The M3 motorway and the Basingstoke ring road make for unlikely candidates for a list of great driving roads, but last week they played host to one of the most memorable drives of my life. The weather was typically British, i.e. very wet, the skies were decidedly grey and the car I was piloting had a top speed of 50mph. Not the ingredients you'd ordinarily associate with a great drive.
But then this was no ordinary car. It was the Renault Twizy.
Admittedly I'm a little late to the Twizy party. It's as though every other motoring writer in the world has driven the electric two-seater, leaving PetrolBlog with not so much as a scoop, but a huge dollop of sloppy seconds. Not that this matters now, because my brief drive in the Twizy will rank as one of my favourite drives, ever.
Down the years, Renault has been quite the pioneer. It invented the saloon car with the Voiturette Type B. It paved the way for the MPV with the Espace. And in the Renault 11 Electronic, it was the first car to feature a talking dashboard and steering wheel mounted audio controls.
It's too early to predict whether the Twizy represents a defining moment in the history of the automobile, but Renault should take a huge amount of credit for having the courage to launch a car such as this. Innovation needs to be applauded and the result judged on merit. So anyone with a vague interest in cars should give the Twizy a try.
Let's get the facts out of the way first. The Twizy was designed from the ground up to be a 100% electric vehicle, so there are no compromises in the design. It's powered by a 6.1 kWh lithium ion battery pack which feeds the 17hp motor that sits just ahead of the rear wheels. It's rear-wheel drive, with the ride and handling honed by the wizards at Renaultsport. What's more, the electric motor and KERS (Kinetic Engine Recovery System) were developed in conjunction with the Renault F1 team, meaning the Twizy has greater interest to petrolheads than you might think.
The Twizy will accelerate to 30mph in a little over six seconds and will theoretically provide a range of 50 to 60 miles from a full charge, which takes a mere 3.5 hours on a standard domestic charge. It weighs 450kg, is just 2.34m long and has a tiny 3.4m turning circle. Oh, and prices start from £6,690.
Right, facts out of the way. On with the drive.
No sooner had I grabbed the key to the Twizy, the heavens opened. It's all very well launching a car in sunny Ibiza, but for real world reviews, the roads around Basingstoke on a wet and windy October day are where it's at. Entry to the Twizy is through an unconventional but handy for tight spaces scissor door. It's an expensive option at £545, but you suspect an essential one in the UK.
Once inside I spent the first few moments wondering why the Twizy wouldn't start. Turned out I was attempting to start it using the lock for the glovebox, but eventually I did find the right place. You turn the key as you would a conventional car and wait for the Twizy to do some pre-flight checks. Once the word 'GO' has illuminated on the screen, you're free to turn the key again and commence stage two of the launch procedure. Foot pressed firmly down on the brake pedal, wait for the click and then release the handbrake. It's a bit of a faff, but something you'd have to get used to.
Press the accelerator pedal and the Twizy moves away with the characteristic burst of power that you get in electric cars. It's not silent as the motor whirrs away behind you and slippery gravel meant that I achieved some wheel spin from the rear wheels. Not bad for a 17hp quadricycle!
Exiting the car park involved a number of speed ramps, which highlighted the Twizy's firm ride. But it's not uncomfortable and the relative stiffness provides some reassurance once out on the open road. The unassisted steering is direct and precise which, when combined with the fact that you can actually see where the front wheels are pointed, delivers a surprisingly good driving experience. There's a sizeable amount of understeer if you corner too quickly, but the feedback you get from the car is something lacking from the vast majority of modern cars. The unassisted brakes can feel a little inadequate at higher speeds, but are perfectly acceptable for city driving.
My test route took the Twizy out of its natural habitat, using the A33 to Basingstoke, a five mile stretch of the M3 and some B-roads back to base camp. I can honestly say that, despite the relentless rain, I don't think I stopped smiling for the entire route.
