Renault Twizy Review : first Australian drive

David Zalstein drives the all-electric Renault Twizy right here in Australia... where, at the moment, you can't buy it.
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The all-electric Renault Twizy has been on sale in Europe since April 2012. However, being classified as a 'quadricycle', the diminutive French EV cannot be sold locally as no such classification exits under our Australian Design Rules. So is our first-ever Australian drive of the micro-sized Twizy merely an optimistic but in the end futile experience? Or, is it a funky sign of things to come?

They say first impressions last, and when your time with a car is limited to a handful of laps around the private 1.5km test track at Melbourne’s Metec Driver Training Centre, this rings truer than ever.

Resting pre-drive next to a brightly coloured Inca Yellow Clio, the Spanish-built Renault Twizy looks unlike any other vehicle you’ve seen in Australia. Apart from having its charge gun and blue power lead hanging out of its super stubby nose, the Twizy is also genuinely tiny.

Effectively sitting between a scooter and a light passenger car, the 474kg Twizy is 2338mm long and 1396mm wide (with optional doors fitted). For perspective, that’s around 35cm shorter and 16cm narrower than a 770kg Smart ForTwo.

Petite, definitely, but the Twizy is far from being short on character.

At the front, flanking a (now small) Renault badge on a gloss black panel, are two round high-set headlights sitting above two smaller circular front indicators.

Outboard of the main body, and snuggly positioned under hard plastic wheel guards and alongside open suspension components, are four, three-stud 13-inch alloy wheels wrapped in skinny Continental tyres (measuring 125mm up front and 145mm at the rear).

Out back there is a single, large, horizontal brake light, another pair of indicators and a weight-saving ‘Twizy’ decal. Oh yeah, and the thing has no air conditioning, no power steering and no windows… though overseas, Twizy buyers can opt for zip-in plastic items as an after purchase option.

Based on a top-spec ‘Technic’ variant, however, Renault Australia’s Twizy – the only one currently in the country – does feature such optional equipment as a transparent roof, Bluetooth phone connectivity, parking sensors and more than mildly cool Lamborghini-style scissor doors.

The cockpit looks somewhat more conventional. There’s a regular air-bag-equipped steering wheel, indicator and wiper stalks, two pedals, a handbrake and twin glove boxes (3.5- and 5.0-litre with the latter being lockable).

What is different, though, is the Twizy’s jet trainer-style one-plus-one seating layout. Apart from encouraging you and your passenger to quote Top Gun at will, the clever rear seat can also have its base removed, flipped, and reinserted to create a secure 31L cargo bucket.

Mounted beneath the floor, and powering the whole rear-wheel-drive Twizy show, is a synchronous AC electric motor spitting out 13kW of power and 57Nm of torque.

Teamed with a 6.1kWh lithium ion battery and a single-speed reducer-type transmission, the emission-free, Renault Sport F1-developed powertrain claims 0-45km/h in 6.1 seconds and a top speed of 80km/h.

All charged up – a process claimed to take about 3.5 hours from a standard 10-amp outlet – we had two laps to use as close to the battery’s 80km ‘real-world’ maximum range as we could.

Taking off, the Twizy feels as hesitant as we are, with an initial stab of the throttle resulting in a short pause, making us question if we indeed turned the poor thing on. We had and after a ‘relaxed’ start, the baby Renault accelerates smoothly up to and beyond 40km/h spritely enough.

Sounding almost go-kart-like in the way its single gear winds up and down with changing speed, the Renault Twizy is quiet-ish inside but cabin noise is a mix of EV ‘whooop’ and wind freely entering the cockpit thanks to the whole no windows thing.

With enough pep to happily reach Metec’s 60km/h circuit limit, the Twizy’s brakes were the next question mark.

Able to wash off speed reasonably well on corner approaches, the four-wheel disc (214mm front, 204mm rear), non-ABS package is paired with a very odd pedal feel that remains consistently solid during applications, offering little in the way of progression – possibly due to the Twizy’s energy recovery system activated when braking or decelerating. To be clear, though, they do work, they might just need more than a few short laps to fully adjust to.

Something less likely to be bettered with more time behind the wheel, is the Twizy’s ride. Boasting a chassis developed by Renault Sport, the lightweight EV is more golf kart than go-kart, crashing over imperfections and pockmarked blacktop.

That said, it still sits relatively flat and remains agile and sharp when changing directions – helped by its 2.8 turns lock-to-lock. In tighter situations too, its 6.8m turning circle is more than handy.

Though our time in the front seat is brief, the Twizy proves comfortable and ergonomically sensible – the latter a trait not all electric or hybrid-powered vehicles can match. While vision also scores big points for us, a quick lap spent in the rear seat is truly impressive.

Still someway shy of being completely TARDIS-like, the rear occupant cut-out is deceptively spacious, with yours truly’s six foot-frame contently wedging in behind CarAdvice’s trusty videographer Christian Barbeitos. There’s even a small head rest tucked back there… smart.

With only very limited time spent with a vehicle, it can sometimes be difficult to form an opinion. But, even after a highly compressed drive, under controlled conditions, and on a closed course, we can say with confidence that the Renault Twizy is properly fun.

Quite apart from offering an interesting transport alternative, the Twizy is an entertaining way to get around, leaving all who drive it smiling ear-to-ear – although being stuck in traffic, dodging trucks on a main road or getting caught in the rain could all result in a different story.

Starting in Europe priced around 6000 euro ($8600) for the 45km/h Twizy and 8000 euro ($11,500) for the 80km/h version we drove, Renault Australia corporate communications and sponsorship manager Emily Fadeyev says local Twizy sales are still a way off.

“We’re talking years not months,” Fadeyev says before we convince her to jump into the back of the Twizy to play Goose to our Maverick.

“The Twizy has proved incredibly popular in Europe [13,000 vehicles to date] [but] at the moment, the Twizy is a quadricycle and we currently don’t have any Australian legislation that enables us to register a quadricycle. Which is why we haven’t be able to import them to Australia yet.”

Fadeyev highlights government support and infrastructure as the two biggest hurdles facing EVs in Australia.

“At the moment there’s nothing in place in terms of subsidies for electric vehicles, or concessions on registration that would support the introduction and roll out of electric vehicles widely in Australia,” Fadeyev says.

“There also isn’t a strong infrastructure for electric vehicles in Australia, and that’s a bit of a challenge because if people buy them, they want to know that they can charge their vehicles when they go out and also make sure that they’ve got the support if anything happens.

“In terms of a timeline, Twizy’s one that will take a bit longer… but with other electric vehicles, we hope that in the coming years that support will be there and maybe the infrastructure as well that would support the roll out.”

So sadly, as enjoyable as our first local Twizy drive was, until there are significant and widespread changes in Australia, it will remain on our ‘want but can’t have’ wish list. And that’s a real shame because while it may not be perfect, and certainly not viable for everyone, the Twizy still stands as a positive sign of future potential.

Click on the Photos tab for more images by David Zalstein and Christian Barbeitos.