Gareth Butterfield tries to live with Renault’s weird and wonderful Renault Twizy for a week
This is Gareth’s favourite article of 2015.
THE Twizy arrives. It’s fully charged which I gather should offer up a range of around 50 miles and I have just 15 miles to cover to get home.
The sun’s shining and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed zipping along the country lanes, taking the scenic route to my house. I’m just about to plug the Twizy’s front-mounted cable in to charge when one of my neighbours comes out to see it.
I explained what it was, let him sit in it and then another neighbour came to see it. Let’s just say the Twizy attracts a lot of attention. I’ve bought £100,000 supercars home before that haven’t caused such a stir.
And why wouldn’t it raise eyebrows? Look at the thing. Its “doors” raise up like a bug’s wings, it has funky little wheels in each corner and it has no windows. It looks like a spaceship.
IT’S the weekend and some friends are coming over to see us. Or possibly the Twizy. Before they arrive I pop out to get some provisions from the local farm shop.
It’s about three miles away and this is what the Twizy does best. Short hops from village to village on warm, sunny days. It only has 17bhp but that’s fine because it’ll only do 52mph and, because it’s so light, it accelerates enthusiastically to the 30mph speed limit and beyond.
To say I was only popping out for some bread and milk, it’s been one of the longest trips to the farm shop I’ve ever undertaken. Not because the Twizy’s slow and, no, it didn’t run out of battery, it’s because everyone wanted to talk about it.
Firstly the owner of the farm shop quizzed me. Then the guy coming out of the farm shop wanted a chat. Then the guy who was driving in stopped me for a natter. It was such a long visit in the end I feared my milk was probably going off.
Our friends arrive from York. Before we come even close to sitting down for a catch-up they have to have a play in the Twizy. They play with the scissor doors, the odd pillion seating position, the awkward handbrake and they laugh at the coiled plug under a flap that resembles a tiny “bonnet”.
Then we go out for a ride in it. It’s still sunny and that’s good because it’s a bit breezy in the back. It’s not as cramped as you’d think by any stretch but it’s bumpy and windy. Not that that matters today, we’re having lots of fun.
To climb into the rear seat you have to contort a bit and slide the seat forward then you sit with your legs spread around the driver. It’s more comfortable than it sounds, but there’s a bit of a design flaw here. You can only get in the back from one side because the driver’s seat belt is in the way but the little tag that slides the seat forward to let you in is on that side. So it’s an acrobatic experience to say the least.
TODAY I’ve got to abandon the friends and the wife and the hard-fought breakfast I bought them and pop into work. This’ll be my first proper, 30-mile round-trip commute.
First observation: It’s much better than I thought it would be on the dual carriageway. It feels quite stable and the passing lorries aren’t as intimidating as I feared.
It’s noisy, though. And you really do have to drive flat out to keep it at 52mph.
The rest of the journey goes well. It struggles a bit on some of the hills, but it’s a lot of fun in the bends.
Because it has a wheel at each corner, very firm suspension, and because it has no power steering and no servo-assistance for the brakes, it reminds me a bit of an old racing car. Despite it being a bit slow, on the right day, on the right road, it is an absolute hoot to drive.
After I’ve finished at work I pop to a friend’s house down the road and he wants to see how quickly it charges.
I’m never one to pass up some free electricity so I hand him the plug and keep him talking long enough to top the battery up nicely. I arrive at home with plenty of juice to spare ready to charge it overnight for the commute tomorrow.
THE wife is never very receptive to anything on a Monday morning and she’s feeling quite downbeat about a 15-mile ride in the Twizy. Straight away she notices a problem. She always takes two bags with her; a handbag and a bag for lunch and other things only women understand.
I’ve also got a laptop bag, so between us we’ve got a fair bit of luggage. Now, the Twizy does have a boot behind the rear seat-back but the first time I opened it it took me ages to get the lid back on. It wasn’t very big anyway, so I’ve not bothered with it again.
There’s also a container at the front by the steering wheel but that’s only really for books and apples or maybe a Guinea Pig.
The long and short of it is the wife’s got to sit with her luggage on her lap. And my bag precariously balanced on her right leg. Understandably, she’s using a few naughty words at this point, but I decide to get on with the journey anyway and we whiz away silently.
On the dual carriageway the wife becomes even less happy. The Twizy can have windows if you want them, they’re fairly cumbersome clip-on affairs, but I’ve not got any and I have to confess it’s a bit blowy in the back without them.
Thankfully it’s only a few miles before we’re on the slower stretch but already she’s been using the type of naughty words we agreed we’d never use again. She really doesn’t seem happy back there. We got to work OK, marriage intact. Just.
When I drove back round to her office to pick her up, one of her colleagues clocked the car and popped out to have a chat about it. “Is that how many miles you’ve got left, 16?” He asked, glancing at the digital display. “Yes, that’s right,” I told him. “So how many miles have you got to drive home?” He asked. “15.” I said, nervously.
I wasn’t going to let the wife know this but we were getting seriously low on electricity. I’d driven in using the throttle like a binary switch and all the luggage and so on had obviously wreaked havoc with my range.
