In an industry dominated by regulations and profits margins, it’s not often that we see something that is truly novel, much less so from a struggling major manufacturer. Indeed, Renault’s sales figures for 2011 were down 9% from 2010 and the first two months of 2012 have certainly been disparaging. This week, however, marks the arrival of the latest addition to Renault’s burgeoning Z.E. range on UK forecourts and a bold step for the French carmaker.
When Renault revealed the Twizy concept at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, it was predicted to be on the roads in 2011 at a cost of around £12,000. As happens so often in this industry, the production version of the Twizy has arrived late but conversely, and what happens extremely infrequently, is that this car is nearly 50% cheaper than anticipated. A rather excellent trade-off it must be said (even with battery leasing included), with prices for the ‘Urban’ spec Twizy starting at £6,690 before rising to £7,400 in top-spec ‘Technic’ guise.
Renault chose Ibiza as the venue to launch the Twizy and it proved to be a fitting location. Made up of small colonial towns linked by undulating rural roads, the island allowed us to put the Twizy through its paces – navigating both narrow, high-walled streets and fast, open bends. The Twizy acquitted itself well in both situations, and whilst it certainly isn’t fast, it’s swift enough for the city and even on larger roads its 13kW electric motor makes for decent progress on everything this side of a dual carriageway. The Zoe, due in the autumn, will be more suited to faster roads.
Both shorter than a Smart Fortwo and narrower than an original Fiat 600, maneuverability is very much the focal point of the Twizy’s design and a turning circle of just 3.4 metres evidences this. The remarkable thing is that sitting inside the Twizy feels neither cramped nor unduly uncomfortable, even in the passenger seat (which sits directly behind the driver’s seat and permits the Twizy its slender width). The modular seats may prove a little unforgiving after an extended period of time but given the limited 60km-or-so range of the Twizy this won’t ever be a problem.
The Twizy is all about open architecture and this serves as a reminder that, fundamentally at least, it genealogy is closer to a scooter (such as the Piaggio MP3) than a conventional car. The Twizy makes the driver feel part of the scenery, and whilst this is undoubtedly more desirable in the Ibiza countryside than in congested cities, it’s a refreshing twist in comparison to many claustrophobic city cars.
Fundamentally the production Twizy is very true to original 2009 concept, marking a new style for Renault, and the subtle back-to-front teardrop shaped roof complements its forward stance. It's silhouette is also shaped like a helmet: the ovoid roof and front are set off by a sculpted rear that houses a Cyclops-esque rear light. With the electric motor tucked neatly underneath the passenger the rear is very tidy – the same cannot be said for the other end where the charger is housed. A bulk of black plastic doesn’t exactly imbue the Twizy with elegance but it does enclose the protective girders that account for the Twizy’s decent front-impact safety – very much function over form. Perhaps the most conspicuous aspect of the Twizy are its Lamborghini-esque scissor doors. They look impressive but feel flimsy; a double-edged sword as this means that whilst they are very easy to close, they wouldn’t stand up well in a collision. On the inside, the Twizy is suitably Spartan but very intuitive. Controls are simple and clear. Visibility is excellent, and whilst the ‘Urban’ model’s roof is made from a plastic composite, the ‘Technic’ comes with a glass roof that serves only to exaggerate the feeling of spaciousness.
The zero-emissions runabout falls under Renault’s ‘eco2’ umbrella, where cars have to meet environmental requirements not only in emissions, but also in production and recycling. The eco2 figure for recyclable plastic is 7% although it’s reasonable to presume this is much higher for the Twizy. Furthermore, much of the money paid to lease the battery eventually goes into recycling it.
With a friendly and open design, the Twizy goes a long way to defining what personal mobility really means. Renault has pushed hard over the last couple of years to ‘open the door’ for this kind of vehicle and it’s a gamble that looks like it might well pay off for them. Presently there’s nothing else like this on the road, and whilst GM have the RAK-e in the pipeline and Audi the Urban also in development, they are both at least a year away. Just how much Renault can capitalize on this advantage remains to be seen but, having driven the Twizy, things certainly look promising.
13kW Electric motor
80 kph top speed
63 km range
3.5 hrs charge time
From £6,690 (battery lease £45pcm)
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