Review and road test of the Renault Twizy (2012 - 2021)
By Jonathan Crouch
Defining Renault's Twizy isn't easy. It has four wheels - but isn't really a car. There's space for two - but only one front seat. There's a roof - but it's open at the sides. And it'll match the flow of traffic - but won't use an engine to do so. This was Renault's electric technology at its most extreme, offering perhaps the ultimate answer for city motoring. Perhaps even the kind of second car that all future families should have.
To be sustainable for the future of mankind, the automobile has to change. Maybe not change as much was is the case here - but all the same, it has to change. This is Renault's Twizy, automotive transport, but not as we know it. The name is a supposed blend of the words 'two' and 'easy', the badge for this innovative French brand's solution to the issue of how people should get around their urban environment and complete the short, everyday, one or two-person journeys we all make that, if we're honest, don't really require a proper car.
You see, this isn't really a proper car, even though it has four wheels and a steering wheel. As the looks suggest, it's actually a cross between a car and a scooter, something the motor industry calls a 'heavy quadricycle', the name defining a four-wheeled vehicle that weighs no more than 650kgs with a power output that's usually less than 20bhp. Not the kind of thing the average person would feel comfortable about driving. But is this? You might be surprised.
With the Twizy, launched in 2012, we were offered an entry-level point for a range of electric vehicles in which Renault by then had invested over £2.5 billion in - and it was certainly a varied one. The supermini ZOE for small families, the Fluence ZE (shortly afterwards deleted) for larger ones and the Kangoo ZE van for eco-minded businesses. All these vehicles had to try and justify their existence as alternatives to normal combustion engine models. The Twizy's advantage was that it didn't have to do so, for so unique, so outlandish was it that no conventional rivals existed. So you'll either like it or you won't.
One thing's for certain: our cities will be crammed with vehicles like this in all our EV futures. But the market wasn't quite ready for an EV as outlandish as this in the 21st century's second decade, so after years of slow sales, the Twizy was finally deleted from the brand's line-up in 2021 - and not replaced.
What You Get
The Twizy's styling looked like nothing we had ever seen before. The wheels flung out at each corner, the two seats in tandem and the way the wedge-shaped passenger cell sits nestled into the chassis - all of it marks the Twizy down as something resolutely unconventional.
Getting in is relatively straightforward. Most new owners got this model with the optional flip-up doors fitted and they're almost fingertip light on their gas struts but when in place, still only cover half the door height, partly explaining why, once you're seated behind the wheel, there's a rather odd arrangement of twin seat belts to contend with. The first is a normal diagonal inertia reel belt, while the second loops over your right arm. At first you think you'll feel trussed up like a Christmas turkey, but after a while you stop noticing them.
Thanks to a decent amount of front headroom and plenty of fore and aft adjustment on the front seat, the driving position is comfortable, even though the steering wheel is fixed into position. Through it, you view a clear and simple digital instrumentation display showing speed, battery charge and range. The only buttons are for the hazard warning lights and the three that respectively switch you between Drive, Reverse and Neutral. Forward visibility's excellent, though the lack of a rear glazed panel seems odd, explaining why Renault feels the need to offer optional parking sensors on something this small. If you get a car with the flip-up doors, they'll come mounted with door mirrors that would otherwise be fixed to the chassis frame instead.
Behind the driver, the single rear seat with its ordinary three-point belt is fixed in a single position and requires a nimbleness of limb when it comes to getting in and out. Once in situ, it's necessary to sit with your legs splayed around the front seat, though that's actually a lot more comfortable than it sounds. You don't, you see, have the knee room seatback restriction you'd get in the back of a conventional car, which means that this 2.3-metre-long Twizy actually provides a more comfortable rear berth for a six foot adult than would a 4.5-metre-long Ford Focus.
Renault did a pretty good job of endowing the Twizy with a degree of practicality. There are two glove boxes incorporated into the dashboard and one of them's lockable, plus there's a lockable 31-litre trunk at the back which can easily take waterproofs or a change of clothes. You can also buy rear storage nets and a 50-litre rear storage bag. Which might even make this thing a viable proposition for a relatively restrained weekly shop, providing you don't mind doing it on your own.
What to Look For
In our ownership survey, there were few owner problems. One reported a sticking accelerator; that was about it. To be fair, there's not very much that can go wrong with a Twizy; its underlying drive technology has been around for ages. You might have concerns about the expensive battery becoming less efficient over time, but Renault initially addressed that by forcing Twizy drivers to rent their batteries on a monthly basis, though dropped that policy towards the end of the production run. Generally though, in the rare event that batteries may have worn themselves down, they will have simply been replaced by the original owner - though there was the proviso that Renault only guaranteed owners a battery with at least 75% of its stated new capacity.
Owners report that the range falls dramatically in winter weather. And the protruding sections of the body work are prone to damage - especially the wheels, so check them carefully. There was a recall for models made in September 2020 for an improper electric traction reducer. As a result, the speedometer may indicate a lower reading than the real one.
(approx based on a 2018 Twizy - Ex Vat) Front brake pads cost in the £20-£45 bracket. A wiper blade is in the £10-£13 bracket. You might want to shop on the used market for parts too. On eBay, we found a high voltage inverter for £400 and a front door for £175. Plus a decal set for £30.
