The Renault Twizy is surprisingly good fun with an endearing character, even though it has obvious flaws

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The Renault Twizy first saw the light of day at Frankfurt in 2009 as the Twizy ZE concept.

Among that motor show’s smash hits, it effortlessly stole the limelight from Renault’s original Renault Zoe concept. Enclosed wheels and a state-of-the-art headlamp arrangement were the only features not to make the finished article. 

The Twizy is part scooter, part car and makes sense for congested cities

Renault can claim no intellectual ownership of the EV microcar concept; energy-efficient personal mobility machines have made regular appearances at shows for more than a decade. 

After what seems like the longest of long infancies, the market for electric cars is beginning to mature. Nissan’s Nissan Leaf, the 2011 Car of the Year, continues to blaze its uncompromising trail across Europe and the wider world. 

Meanwhile, in the shape of its sibling the Renault Zoe, the BMW i3, Volkswagen e-Golf, Tesla Model S, and the recently added Hyundai Ioniq, you could say that Britain has its first truly usable family EVs.

The Twizy needs no government incentive to earn a place among Britain’s most affordable EVs. Part-car, part-scooter, and entirely zero emissions (at the tailpipe), it’s exactly the kind of machine that, future gazers claim, will populate our burgeoning cities in years to come.

But what about here and now?

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Renault Twizt off-roading

Unlike the two ‘ZE’ models that Renault has already introduced in the UK, the Twizy is a ground-up electric vehicle.

Technically, it’s not an electric car but a heavy quadricycle. And although this so-called ‘sub-A’ segment of the new car market hasn’t been particularly visible to car industry watchers up until now, it’s expected to be a huge source of growth over the coming years. 

You’d think that skinny Tonka Toy wheels would be non-negotiable, but the top-spec model comes with an alternative gloss black hubcap design

Built around a lightweight steel frame wrapped with plastic panels, the Twizy is small – more than a foot shorter even than a Smart Fortwo, and six inches narrower – but it’s also strong and safe, says Renault. It has proper crumple zones front and rear and a four-point seatbelt for the driver, who sits in a central position, with a passenger seat immediately behind. 

Directly beneath is a 100kg, 6.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which shuffles current, via a power inverter, to a 17bhp, 42lb ft asynchronous electric induction motor situated just ahead of the rear axle. Drive is by the rear wheels. Weight distribution is 45/55 percent front to rear, according to our scales.

Renault makes a big virtue of the fact that the Twizy has a wheel at each corner, unlike some of the overgrown scooters that it seeks to supplant. Its chassis is made up of MacPherson-style struts front and rear, with stiff anti-roll bars designed to control the body roll that such a tall, narrow car lays itself open to. 

Believe it or not, Renault’s in-house performance specialist, Renaultsport, was tasked with tuning that chassis and delivering on a brief for handling that’s fun but also benign enough for particularly inexperienced drivers.


Renault Twizy front seat

A fairly conventional seatbelt, two pedals, two indicator stalks and an entirely normal steering wheel characterise a driving environment that might make the Renault Twizy feel quite familiar.

This would be true were it not for the central driving position and for the fact that – even with the optional scissor doors of our test car lowered – the cockpit never feels remotely enclosed.

In the wet, the driver stays largely dry thanks to the wind deflectors on the optional doors. A rear passenger is more likely to get wet

A high driving position makes for good all-round visibility. But most testers agreed that they felt as if they were riding on the Twizy rather than driving in it. It’s an impression underlined by the air rushing into the cabin where conventional windows might otherwise be, and on a chilly day at cruising speeds it makes you acutely aware of the lack of any cabin heating.

The Twizy offers its driver as much room as any supermini. Its controls are easy to use and the digital speedometer, trip computer and battery meter are clear. 

The interior plastics are hardy enough and easy to wipe clean – important given that there’s no way to protect them from rain and road grime – but they do feel cheap, reminding you more of the cubbies and fittings on a mass-market motorbike than those of a contemporary car. 

Ironically, a big motorbike might offer more storage than the Twizy. The main cubby – a 31-litre box behind the rear seat – is fiddly to open and tricky to access and would barely accommodate a small shopping bag.

Although it may be a much safer and more energy-efficient means of getting around the city, the Twizy barely seems to offer any more practicality than a big scooter. For £7k, you have a right to expect more.

On the equipment front, the standard Twizy gets disc brakes, an electronic engine immobiliser, regenerative braking, day-time-running lights, and a driver's airbag included, while choosing the Expression trim adds a digital drive and speedo display, a lockable rear storage space and heated windscreen.

The range-topping Dynamique model gains floor mats, alloy wheels and a choice of 14 colour collections, while those looking to use their Twizy as a commercial vehicle can do so with the Cargo model, which removes the rear seat and replaces it with additional storage space.


Renault Twizy rear quarter

There are two elements to this: speed and range. You shouldn’t expect a vast quantity of either, which is an indication of what Renault is trying to do with the Twizy; it’s an urban runabout like a G-Wiz or a Qpod rather than an alternative to the city cars against which it’s priced.

