Tiny electric city car takes on a typical London commute
It’s 7.00am in Cobham, Surrey, and as we wait for the star of the show to turn up, both the Piaggio and Skoda have full tanks of fuel. Yet when the Renault Twizy arrives moments later, having covered only around 10 miles since an overnight charge, things aren’t looking very good.
Our sat-nav tells us the office is 25 miles away, but the Twizy’s range indicator reads 23 miles. Still, its range is dependent on your driving style, so all is not lost. And there’s no denying the Renault’s fun factor. Swing open the optional £545 scissor doors, slide into the driver’s seat, twist the key and away you go.
On open roads, the Twizy is great fun: press the throttle, and after an initial hesitation, the whir of the electric motor increases and you speed up quickly. The dual-carriageway at the start of our journey allows the Twizy to reach its 50mph top speed easily. And despite a narrow track, tiny wheels and short wheelbase, it’s surprisingly stable.
You don’t feel vulnerable at all. In fact, the biggest issue is putting up with the noise of other traffic thundering past. But you’ll need to wrap up in warm waterproof clothing in winter, as the lack of windows leaves you exposed to the elements and splashes from cars alongside you driving through puddles.
On the plus side, plenty of coasting and regenerative braking has increased the Twizy’s estimated range: it now exceeds the remaining distance shown on the sat-nav. This soothes our range anxiety, but we soon run in to the Renault’s first big hitch.
As the London-bound traffic grinds to a halt, the Piaggio scooter nips through the gridlock, leaving the Renault behind. Despite its narrow stance, the Twizy is still too big to dive between rows of stationary cars. And while the Skoda cocoons its occupants, the Renault leaves you breathing exhaust fumes.
Once released into side streets, its compact dimensions and nippy acceleration are real plus points. That’s until you come across the Twizy’s arch-nemesis: speed bumps. An extremely stiff suspension set-up means that hitting these sleeping policemen at anything above walking pace is a bone-jarring experience. And the unforgiving ride is even worse for your passenger in the back. Because they sit over the rear axle, every bump and pothole is sent straight up their spine.
Still, the Twizy gets lots of attention from other road users, who all point and stare. In fact, you should avoid the Twizy if you’re not a morning person – it forces you to make conversation on your commute, as other drivers lower their windows to ask questions.
Once on to the mainly speed bump-free roads of central London, the Twizy comes into its own, silently motoring past the capital’s landmarks. Countless people wander into the path of this silent car, so its clever cyclist and pedestrian warning noise is vital. You simply twist the end of the left stalk to get a friendly chirrup, and there’s always the more aggressive normal horn as a last resort. Also, the 6.8-metre turning circle gives the Renault black cab-rivalling U-turn ability.
As we draw close to the Auto Express office, it starts to rain, and with the lights and wiper on full tilt, the Renault is down to a single-figure range estimate. We finally roll into the car park with only two miles of juice left on the display – to be greeted by the smug drivers of the already-parked Skoda and Piaggio.
But while the car and scooter beat the Twizy to the office, the Renault has used no fuel and we didn’t have to pay the Congestion Charge. Plus, it only takes a few seconds to plug it in to recharge.
However, restricted range, poor comfort and lack of windows mean the Renault can’t hold a candle to the Citigo when it comes to everyday flexibility. And if you don’t have the ability to charge it at or near your home or work, it’s an automatic fail.
Yet while it doesn’t share the Piaggio’s traffic-dodging ability, the Twizy is safer than a scooter – plus it comes with a secure lockable glovebox and a useful 31-litre storage bin located behind the passenger seat.
It isn’t cheap to buy, and depending on your mileage over the 36-month contract term, battery rental will set you back from £45 to £57 a month. But at least you get Renault’s excellent 4+ package, which gives four years’ recovery, service and warranty.
There’s no question that in the right weather, and on the right sort of road, the Twizy is a lot of fun to drive. It also feels very well engineered. But you’ll need the charging infrastructure and a very specific type of journey if you’re going to live with it as your one and only means of transport.
Chart position: 2Why? It’s funky and fun, but is the Twizy a second car plaything or a genuine commuting option? Low price and costs are hard to ignore.
In this review
- 1Renault Twizy vs rivalsCan the new Renault Twizy revolutionise urban commuting? We test it against three very different modes of transport to find out
- 21st Skoda CitigoCan a traditional city car match the clever new alternatives?
- 32nd Renault Twizy - currently readingTiny electric city car takes on a typical London commute
- 43rd Piaggio MP3 YourbanThree-wheeler promises more stability than regular scooters
- 54th Public transportCan we get there faster by letting the train take the strain?