Llewellyn Plugs In: Renault Twizy Tizzy

It’s impractical, it doesn’t go far on a charge and it isn’t fast... but Robert loves it

By Robert Llewellyn on June 16, 2012 12:04 PM

I have to say I have really enjoyed having a Renault Twizy for a week. I don’t think I have ever laughed so much because of a car – every time I get in it I end up guffawing. It looks bonkers, it proudly ticks every box in the Clarksonian EV-haters check sheet and I love it.

There are literally hundreds of reasons not to get one. I could go on for hours about how impractical it is, how the range is limited, how the top speed is barely adequate and how few people could make use of it on a daily basis.

But I still love it.

I think the reason is that it picks up all our dull, 20th century assumptions about cars and what cars are, and what they ‘say about us’ and boots them off the pitch. It makes a mockery of them. It’s not shyly sitting in the corner apologising; it’s saying loudly, “Really? You need a three-ton SUV to go down the shops? Oh, puurleeease.”

There is no question, driving a Twizy around a town is great fun. They are pathetically easy to park, they are nippy, they fit through gaps only a bike can normally go through, they don’t leave a trail of carcinogenic particulate behind them, they don’t add to urban noise and they are very, very easy to drive.

If you live anywhere in Europe south of Paris, you could happily use one for 10 months of the year without too much discomfort. Anywhere north? Get your biker gear out.

"The Twizy may be a joke... but it’s a very funny one."

It’s now mid-June in the UK, I have just been out in the Twizy to pick my daughter up from the train station. I took ski gear, woolly hats, gloves, rain protection. Everything you’d need on a motorbike except a helmet.

When I got to the station, as the busy train unloaded passengers they all smiled when they saw the Twizy. Now true, some of those smiles may have been of smug derision, but they were still smiles.

My daughter burst out laughing when she saw the Twizy. “You are kidding!” she squealed. “I can’t get into that!”

Well she did, crammed into the back with bags on her lap, a ski coat and a woolly hat pulled down low so no one she knew would see her. We laughed and joshed all the way home. And remember, this was June 2012 – as wet, cold, windy and grim a British summer as anyone can remember.

Okay, so the Twizy has a windscreen with a dinky wiper, but no side windows and this clearly upsets a lot of people. This is because the vehicle has no ventilation system, no blowers, heaters or any of that fancy gubbins.

You can’t lock it up, and if you park it in the rain it’s going to get wet inside. There is even a drain hole in the driver’s seat to save you sitting in a puddle.

I know; I should be furious! I should stamp about and say, “This isn’t a car, it’s a joke.” But I don’t. It may be a joke, but it’s a very funny one. Oh, and it isn’t really a car anyway; it’s a ‘quadricycle’.

The Renault Twizy is very light and incredibly efficient. If someone who was good at maths could be bothered to work out how much energy it uses to travel a mile, it would make every other ‘economy car’, no matter the source of motive power, look positively obese.

As for handling, well if you’ve never driven a go-kart, drive a Twizy and you’ll know what driving a go-kart is like. Incredible road holding.

Okay, the top speed of around 55mph isn’t fast, but go around a hairpin bend at that speed and certain waste-removing lower organs go on a field trip.

"Go around a hairpin bend at that 55mph and certain waste-removing lower organs go on a field trip."

You are also very aware of what tyres do when you drive because you can hear them; if you take a corner fast, and it’s hard not to, you can hear them scrubbing and fighting for grip.

I’ve read some absurd claims for how long a Twizy takes to recharge. I know I shouldn’t be surprised when Chris Harris wrote on the Pistonheads blog, “From a normal domestic electricity supply, it will take around 12 hours charging time to give you that 60 mile range.

This is not just nonsense; it’s downright fiction.

A Nissan LEAF, with its 24 kWh battery, takes about 10 hours to charge from a 13-amp plug, while the Twizy has a 6.1 kWh battery (a quarter the size) and so takes about two and a half hours, if it’s dead flat.

After driving 64 kilometres (40 miles) today to go to the shops and pick up my daughter the battery had 2 little bars left. This represents 13%, so not empty, but close.

I plugged it into a 13-amp, three pin socket (an isolated one put in for such a purpose) and one hour later the battery level was at 52%. Two hours later it was at 93%.

Strangely, Mr Harris’ write up was fairly positive and balanced – he obviously enjoyed driving the car – but ignorance is no excuse and hostility always leaks through. He was itching to find something which proved electric vehicles to be rubbish. This is odd because in the case of the Twizy there are ample reasons to think it’s rubbish; the re-charge time is one of the great benefits.

If I lived in a town south of Paris and only used a car for pootling about, shopping and running errands like picking up family members from train stations, I’d buy one in a heartbeat. Clearly I’m not alone because Renault are selling them by the score.

About Robert Llewellyn

Columnist Robert Llewellyn is a comedian, actor, presenter and writer. He’s perhaps best known for his role as Kryten in hit BBC comedy Red Dwarf and as co-presenter of Channel 4’s Scrapheap Challenge, but since creating the Carpool series he has been invited to test drive all kinds of cars, from the pure electric Tesla Roadster sports car to the Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell car. As a result Robert has become an expert on alternatively-fuelled vehicles, in particular electric cars, launching EV web series Fully Charged in 2010.

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