The Twizy zips up to 30mph with ease, before struggling slightly to get to 50mph. But once at top speed, the Twizy feels stable and surefooted. For sure, the lack of heater means you're constantly cold (my hands were blue by the end of the drive), but had I been prepared, I could have avoided this situation. There's also a great deal of noise, something that wasn't helped by the sheer amount of water lying on the drenched roads of Hampshire. But put fears of getting wet out of the window because I, along with my bags on the rear seat, stayed completely dry throughout the drive. Yes, the inside of the doors were wet, but even my phone that was sat in one of the optional luggage nets next to the door, stayed dry.
The M3 motorway was enlightening. Seeing lorries approach from behind is a nerve wracking experience, perhaps reminiscent of the chap from Duel who's engaged with a battle of cat and mouse with the tanker driver. Once they overtake, a glance over your right shoulder highlights just how close to the lorry wheels you're sitting, with the lack of windows bringing this fact rather close to home. Stones and debris thrown up by other vehicles clatter against the tiny Twizy and the wipers struggle to keep up with the rain that continues to pour down. But there's nothing like some exposure to the elements to highlight just important it is to concentrate on the task at hand - that of driving.
Use of a mobile phone would be fruitless at high speeds, rendering the optional Parrot Bluetooth hands-free kit useless. There are no gadgets or gizmos to distract your attention, it's essentially just a steering wheel, an indicator and lights stalk, a windscreen wiper stalk and a couple of buttons to go forwards and backwards. Genius. I suspect that there'd be fewer accidents caused by distracted drivers if we were all pootling about in Renault Twizys. Or should that be Twizies?
By the time I got back from my 20 mile trip, the estimated range had fallen dramatically from fully charged to 27 miles, but then I was flat out for the majority of time, including an estimated 52mph for the entire time I was on the M3. If I had thrown in some low speed driving and made use of the braking/deceleration energy recovery system, I suspect the range figure would be much higher.
Whether the £6,990 price tag as a relative bargain or an extravagant waste of money is a matter of opinion. Critics will point to the fact that it's perfectly possible to get a ‘normal’ city car for a similar amount of cash. In fact, Renault may face an enemy from within with the news that the Dacia Sandero is going to cost a jaw dropping £5,995 when it goes on sale in the UK. But you can't really think of the Twizy as rival to normal cars. As a realistic ownership proposition, it will either appeal to you, or it won't.
Proponents against the Twizy may also point to the fact that opting for the top spec Twizy Technic and having some fun with the options boxes will increase the price to £8.870. And yes, at that price, the appeal starts to wear off. But I honestly can't see you needing anything other than the basic Urban spec with the scissor doors. Yours for £7,235 plus the cost of battery rental, ranging from £45 to £67 per month, depending on terms.
Fact is, most of the city cars I see have one, perhaps two people in at any given time. So if you tend to travel alone and your journey to and from work fits with the Twizy's range, it makes for a hugely appealing, surprisingly good fun and refreshing break from the norm. Just one bit of advice, if you live near a pub and see yourself leaving a Twizy by the side of the road, tick the anti-lift alarm. It might be the best £170 you've ever spent.
The Twizy may not represent the pinnacle of driving excellence or the exhilaration of crossing the Alps in a two-seater convertible. But this tiny two-seat electric car made a damp drive on the Basingstoke ring road a uniquely enjoyable experience. And for that reason, I will forever remember it as one of my great drives. Thank you, Renault Twizy.
Renault Twizy Urban
- Pint of Milk: A left-field choice perhaps, but the Twizy could make a case for being the ideal pint of milk car: 7
- Filling station forecourt: A tough one, as the petrol station isn't its natural habitat. But it will get noticed: 6
- Exclusivity: Destined to be a rare sight in the UK, especially away from the main cities: 7
- Is it worth it?: A highly subjective opinion, but if it fits your lifestyle, then yes it is: 7
- PetrolBloggyness: An electric hero? Not quite, but a hugely appealing little car: 7
- Total for the Renault Twizy Urban: 68/100
Full details of the scoring can be found here.
Apologies for the poor quality photos. It was too wet to stand still for any length of time!