alternative to a scooter or moped, maybe, or a road-going quad bike.

Costing from £6,690 in the UK with battery hire from an additional £45 a month, the Twizy is a four-wheeled two-seater with open sides; gullwing-style slide-up doors are optional (£545). It seats two, the passenger slotting in behind the driver, under a solid roof and within a crash-tested safety cell. It is classed as a ‘heavy’ quadricycle (class L7e) and is allowed on motorways (should you really wish); it can only be driven by full licence-holders.  A lower-powered, lighter-weight version capable of only 28mph, and which can be driven by 16 year-olds, may follow in the UK at a later date, however.

The 13kW/17hp model offered first in the UK is capable of 80kph (just under 50mph) and has a maximum range between recharges of 100km (just over 62 miles). So what’s it good for? It has potential as an urban commuting machine, a runaround vehicle on estates or campuses, or for tourist use at resorts and for localised exploring and errands.

But if all this sounds a bit too familiar and NEV (Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle), then it does have one very big unique selling point: it’s got a lot more go than the average golf cart. In fact, it’s an absolute hoot to drive, a point very much in its favour and a good reason why you might well, should you have £7000 or so to spare, find a use for it in your life.

The Twizy’s powertrain is  relatively simple: a single-speed automatic gearbox with just three push-button settings – Drive, Neutral, Reverse – and the 17hp motor, plus regenerative braking to recover some of the energy otherwise lost under deceleration, and a 100kg lithium-ion battery. There’s a car-like conventional steering wheel and two-pedal set-up; no need for power-assisted steering or brake servos – it’s a pure, direct and intuitive interface and though you’ll need to be quite firm with your braking foot, stopping power is perfectly adequate given the speeds you’re likely to be reaching. All four wheels have disc brakes.

The rack-and-pinion steering connects with the MacPherson strut-type suspension, and is well-weighted without being heavy; the tiny 3.4m turning circle is tighter than that of any other four-wheeler, and it feels impressively stable and solid. Though caution is advised on high-speed cornering – no ABS or stability control to come to your rescue – the Twizy is every bit as adept as you’d hope from a vehicle touched by the hands of the Renaultsport team.

Acceleration is quoted as 6.1 seconds 0-28mph and 8.1 seconds 18-37mph, which basically means that you’ve got enough get-up-and-go to pull away fairly briskly, to merge into traffic flow and keep pace in an urban, suburban or country-lane environment. In fact, there’s enough urge for the Twizy to be great fun – the little motor whirrs away, the wind blows your hair, and it’s hard not to raise a smile as the full 57Nm of torque kicks in.

Highway driving will be more of a white-knuckle matter, but you could cope if you’re sensible and realistic about the Twizy’s capabilities, and happy to crawl along in the slow lane. Its range is going to limit your long-distance cross-country travel anyway, of course.

Though the maximum range quoted is 100km (62 miles), Renault is quite upfront about the fact that 70-80km is more realistic in everyday driving even if you’re careful. The range will fall lower yet if you’re heading everywhere flat-out, obviously, but the full 100km is achievable if you learn some eco-driving habits. “It takes some practice”, apparently. The econometer in the dash will tell you how well (or poorly) you’re doing on this score. A full charge takes just 3.5 hours, via a pull-out 3m cord and plug housed in the Twizy’s nose; it can be plugged in to a domestic 220volt power supply.

As a quadricycle, the Twizy doesn’t have to meet the same crash protection standards as a full-scale car, but it should be one of the more solid of its type; it’s been through an extensive crash-testing programme in Renault’s car facilities. The driver has a four-point harness (a conventional three-point seatbelt plus a strap over the other shoulder) and the passenger a three-point belt, and there’s a driver’s airbag to protect in the event of a frontal collision.

The upfront purchase prices do initially appear on the high side for a vehicle of this type – the range-topping Twizy Technic is £7,400 – and as a quadricycle, the Twizy does not qualify for government grants. Battery lease (mandatory, as Renault is not going to sell the batteries outright) starts from £45 a month and can cost up to £67 a month, depending on the lease term and the annual mileage, which also looks like a hefty extra outlay.

However, think about it from a different perspective: buyers don’t have to take any responsibility for the batteries, as all their maintenance is included, and there’s a four-year warranty with free servicing (required annually). So the price is effectively offset in this all-in package – and mitigated further by the typical £1 for a full recharge, free road tax and exemption from the London congestion charge.

As urban congestion and energy prices continue to rise, we’re going to have to look at alternative ways of getting about. The Twizy is the first of a new breed of vehicle which crosses the boundaries between car and scooter and combines some of the best parts of both: it marks a significant step forwards from quadricycles and golf carts previously seen. It’s not going to do the job for everyone, but in the right context, could work very well indeed.

*More detail, more pictures, more facts & figures to come in a full road test feature @ The Charging Point. Thanks to Renault UK for yesterday’s trip.

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