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Renault Twizy Urban

Click to view picture gallery“Part of the fun of buying a new car
  is ticking the options list
but
 
when those extras include doors,
 
a waterproof blanket and a luggage
  bag, you know this is going to
  become a journey of discovery,
  one that also includes refreshing
  your memory for hand-signals
...”

WELCOME TO THE BRAVE NEW zero-emissions world of Renault's electric-powered Twizy. As one of the founding companies of the automobile (company founder Louis Renault's Voiturette went into production in 1898) Renault has enormous experience, and it has been among the first to create the modern electric vehicle and given it a distinctly French flamboyance.

With a more conventional car — the Fluence — as well as a small van in its EV line-up, and another small hatchback on its way, Renault is not only embracing electric vehicles but also ensuring it has something for everyone.

And in the case of the all-electric Twizy, that would definitely be younger-at-heart buyers. Around 250 Twizys have already been sold in the UK and a less powerful model for 16-year-olds will be sold in Britain next year.

“Twizy is halfway
between a car and
a motorcycle:
a quadracycle in design,
with four small wheels
and a central
passenger cabin in which
the driver and sole
passenger
travel pillion-style
...”
Twizy is halfway between a car and a motorcycle: a quadracycle in design, with four small wheels and a central passenger cabin in which the driver and sole passenger travel pillion-style.

There are Urban, Colour and Technic trim levels — but that simply translates into basic, coloured or comes with alloys. Upsweeping scissor-action doors are an additional £545; the passenger blanket is £110; and a clip-on luggage bag £95.

So you don't get a lot for your money, apart from the knowledge that it's going to be very cheap to run. Using a conventional three-pin plug and, preferably, a dedicated circuit, it takes a few hours to fully charge for approximately £1. After which you recoil the power lead and off you go for another sixty miles.

It starts on the press of a button (there's a flimsy and awkward handbrake to release) and you press the pedal to go — not unlike one does in a dodgem car… There's an automatic transmission and drive is to the rear wheels.

A neat, multi-function display in front of the driver shows road speed, power flow and remaining range as well as total distance and it advises if you need to think about mains recharging.

The driver's weatherproof plastic seat slides fore and aft but there's no rake adjustment and the passenger sits atop the traction motor driving the back wheels with legs outstretched either side of the driver, as if riding a bobsleigh or toboggan.

There is no back window and your passenger has to sit back but still bears the brunt of any wind or rain as the half-doors offer little protection from the elements.

“With up to 50mph
available underfoot and
the immediacy of the
electric motor pushing,
the acceleration is
surprisingly good
...”
Up front, the driver is shielded from the elements by a big wrap-around windscreen but a crash-helmet isn't required because there are full belts. Any water entering the Twizy can be wiped away or left to drip out through the holes built into the seat and floor.

With up to 50mph available underfoot and the immediacy of an electric motor pushing, the acceleration is surprisingly good — helped by the fact that it weighs in at around 450kg, plus occupants.

The ride is a little choppy for a city runabout because of the short wheelbase and narrow 1.2-metre width — but you can sometimes ease between speed pads and park end-on in bays thanks to the modest 2.34-metre length. Although not power assisted, the manual steering is not too heavy; and the turning circle is very good for town use.

Rearward visibility when reversing (parking sensors are an extra, of course) is atrocious but it's good to the sides and the front although I wish it had brighter lights even if that slightly reduced the range.

As I quickly found out, hills will deplete the distance you can travel fairly noticeably but the Twizy keeps up with traffic alright, corners with confidence due to its low centre of gravity but, with little weight upfront, it does tend to want to run wide on tighter turns. But it's all entirely predictable and felt surprisingly safe, surefooted and silent.

“As the battery was
running down I became
loathe to even signal
with the indicators,
even resorting to less
power-sapping hand
signals — something I
have not done in a car
for over forty years
...”
It does get you about quickly and cheaply, up to a point. With just two very small lockable compartments for items, you will have to think carefully about what you carry — and one of those spaces might be for waterproof trousers and jacket.

As the battery was running down I became loathe to even signal with the indicators, even resorting to less power-sapping hand signals — something I have not done in a car for over forty years.

It also made me note, as I piloted the Twizy through turns without the benefit of power steering, that the options list had not included a box to tick for an 'exercise pack' for hand signals and bulging forearms.

Neither did it include an 'ear-to-ear grin' option; but then that's standard with the Twizy anyway. Other good reasons to buy include the funky design and the fact that it's entertaining to drive, easy to park and cheap to recharge.

Buy a Twizy and you'll also have to pay £45 per month (for 36 months) for battery lease with a limit of 4,500 annual miles. Drive a Twizy and you'll have to get used to poor rear visibility and a choppy ride and face exposure to the British weather. But at least you'll be smiling! — Robin Roberts

Renault Twizy Urban | £6,690
Maximum speed: 50mph | 0-62mph: n/a seconds | Range: 60 miles
Power: 17bhp | Torque: 42lb ft | CO2 0g/km