Driving the Renault Twizy: Fun Way Beyond Function

If you have any difficulty in justifying a car which is essentially a giantized power-wheels which a grow adult can only just about fit inside, then a Renault Twizy really isn’t the car for you.
I had been eager to try one of these ever since my first encounter with one in London, where I saw a soberly dressed city gent startling the cyclists with one on a rainy rush hour. Not soon after that an example appeared on a used car forecourt close to where I live. I didn’t ask to drive it lest I accidentally bought it.
Then I would have been in serious trouble. We have a fleet of three cars at home. She has a twenty five mile round trip for work every day so she has her small, economical Peugeot, and I work from home so naturally I need two cars with big, thirsty engines. We live in rural surroundings, traffic is sparse and our local train station is a ten minute walk away. We have little need for a lightweight electric buggy with a 56 mile range.

Naturally I desperately wanted one. It just looked absolutely hilarious to punt about the place, accompanied by no noise other than the scrub of the tarmac and the rush of the wind. Fortunately, time spent away from London and the relentless daily grind saw thoughts of the Twizy gradually fade from my mind.
“I’d like to take the Twizy out please” I said to the Renault PR girl, immediately realising my folly. She was only too pleased to hand me the key and soon I was the custodian of a jauntily Renault Sport liveried Renault Twizy, with Millbrook’s “city route” on hand to put it through its paces.
When designing the Twizy Renault could have chosen any shape they liked. There was no established precedent to work to, no box-of-bits to conform with. So I’m glad that they ended up with a wheeled version of E.T the Extra Terrestrial being assimilated by a giant space egg. It’s entirely appropriate that the Twizy looks so curious, and thoroughly in keeping with Renault’s penchant for fiercely individual styling.
In case the appearance of the thing alone doesn’t attract enough attention, there are scissor doors, too. They’re not motorised, a shame because having them swing open by remote control would be a hell of a flourish, especially if joined by a smoke generator and neon lighting for use after dark. Actually I suspect that the doors are not strictly necessary at all aside from offering a marginal degree of shelter for your lower region.
With the darkened perspex lower door section, from ankle to knee you’re in plain view. Your upper torso is open to attack from wind and rain. There is a weather protection kit available, but it’s a bit of a token gesture really and akin to pitching your tent facing into the wind and leaving the door open. I didn’t need it today, anyway. The weather was clement and fun-inspiring.
You can actually fit a second person in a tandem seat, but anybody back there is forced to assume a position which is so compromising that it’s probably in direct contravention of several human rights regulations and rules of public decency. Furthermore they are prone to receipt of any wind, rain or gravel that hasn’t yet been intercepted by the driver. Best use that rear area as somewhere to store waterproof luggage, unless you want to car-share with somebody you despise.
The adjustable seat is of hard black plastic and reminded me of waiting for a bus, which is presumably what you do when the battery fails. The driving position approaches that of a car, yet also somehow reminds me of a jet-ski. Ahead of you is a digital display for speed and range, together with a single column stalk for indicators and headlamps. There are three other buttons- D for drive, R for reverse and, prominently mounted, the hazard warning light switch for when you can’t achieve either of the above.
There’s a mechanically acting handbrake to the left, pull and twist to disengage, then flex your right foot to go. The accelerator pedal is curiously insensitive by the standards of your normal car, but you quickly realise that that’s by design. You have to give it a very deliberate shove depending on just how quickly you want it to take off. I only wanted to pull cleanly and safely away and I mercifully achieved that without looking stupid.
Exercise less delicacy, though, and the Twizy can be made to leap forward like a mildly warmed cat, with an electric scream like a milk-float as voiced by The Chipmunks. There’s plenty of that feel that electric cars give of having maximum grunt available at all times, and certainly enough motivation to not get in the way of urban traffic.
Going is definitely not a problem, but there are aspects that merit criticism if we’re to judge the Twizy by the standards of, say, a CAR. Firstly, there’s the ride. The suspension itself is probably perfectly good, and is quite an elegant and nicely engineered looking setup. The difficulty is that it’s all assembled to a frame which you can feel flexing and bucking and writhing with every bump in the road, any change in steering input and and variation in wind direction. It’s here that the Power Wheels analogy becomes all the more real- I have little doubt that little Molly’s Barbie Suzuki would behave exactly the same way with a 17hp motor shoved up its arse.
The steering is probably the most direct I’ve experienced this side of a Go-Kart, for obvious reasons. It, too shimmies with a rich feed of information as the front tyres merrily skip along the pavement, but all the feedback in the world can’t make up for the fact that grip is decidedly finite in extremis.
But when is this car ever going to be driven in extremis? Give this to a city gent and he’ll gleefully toddle around urban streets caring onlt that he doesn’t get trampled by buses. Give this to a curious journalist on a jolly to a press event and he’ll naturally jump behind the wheel and treat it like a Caterham.
Don’t do this. If you do the front tyres will quickly remind you of your idiocy and shortcomings as a human being. They release their grip with immediacy, abandoning their contract without prior warning, and it’s entirely your own fault for asking them to work beyond their remit.
The same is true of the hydraulic disc brakes, which offer the same disappointment as those on my mountain bike which I thought would be fantastic but must be set up really badly and offer none of the abrupt, digital stopping power I was hoping for. There’s not a huge amount of inertia to overcome here, the whole plot weighing 474kg, so I would have thought that scrubbing off accrued velocity would be an easy mission.
Technically none of this matters because this isn’t a car. This is billed as an alternative urban vehicle, something better than bus or train. If a pogo stick could have been made practical you could bet that Renault would have done that instead.
It’s difficult to imagine a Renault Twizy owner who wouldn’t defend it to the hilt. Buying a £6,895, single (I insist) seat electric car isn’t a decision to take lightly. Those scissor doors are another £545, the alloy wheels are £300, the clear roof panel (with UV filter to protect that pesky bald patch) is a further £195. The optional features added to my test specimen swelled the price to £7,935. You could buy a CAR for that.
And that’s forgetting the ongoing charge for battery hire, which starts at £55 per month if you promise to cover no more than 4,500 miles per year.
Arguably the alternative nature of the Twizy means that none of this really matters. People will not be cross-shopping this against a Suzuki Celerio or even any other electric car. The Twizy is that individual in what it sets out to be; namely as minimal a motoring experience as is possible without having a car at all, and in that it succeeds.
No doubt a great many of these are being enjoyed by employees of high-profile urban businesses who want to drum their message of environmental responsibility into us as we walk down the street. Undoubtedly they will have selected Renault’s “Do your own thing” body wrap (price on application) by which to festoon the Twizy with their corporate message.
This means the Twizy will end up being bought by the wrong people and its moral mission will have been compromised. Your man in the South of France who uses his to dash between yacht and restaurant will have bought a Twizy for reasons of novelty. He won’t have bought it instead of a regular car, but I suppose it will have at least provided a transport solution. But there will be a large proportion of similarly wealthy buyers who have no actual need for it whatsoever aside from the desire for a grown up Power Wheels.
Which, as I said earlier, it does a rather good job of being.
(All images Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2016. With thanks to Renault UK for the use of their toy car)