On the Road
There were two models, the Electric 45 and the Electric 80, the latter being by far the most popular and the one you should insist on. You get a combination of conflicting emotions when you first slip behind the wheel. It does seem a little odd to be inserting a Clio key into the ignition and grasping an old Laguna steering wheel in such a futuristic car. The fussy four-point seatbelt is initially awkward too, necessary to stop you sliding out of the slide of the car. Stranger than all of this though, is the feeling of sitting alone, scooter-style, up-front and hearing precisely nothing after apparently firing the Twizy into life.
Well, not quite nothing. There's a rather apologetic bleep and a green 'go' light that then illuminates to the left of the instrument oval ahead, indicating that you've permission to activate the single-speed automatic gearbox by pressing the 'D' button to the left of the steering wheel. Then, it's simply a case of releasing the rather awkwardly shaped umbrella-style handbrake beneath the fascia and, as the electric motor whines gently, tentatively prodding the throttle to see if it'll creep forwards.
You actually need a boot full of throttle to activate meaningful forward motion, but once your right foot's firmly planted, the Twizy displays the usual all-electric car feeling of up-and-at-'em performance, as all 57Nm of torque is delivered to the tarmac in one fell swoop, firing you to 30mph in around 6 seconds. Which isn't bad, considering that the electric motor generates only seventeen braked horses. But then it doesn't need much power to punt this little thing along, given that the kerb eight is only around 475kgs, less than half that of a conventional city car.
Around 100kgs of that is accounted for by the 6kWh lithion-ion battery pack that powers the AC motor, the battery centrally mounted and placed low down to skim along a few inches above the road surface and offer the low centre of gravity that makes this machine such fun to punt around corners. And compensates for the tall and narrow design that really ought to make this car most unstable around corners. Credit for the fact that it isn't can be given to the enthusiasts at Renaultsport who supervised the handling development and added their F1 racing expertise to the regenerative braking system that charges the battery whenever you come off the throttle.
Not that you often do. This thing's so much fun to drive, the temptation is to throw it around at max chat almost everywhere, or at least as much at max chat as a top speed of 50mph will allow. Which of course, isn't the cleverest thing to do if you want to maximise the necessarily meagre operating range - which at around 60 miles, is around 40% less than you'd get from other, larger electric cars. We're not sure how that figure was arrived at, since we never saw anything like it in our time with this car: 30, maybe edging up towards 40 miles is a better estimate. Still, that'll be more than enough for most urban commutes.
This is real motoring in the raw: you wouldn't expect traction or stability control at this price point, maybe even not anti-lock brakes. It comes as more of a shock though, to find that the anchors aren't even servo-assisted and that that you have to do without power steering. Actually, the braking thing isn't much of a problem: there's so little weight in the Twizy that the pads supplied do a very respectable job of bringing it to a halt. More of an issue is the steering which is a little heavier than you would ideally want in a town car. Compensation though, comes with the way that this machine is so brilliantly manoeuvrable, with the turning circle between kerbs measuring just 6.8 metres. If you can't park one of these, you need to give up now. Buy yourself a push bike instead.
The narrowness - this car's just 1.24-metres wide - is one reason for this, not much more than a bike. But while scooter riders can nip up the outside of stationary streams of traffic, this Twizy is just that little bit too wide to get away with that sort of stunt, so despite its compact dimensions, if you're in a jam, you'll stay there like everyone else. Just without the benefit of air conditioning, your own music and protection from the elements.
And ride quality? Well, let's just say it's a bit on the firm side and you'll be looking to jink around potholes if possible. Clearly the designers felt that there needed to be a compromise between ride quality and body composure, but for an urban vehicle there will be some - us included - who feel the Twizy is a bit unyielding. But that isn't what we remembered from our time in it. What we liked most about this little Renault was the sensation of openness it gives you, even with the optional doors in place. Zip along a lane and you'll be able to hear bird song, smell the cut grass and wood smoke as you amble along, picking up passing conversations and feeling the sun on your skin. The downside is that you'll also feel a good deal of Britain's worst weather as well as the sort of urban smells and sounds that aren't quite so pleasant.
And in case you were wondering, yes, you could drive a Renault Twizy on a British motorway as long as you hold a full driving licence. You probably wouldn't want to though. In fact, the only time you're going to be going any further than around 15 miles in this car is if your destination will have somewhere to charge the thing, a process that'll take around three and a half hours from a normal 220V 10A domestic or workplace socket. Just long enough, if you're visiting friends, to have a leisurely French-style repast.
That's if you're comfortable with powering up your car on someone else's bill (Renault calls it 'hidden hospitality'). We might not be to be honest, so for us, out-and-about charging is more likely to take place at somewhere like a public plug-in point.
Apple founder Steve Jobbs always contended that product development shouldn't be based around asking people what they wanted. Nothing really new ever gets invented like that. Forward thinking demands that you look at a problem - in this case, the way that the automobile industry uses 25% of the world's oil consumption and ramps up climate change by putting out 12% of all global Co2 emissions - and design a unique solution. Well, this Twizy was certainly unique. It wasn't created to be an only car, to cover long distances or even to be especially practical. Which is great. After all, it's precisely because conventional citycars try to make themselves at least some of these things that they're less economic than for the future, they will need to be.
If you spend your life nipping around town but can't bring yourself to buy the scooter you know in your heart of hearts would make more sense, then this Renault offers the answer. And, unlike most sensible solutions, it's affordable, it's desirable and it's fantastic fun. A scooter for people who like cars or a car for people who like scooters. We're not sure which. But the definition doesn't matter. The end result does. The future - re-defined.
Renault Twizy (2012 - 2021) review by Jonathan Crouch