We were not expecting it but the Renault Twizy is genuinely good fun to drive and offers urbanites something out of the norm when it comes to transport. It's just a question of whether or not they can overcome the inherent limitations.
In the Metal:
To date Renault has sold in excess of 10,000 Twizys in Europe, far surpassing its initial projections. It is telling though that sixty per cent of sales are to business users. There is no better way to advertise your company than on the side of one of these little city runabouts. We took it into town while we had it and we would have attracted less attention had we been driving a Lamborghini Aventador. Naked save for a Santa Claus bobble hat.
Part of this can be attributed to the fact that it is a rare sight, but a lot of it is because no other vehicle on the road looks like it. We say vehicle rather than car, as technically the Twizy is a quadricycle. Even the BMW C1 enclosed scooter (the Twizy's closest logical rival) seems mundane in comparison and that is before you park up and open the scissor doors.
There are a number of downsides however, the main ones being the windows and doors, which we will get to later, but rear visibility is poor due to a large bulkhead, getting in and out (especially for rear seat passengers who straddle the front seat as you would on a bike) cannot be done with any sort of dignity. Then there is also the factor that the Twizy cannot be secured; sure there are two lockable storage spaces and the handbrake cannot physically be released without having the key in the ignition but there is something unnerving (to us at least) about returning to your vehicle to find someone has been 'in' it rather than 'on' it as is the case with a motorbike or scooter.
With looks that would not seem out of place on a sci-fi movie set you would hardly expect the Twizy to be powered by something as primitive as an internal combustion engine, and you'd be right. Tucked away below the seat line is an electric motor that delivers 17hp and 57Nm of torque. May not sound like a lot but then the whole 'car' does only weigh 450kg so it does happily zip along. You are unlikely to be upsetting any Go Safe speed detectors (possibly a good thing), but around town the delivery of maximum torque from standstill is ideal, it allowing you to nip in and out of traffic and with so little weight to haul around the Twizy is surprisingly nimble; you will not scythe through corners the way you would on a bike or scooter, but neither will you feel out of place in the handling department. A tight turning circle also means that the Twizy will also be able to negotiate tight city streets better than a car and dive for that last available parking spot much easier.
Top speed is rated at 80km/h so it will fare no worse on a motorway than a scooter either though such high-speed driving will quickly eat away at the electric charge which, around town, is said to deliver a 100km range from a single charge. Some of this range comes from the regenerative braking that will trickle charge the lithium-ion batteries while decelerating or braking. It also only takes 3 to 3.5 hours to charge from a three-pin socket, though with most of the on-street electric charging bays fitted with fin pins it does somewhat restrict where you can park and charge it.
What you get for your Money:
The headline price for the Twizy is €9,995, which, on the face of it, does not seem too bad - especially for someone who is perhaps stepping up from a scooter before entering the world of cars. Unfortunately, despite being a quadricycle, the Twizy cannot be driven on a bike licence, needing a car licence instead. But that is only half the story - the sub-10 grand asking price includes a 3m charging cable, 13-inch alloy wheels, disc brakes front and back, metallic paint and not a lot else. You do not even get doors, which cost another €500, and you can add €300 on top of that if you want plastic windows to keep the rain out. Factor in the €50 a month lease on the battery (assuming you do not breach the agreed mileage) and you will soon find yourself broaching the €12,000 mark.
Renault introduced its own banking division in Ireland two years ago and in that time some fifty per cent of Renaults and Dacias sold have come with finance from the Renault Bank. With that in mind the Twizy can be yours for as little as €179 per month on a hire purchase scheme. This will cover the vehicle, road tax at €120 per annum and battery lease. The lease works much like a mobile phone tariff in that the more you use it the more you pay. In our example above the mileage limit is 7,500km. There are lease options for up to 15,000km, but these will cost more.
Renault knows that the market for the Twizy is going to be a small one in Ireland. Urban sprawl means that a lot of us do not live and work within the same area as you find with our European neighbours. There are however those who are fortunate enough to not have a long commute and for them the 100km range will work perfectly - though we suspect the lack of a heater in the cabin and little but plastic windows separating them from the Irish winters will soon test their resolve.