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  1. CraigSu Avatar

    This thing is beggin’ for a ‘busa just for the further insanity of it all. Also, 3-lug wheels!

  2. JayP Avatar

    They got the “fill the fenders” down.

    1. karonetwentyc Avatar

      No wheelgap, bro.

  3. karonetwentyc Avatar

    Fun bit of trivia: this is the most-recently built Renault that can legally be purchased new in the US, though there are no Renault dealers selling them. Canada’s had the Kangoo EV as an option for a bit longer.
    When we were still living in L.A. there were a few Twizys running around that had been bought by hardcore EV types. I noticed that they were generally seen on the roads and in their usual parking spaces until about a month or so into the Summer, at which point the 100-degree-plus temperatures and the Twizy’s lack of air-con resulted in a glut of them available locally on Craigslist and eBay.

  4. Tanshanomi Avatar

    You can actually fit a second person in a tandem seat, but anybody back there is forced to assume a position which is so compromising that it’s probably in direct contravention of several human rights regulations and rules of public decency.”
    …so, in other words, exactly like a Carver.

  5. Tanshanomi Avatar

    Reading your review, all I could think is that I would love to see somebody come out with a chassis brace kit for this. Unfortunately, I can’t for the life of me imagine where it should go, or what the heck it would bolt to.

    1. Monkey10is Avatar

      …or which other components would then break as the stresses are transferred into them?
      Presumably, in these days where the flexural strength of a composite shell like the Twizy’s can be computer modelled long before production, the body flex is a deliberate design response to absorbing road forces. In the days when car manufacturers vie with each other to demonstrate ever-stiffer bodyshells (or tubs) this approach seems to be part of the refreshingly ‘not a car’ approach Renault have taken here.
      Probably the flex and shake is also made much more obvious than in most vehicles because the seat is essentially part of the composite shell rather than a separate component bolted into/onto it?

  6. Ross Ballot Avatar
    Ross Ballot

    It’s like a full-sized Cozy Coupe…