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Review

First Drive: Renault Twizy car review

29/03/12

WHATEVER you’re thinking, hold it right there. Here’s a car that’s very easy to misjudge because it’s not a car at all – it’s a cross between an electric quad bike and a scooter.

It’s also more fun than a day out on Bill Gates’ expense account, so bear with me while I give you a flavour of why maybe, just maybe, the Twizy might be the best four-wheeler the city has ever seen.

It’s laid out like a motorbike with a linear 1+1 seat setup. The rear passenger’s legs go either side of the driver and front seat. Admittedly that means short skirts are a bad idea, but it means the Twizy can be just 1.4 metres wide and still shorter than a Smart. If you take the wing mirrors off it’s only as wide as a Honda GoldWing motorbike!

The Twizy we’re getting in the UK, available in three trim levels, is the higher-powered of the two models Renault is making. With a whopping 17 horsepower it’s not going to leave your pants smouldering but it’s actually pretty nippy. It covers 50 metres of ground from a standstill in 6.5 seconds, which is plenty for nipping around town in fast-paced traffic.

It actually surprises a few people with how quickly it builds up speed, fairly quickly maxing out at a heady 51mph or so – depending on how heavy you are and how steep the hill you’re on is. But for all its relative lack of speed, the Twizy is fantastic, fantastic fun.

It combines the charm of the underdog with brilliant French madness. Remember the original Citroen DS, where the brake pedal was actually just a button on the floor? The Twizy has the same sort of eccentricity that just makes you grin like an idiot practically the whole time you’re in it. It’s a Peel P50 for the 21st Century.

You can (attempt to) thrash it mercilessly around and enjoy the surprisingly involving experience behind the wheel thanks to open sides (the doors are optional – no, really), the low centre of gravity and the general lack of electronic assistance. The non-power-assisted brakes need a good old stamp to get them to work well but they stop the Twizy on a sixpence when the occasion calls for it.

But all this puts you right in touch with the surroundings. You have a much keener sense of what the weather and the road surface are like, how much grip there is and so on. For young drivers that extra depth of training and experience is priceless – not as effective as riding a motorbike but much better than being detached from everything in a typical hatchback. I can see the Twizy being popular with parents looking for an alternative to a motorbike for their children.

Safety isn’t actually a particular worry. The chassis and safety cell were designed by Renaultsport (three cheers) and mimic a motorcycle helmet. Specially developed chassis members distribute a lot of impact force right throughout the framework to decrease the amount that reaches the driver, who also gets a proper airbag and a four-point seat belt for a very secure feel.

One of the obvious initial question marks is over security – those open sides again. The reality is that bikes are completely open and they don’t tend to get vandalised or stolen if they’re locked up. A steering lock is a good idea to put potential thieves off but otherwise it’s tough to justify any concerns.

There’s a maximum range of about 50 miles with careful use in most conditions, which is more than almost all the young target buyers will drive in a day. Alright, so long road trips are off the agenda but a lot of parents might breathe a sigh of relief at that. Recharge time is only three and a half hours, so even if it’s completely flat it’ll be fully recharged after a meal and a film.

In terms of storage there are two small glove boxes on the dashboard, one of which is lockable, and a slightly bigger boot that slides out of the back. You can also get a larger bag that sits on the passenger seat, fixes into place and can hold quite a lot of stuff. The Twizy is ultimately as practical as you’re determined to make it.

That goes for clothing, too. A warm coat and a hat will be musts in Britain much of the time but you’re still in an easier position than fully kitted-out bikers. The secret to really clicking with the Twizy is to remember it’s not a car. It’s a supremely good fun electric urban biffabout that’s incredibly easy to drive, a doddle to park and cheap as chips to own. I love it, and if you can’t ride motorbikes there’s surely no better way to get around a city.

FACTS AT A GLANCE: Model: Renault Twizy, £6,690 on the road.

Engine: Electric motor producing 17bhp and 42lb.ft.

Performance: Top speed 51mph Transmission: Single gear reducer-type transmission driving the rear wheels.

Fuel economy: n/a, approx 50 miles per approx £1 recharge.

CO2 rating: 0g/km.

  • Engineselectric
  • Power3 (average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups
  • Airbags
  • Seats2

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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