The Twizy is easily the most unusual car weve tested so far on carwow, and likely the most unusual well test for quite some time to come.
Designed as an urban electric vehicle, it has very little of what traditionally makes a car a car, and indeed its classified as a heavy quadricycle under European law. Its also powered by electricity, makes the smart fortwo seem needlessly large, and is more fun to drive than most cars ten times the price.
However, it also needs to work as a usable vehicle - so has Renault created a new transportation revolution as it did with the Espace and Scenic, or is the Twizy another flawed gem like the Avantime and Vel Satis?
You can make your own mind up on the Twizys styling - perhaps more than any other vehicle, opinion will be divided.
What you cant say is that its dull. It turns heads like no car weve ever driven, and we got a more positive reaction from a more diverse range of people than any other vehicle weve tested. Kids were uncontrollably giddy with excitement on seeing it, it raised a friendly smile from everyone else, and if wed known any Spanish, then we could have answered the questions of dozens of people who came to take a closer look.
At 1.24 metres wide its 32 cm narrower than a smart fortwo and only half a metre wider than the three-wheeled Piaggio MP3 scooter. The wheels are mounted outboard of the body, which not only reduces the amount of bodywork needed - and therefore weight - but also allows you to see all four from the cabin, for unrivalled manoeuvrability.
In side profile, the main passenger cell doesnt look dissimilar to that of the smart, because its a particularly safe shape for small vehicles, spreading accident load around the passengers, rather than through the car. At the front youll find a charging door, and the back is dominated by a large, central light bar.
The word interior is relative on the Twizy, because with only half-doors at the most, theres no distinct join between outside and inside. Ignore the option box for the half-doors, and youll get an open-air feeling like few other vehicles.
Thats not to say its not a nice place to spend time, however. Firstly, youll be struck by the uniqueness of the central driving position. If you have a passenger, they sit directly behind, legs either side of the drivers seat. The view out the front is excellent, and visibility is fantastic in all directions save for directly behind, as theres no rear window. However, the blind spot is so small we didnt find it an issue.
The seat is adjustable fore and aft, but theres no adjustment in the wheel, and no height adjustment for the seat. We found it comfortable regardless, despite the thinly-padded plastic seat. All controls - and there are only a few - fall easily to hand.
Storage space is less impressive. There are two cubbies on the dash, one of which is lockable, but both are fairly small. Theres another storage area behind the rear seatback, also lockable, but the aperture is narrow and its very deep, so you could lose small items at the bottom. We also found it got a bit dusty inside, which suggests that water might find its way in too on wet days. Even so, theres more storage than youd find in most scooters, if not as much as youd get in the larger smart fortwo.
Protection from the elements may dictate the Twizys sales success. Well put it this way - theyll sell more in the south of France than they will in the north of Scotland. Protection from the wind is decent, and although it gets blustery at speed you wont be battered by the elements too much. That includes rain, which shouldnt be a problem unless youre at a standstill and the wind is gusting in from the side. Wed certainly recommend wrapping up warm if the outside temperature is any less than about 15 degrees Celsius, though
The Twizy - and we cant understate this - is a fabulous little thing to drive. Much of that can be attributed to three factors.
Firstly, it weighs very little - under 400kg, or about half that of a smart. That means it doesnt need power steering, nor does it need power assistance for the all-round disc brakes, and as a result, the feel and feedback from both is excellent. Theres no ABS, but you can brake pretty hard with utter confidence.
The second factor is the electric drivetrain. Its mounted very low in the chassis, which keeps the centre of gravity low. This makes the car far more stable than its high roofline and narrow track suggest, and you can throw the Twizy into corners with gleeful abandon, without it biting back. The narrow front tyres mean that understeer sets in long before youd get into trouble anyway, but the precise, feelsome steering ensures you always know exactly how much grip you have left.
The third factor, as Renault was keen to point out, is that the Twizys chassis was developed by RenaultSport. If the excellent work on the Clio and Megane wasnt enough to convince you that RenaultSports engineers are genial, then a drive on the twisty roads of Ibiza should confirm it.
Its also incredibly easy to drive. You twist the key to turn it on, release the dash-mounted handbrake, then select either drive or reverse from the two dashboard buttons. Pressing both together selects neutral. Then you simply go, stop, or turn. No vehicle is simpler to operate.
Downsides? Wed heard the ride was too hard. It isnt - its certainly firm, but youd have to really abuse the car over rough ground to find a scenario in which its genuinely uncomfortable. Its certainly no worse than the smart fortwo, and we found the Twizy small enough to simply avoid road imperfections without straying out of the lane.
