Drive Report: Electric Renault Twizy Is Cool, But Hard to Love
Test-driving a car is usually a straightforward exercise. It only takes a few minutes to find out if the car is good or bad, enjoyable or not. Not so with the Renault Twizy, which is a surprise considering how simple it is.
The Renault Twizy is not a car. It's more like a motorbike, although bigger. Riding in a Twizy, it's impossible to sneak in between cars the way motorbike riders do. Not a car and not a bike, the emissions-free Twizy is unlike anything else on the road. But that's not enough to make it attractive, even for green motoring enthusiasts.
Greenies have always seen single drivers in large SUVs as a huge waste of energy, and this is precisely where a small commuter vehicle like the Renault Twizy makes a lot of sense. Using as little energy as possible for moving around is nice, and it makes the little Renault very desirable on a conceptual level. But after driving it 3 times, I wasn't hooked. The Twizy will be great for new drivers, but it asks too much for older ones. Doors are an optional feature, and side windows are unavailable. So it's more like a motorbike than a car. If it's cold outside, driver have to dress up. Sorry, no heater. There isn't even a heated steering wheel. Luckily for me, the weather was fine when I test drove it. The seat is pretty normal, although height is not adjustable. Wearing a helmet isn't required, but fastening the seat belt is. The driver puts his hands on a steering wheel like a regular car—not a handlebar. It's fitted with an airbag. There's a second seat behind the driver's but this is not an enjoyable place. If the driver is taller than his passenger, he will totally block any view forward for the passenger. Let's say the second seat is only there for emergencies, and that we should think of the Twizy as a personal transportation tool.
Starting silently, as all EVs do, the Twizy instantly provides a new driver's experience. Without windows and doors, other vehicles seem incredibly, and dangerously close. From both sides! Without doors, it feels like a motorbike without the wind in your face, and it's even crazier with doors because in a straight line it's possible to drive with both elbows on the door sills. No other vehicle allows that. Driving is very natural, with unassisted steering or brake, but both commands are nicely weighted, so power is unnecessary. Sadly, suspension doesn't deserve as much praise. There is no miracle here. With narrow tracks and a short wheelbase, wheel travel is very limited. The Twizy is not comfortable. Let's say it's harsh but fun. The battery sits very low in the chassis, so stability is never a concern. It might even be fun to drive, if only it had more power.
The motor makes a modest 13 kW (17 hp) and 42 lb-ft of torque. With the Twizy weighing just below 1,000 pounds, accelerating off the line is decent but going on a freeway is totally out of the question. This is a vehicle for city commuting. When going up a steep hill with a passenger behind me, I had the surprise to find my right foot on the floor. This was unexpected driving at city speed, and will condemn the Twizy in mountain areas. Besides, there's also the problem of the thing being so small. The Twizy is 92 inches long and 49 inches wide—not as big as my bed. Those small dimensions are great for parking anywhere, but driving next to some big trucks is uncomfortable. Motorcyclists are not better though, and they don't seem to worry about it. So, it's probably best to think only about the exceptional economy coming from such smallness.
The Twizy has a 6.1 kWh battery. Renault says it's good for driving 60 miles at moderate speeds, but that would be down to 35 miles in hard driving. No wallbox is needed at home—the Twizy comes with a standard plug, the one which fits into any wall socket and, in Europe (with 230V 16A current), recharging time is only 3 hours. No other four-wheel vehicle on the market is as cheap to run. Price starts in France at 6,990 euros ($8,898) but that doesn't include the battery, which commands a 50 euros fee each month ($63).
We hope Renault will sell its EVs with their batteries at some time in the future. In the meantime, Renault has already thought about young customers—those not old enough to drive—as it has conceived of a low-speed version of its Twizy. With limited performance and its small size, in some European countries, it will possible to drive one without a license, at the young age of 14. This may be successful considering that the only other motorized vehicle someone that age can legally drive is a moped. The Renault Twizy is much safer. Parents will see the difference.
The Twizy has several strong features to convince customers, but if Renault is right, it may be something else that will make the Twizy successful: the cool factor. It has to be experienced to be understood, but the Twizy is a fantastic attention-grabber on the road. It is just so different from anything else. It might be even better than a red screaming Ferrari, because a high-end sports car can make people jealous, whereas that little pod only makes people smile. This is an Unidentified Driving Object which doesn't try to show off. Driving one is making a fashion statement. It will please the young, no doubt about that, but it will be harder for older people with years of driving in a large, comfortable sedan with luxurious appointments. Driving the Twizy is a back-to-basics experience. It's cool and fun, and I enjoyed my time driving one, but not enough to want to repeat it every day. If someone could come up with something slightly larger, but significantly more powerful, and more luxurious, with windows and a heater. That could be the real winner.
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