Amazingly, the wife was in a much more jovial mood and as we drove home she shouted out her usual barrage of stories from her day. Trouble is, I’ve no idea what she was saying because I was so busy concentrating on eaking out the battery life.
In the end we crawled home with three miles remaining. That was close.
OK, so today I’ve got to be a lot more careful with the way I drive the Twizy. Treating the throttle like there’s a live kitten underneath it will be the key here. It’s all about hypermiling.
The wife really isn’t happy again, but she’s agreed to come with me because some of her colleagues at work wants to have a sit in the Twizy. Apparently it caused quite a stir yesterday.
Once I’ve dropped her off, and once I’ve got it to my office, I notice I have just 17 miles remaining. Now, I’m not too anxious yet because the Twizy regenerates its own power really well by converting energy when it slows down into electricity.
This means that I’ll probably get more than 17 miles and should make it home comfortably without having to hypermile again.
In the end I limp home with five miles to spare. It’s really not going well, this experiment.
IT’S cold today. It’s one of those chilly late-summer mornings old people sometimes call “brisk”. The wife is dressed like an Eskimo as she limbos in. “You know it’s August, don’t you?” I said to her. She responded with a very naughty word and didn’t say anything else I can repeat for the rest of the journey. She said a lot of things, they were just all swear words.
To be fair, I didn’t enjoy the drive in today either. Not just because it was really cold, but because the Twizy seemed really lethargic too. Maybe we’ve worn it out, or maybe it’s the cold temperature making all those battery cells less efficient. Either way, this rural commuting lark is hard work in a Twizy.
On the plus side, it’s turned into a warm afternoon and I’ve finished work early so I decide to head out to my nearest and only electric vehicle charging point.
It’s at the delightful Izaak Walton Hotel in Dovedale and it’s about three miles from the office.
I’ve got 18 miles of range so I figure I can drive there and pop another 20 or so on while I have a cup of tea on the lawn and they won’t charge me anything to use the electricity.
The country’s electric vehicle charging network is blossoming. I went to the North East recently and there’s loads of places you can plug in. Sure, I’ve only got one in my neck of the woods but it’s nice to be making use of it.
The trouble is, although these are designed to charge any electric vehicle, the plug won’t fit. Because the route to Dovedale is a bit hilly I’ve lost five miles off my range. And if I’m to lose that again on the return to my office I’ll have just eight miles to get home with. Panic ensues.
Thankfully the Izaak Walton has a nice maintenance man who lent me an extension lead which will take the Twizy’s rather large plug. Crisis averted.
I’m not sure why but the Twizy didn’t charge very quickly. I gave it an hour in the end and gained just 20 per cent. Usually it’ll top up completely in about three and-a-half hours so it’s on a go-slow for whatever reason.
It’s still given me 24 miles though, which is more than enough to get home comfortably.
IT’S raining. Properly raining. The Twizy’s seats are wet, the roads are covered in big puddles and I’m having to get a towel out of the bathroom to dry it off before I can sit in it.
“Ha, you’re on your own today,” proclaims the wife, as she climbs into her car and toddles off to work, dry as a bone.
To be fair, even though I’m sitting on a towel, which is a little degrading, the Twizy’s wind deflectors keep most of the rain at bay, as long as I’m going quickly enough.
All in all though, it’s a fairly miserable last journey and that’s a shame because, although my little experiment didn’t really work, I’ve really bonded with the Twizy.
Last night I even found myself doing some sums so see if I could afford one and whether I could justify its ownership by replacing any short runs I do with electric motoring. But alas, for me, it wouldn’t work.
And then I start to ponder who would find the Twizy useful. Obviously, if you live in a city, it should be ideal. There’s no congestion charge in London and it’s great in traffic.
But the problem is, if you live in London, you’re not likely to have a driveway. And if you haven’t got a driveway, how can you charge a Twizy at home? I can’t imagine there are that many city offices that have household plug sockets in their car parks, either.
The other problem, and this really is a stumbling block, is cost. The Twizy costs around £7,000 and that’s not too bad but you then have to rent a battery from Renault for at least £45 per month. This is good because you never have to worry about your cells degrading but it’s not good because it wipes out a big chunk of your monthly fuel savings. It’s not as if you can charge it for free either. Each full charge adds around £1 to your electricity bill.
So although it didn’t work for me and although it’s not the bargain-basement motoring experience you hope it’ll be, the people I think could really enjoy a Twizy are the sort of people who like a bit of fun, lap up the attention and have a lump of cash to spare.
They have a driveway, and a normal car, but they also have sunny days when they don’t need to carry shopping or more than one person. It’s a bit like a motorbike in that respect, but much safer and a lot quieter.
So one day maybe I’ll have a Twizy. One day when I’ve not got a 30-mile commute and maybe when I can afford a garage to put it in.
Until then I’m happy to hand it back to the nice man from Renault. I’ve got wet arms and I feel very cold again.
It’s been such a lot of fun, but probably only 20% of the time and the people this car is for enjoy that 20% a lot more often than I do.
I’m actually quite jealous.