To that end, it tops out at a heady 50mph, and although the 8.4sec it takes to get even to 30mph (two up) seems an inordinate amount of time on paper, in reality the Twizy has no problem keeping up with urban traffic, especially with just one occupant on board. It’s just that you use more of the throttle travel than you would in a conventional car – more like a scooter, in fact. 

If you're down to 10 percent charge, about 20 minutes is enough to boost it to 35 percent - good for up to 15 miles

It is one of the things that makes the Twizy good fun: driving everywhere at what it thinks is an enthusiastic speed but which none of the rest of the world does, with the elements fizzing past. 

Drive it normally – not overly cautiously – and you’ll get a 43-mile range out of a Twizy. Be very gentle with the throttle and cruise to a stop rather than working the unassisted discs and you might get a few more miles, but its range in our hands was relatively consistent. 

Only on the test track, with a lot of hard acceleration, did its range drop to 27 miles. For those who do the same short commute every day, or hop about in town, the Twizy will most likely be surprisingly usable. Its 3.5-hour flat-to-full charge from a domestic socket is also as good as it gets without an internal combustion engine.


Renault Twizy cornering

Developing a car for a driver who has yet to pass his or her test must have been a tricky task, even considering the chassis tuning expertise that we know Renaultsport possesses. And given that Renault’s business plan is to sell lower-powered Twizys to European teenagers ineligible to drive a full-sized car, the dynamic manners of the car make perfect sense.

The Twizy is a simple, manoeuvrable, lively entertainer at everyday urban speeds and up to a fairly conservative threshold of grip. There is no ESP or traction control, though.

Even at the modest speeds where the Twizy is most comfortable, it is fun driving it up to its limits of grip in a safe and well-sighted area

Once you’ve breached the Twizy’s lateral hold on the road – something that’s easy enough to do on a wet urban bend at entirely legal speeds – the car lets you know with absolute, non-negotiable understeer. And that understeer can only be managed by doing what we’d all want the giddy 16-year-old pilot to do: slowing down.

The car’s remarkable roll stiffness primarily defines its motive character. The body barely leans when negotiating tight turns or roundabouts. Instead, short springs and chunky anti-roll bars load up the contact patches of the Twizy’s skinny tyres the instant you turn the steering wheel. The car responds very quickly to steering inputs but never leans on its outside wheels hard enough to produce extremes of lateral grip.

That breezy, amusingly accessible handling is partnered with ride comfort that’s slightly compromised, though. Renault’s decision to dial out body roll from the Twizy has also dialled out most of the compliance from the chassis – particularly at the rear end.

The suspension deals with drain covers, sleeping policemen and broken urban asphalt quite abruptly and with little concern for your comfort. That responsive steering and narrow track make it easy to drive around disturbances in the road much of the time – but on the occasions when you can’t, you’ll wish that you could trade just a little of the Twizy’s body control for wheel travel.


Renault Twizy

You’ll certainly need to believe in novelty value to argue that the Renault Twizy represents a sound financial prospect at almost £7000. It’s a cheap EV and, as such, is sure to attract early adopters who would prefer to dip their toe in with something that has a less substantial price.

But you’ll also need an open mind to understand that £7k doesn’t buy you its battery outright. The Twizy’s battery will be leased to the end user, with prices starting from £45 a month and increasing with mileage. Group 10 insurance on top of all that means that owning one is unlikely to represent a saving compared with an entry-level city car.

The Twizy’s retained values are tipped to suffer a five per cent penalty over three years versus its nearest rivals

The good news is that the Twizy comes with Renault’s 4+ complementary aftercare package, which includes a four-year, 100,000-mile warranty, four years of routine servicing, four years of finance, and four years of breakdown cover – should your range anxiety turn into roadside embarrassment.

You’ll need an outside electrical socket to charge the car. Renault’s power cable is only three metres long, which may restrict your at-home charging options. 

The more satisfied Twizy owners might end up being those with the flexibility to treat it more like a motorbike – putting it away for the winter months, when low temperatures would make the battery range and open cabin trying.



3 star Renault Twizy

Realistically – objectively – the Renault Twizy is nowhere. A range of less than 50 miles. An approximate 50mph top speed. No windows, no heater, and a price that some city cars can get close to.

But, in this instance, there is a ‘however’. And the Twizy owes its caveat to the amount of fun that it provides its driver, and to the fact that it is a remarkably cute piece of product design that people laugh with, rather than at. 

The Twizy's predictably only suitable for those with appropriate journeys

Yes, it’s another electric vehicle that, we can’t help but conclude, would be better with its own power source on board.

It'd still be just as fun, it'd still be cheap to run and - more importantly - it'd be a much more practical and usable form of transport.

But, nonetheless, the Twizy has a loveable character in a field that’s all too often devoid of charm.


Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Renault Twizy First drives