The Twizy doesnt actually have an engine in the traditional sense, because its an electric vehicle. What you get instead is a 17 horsepower electric motor, with power supplied by a 6.1 kilowatt-hour, lithium-ion battery pack. A full charge from absolutely zero capacity, takes around 3.5 hours and costs around 1 at current energy prices.
In a car as light and small as the Twizy, thats enough for a 62 mile range. 62 miles doesnt sound like a lot, but for a car designed exclusively for city use, thats potentially a week or more of driving.
The Twizy is by no means a fast vehicle - top speed is limited to 50 mph - but initial acceleration is usefully brisk, and Renault claims its on-par with a 125cc scooter. Its enough to catch the drivers of regular cars napping at a traffic light, thats for sure. Itll also fly up hills with reasonable vigour, though if things get really steep performance does suffer a little.
Some may find the whine of the electric motor a little off-putting, but we didnt mind it. Mainly because it sounds quite futuristic, but also because its a degree of audible feedback as to how much youre working the motor - a bit like youd have with a regular engine.
As with many electric vehicles, the Twizy employs regenerative braking. When you lift off the accelerator, the motor becomes a generator and tops up the battery, so the stop-start of city traffic is actually beneficial for your range.
With merciless thrashing, wed predict real-world range of 40-45 miles, and likely lower in winter. In a normal electric car this would be pitiful, but in a car essentially limited to city driving, forty miles isnt too bad. If you drive more sedately, we could see the official 62-mile estimate being achievable in the warmer months.
Value for money
The Twizy is comfortably the cheapest electric car on sale from a big manufacturer. The base-spec Urban starts at 6,690 on-the-road (otr), rising to 7,400 for the top-spec Technic.
We drove two Twizys - a mid-spec Colour (6,950 otr) and a Technic. Colour models are essentially similar to the Urban models, but as the name suggests, offer an extra splash of colour on the inside and exterior panels. Technic models add Diamond gloss-black alloy wheels, metallic paint and a carbon-fibre-effect Technic wrap inside and out.
The cars we drove also had the following options:
Scissor doors (545) - Basically essential for the UK, we reckon. They offer a bit more protection from the elements, but with clear panels you can still see each of the wheels for those tight manoeuvres.
Clear sky roof (195) - Most Twizys have a solid, textured roof panel. This option swaps that for UV-filtering glass. It looks and feels good from the inside, but its not exactly essential.
Options aside, the only other major costs are that of battery rental. To save you from worrying about battery longevity, you rent it rather than buy it with the car. Prices start from 45 a month on a 4,500-mile, 36 month-plus contract, to 67 per month if you only want to own the car for a year, and intend to do 9,000 miles or more.
Those prices seem high, until you realise its still cheaper than filling up the tank on a normal car each month. 4,500 miles a year in a 9,395 smart fortwo pulse mhd would currently cost an identical 45 per month in fuel, provided you could match the smarts 54.3mpg urban figure - and provided fuel prices stay the same, which is unlikely.
At 4,500 miles per year, youd also only pay between 70-80 a year in electricity for the Renault. Youd get a lot of Twizy charging before matching the smarts on-the-road price. Like the basic smart, the Twizy is congestion charge exempt, and road tax-free.
We do have one concern about Twizy running costs, however - it sits in insurance group 10. The smart fortwo mhd is only insurance group 2E, and Volkswagens four-seat up!, a car we recently rated very highly indeed, is only group 1E. The Twizys quadricycle status and lack of proper doors counts against it here.
We loved the Twizy. We loved the way it looks, the way the engineers clearly had a brief to make it great fun to drive, and the way its the complete antithesis of the boring electric car image.
However, its not perfect. Some will find the lack of proper doors unforgivable, and its certainly a vehicle more suited to warmer climates, though we suspect you could happily drive it most of the year round in the UK as long as you dressed for the weather.
The purchase price is also ever so slightly too close to some proper cars, like the excellent VW up! - and cars like the up! and fortwo also come pretty close to offering similarly-low running costs, when the Twizys battery rental is taken into account. This does depend on fuel prices never going up, however
Still, the Twizy is simply too good a vehicle to award it anything less than the score weve given it, and we look forward to seeing whether Renault can deliver on the Twizys promise in terms of sales.
What the press think
Early reviews suggest the Twizy has been well-received in the press. Like weve discovered, many reviews raise the same sort of concerns, but they also praise the way it drives and its unique approach to the future of transportation. We think criticism of the cars ride quality is a little unfair, though.