Thursday, June 27, 2013

Shut Up and Drive.

When I left you the other day I was sitting in the Twizy, ready to give it a test drive. It's one thing to walk around a car, look at it from every angle, kick the tires, try out the seats and controls, but the most important part is obviously the test drive. All cars in the TwizyWay rental program have been modified to use an electronic swipe card and irremovable key, but I'll get into detail on that another day in another post.

In a regular Twizy, you put your foot on the brake, put the key in the ignition and turn it like in a traditional car. Once you see the green 'Go' light lit up on the dash, you're ready to go! With the handbrake off and the 'D' drive button pushed (there's no shift lever, just 'D' for drive, 'N' for neutral, and 'R' for reverse), all it takes is a push of the accelerator pedal and you're off. The feel is not quite the same as a traditional car, but you get used to it very quickly. What I didn't expect was the relatively quick acceleration. Not only is the Twizy light (around 470 kg), but it is in the nature of an electric motor to provide maximum power almost instantly. There's no 'revving it up' like one does with a gasoline engine in a regular car. You push, the car goes.
Of note, the Twizy I drove was the Twizy80 model, with a 17 horsepower motor. To drive this version you need a regular drivers license. A less powerful Twizy45 model with a smaller 5 horsepower motor is also available, and in France it does not require a drivers license. The '80' and '45' model names are not random: they represent the top speeds in km/h of the two different versions.

Much has been made of the fact that electric cars are silent, to the point that they are designed with warning buzzers that the driver can turn on in busy pedestrian areas. The Twizy may be silent when stopped, but it certainly isn't silent when moving. With no side windows to block the noise, you hear every sound, from the wind rushing past the windshield to the wheels on the road to the suspension working up and down. Unfortunately you can't even drown out the noise with music, as no radio is offered.

It is probably fitting that the car is noisy, because it's rather rough riding as well. The suspension is clearly designed for handling, and not a smooth ride. This may be an acceptable compromise for a car fan like myself, who is willing to trade a little comfort for some increased handling, but most everyday drivers will find the Twizy a little too stiff. It is most felt over speed bumps, which have to be taken at very low speeds.
Back to the handling. This is one strong point of the Twizy. With the weight of the battery back underneath the car, directly under the driver, the centre of gravity of the car is very low. Coupled with the wheels out at the four corners this creates a very stable, well-planted vehicle. I was able to confirm this in several turning circles and on a curvy stretch of road leading out of town: the car can be driven fast through twists and turns with great composure.

One long straight stretch allowed me to confirm that the Twizy80 would indeed reach 80 km/h. It does, but whereas initial acceleration is very impressive, you can feel the car running out of juice as it climbs up above 70. Designed mostly for city dwellers, the car will spend most of its time under 50 km/h, and at that speed, the car is very responsive.

Braking is perfectly adequate, even excellent. With little weight to bring to a halt, the Twizy is composed and confidence-inspiring under braking. The light weight also means that power steering is not required, or even missed, even at low-speed parking maneuvers.
So what is my conclusion after my 43 minute, 13 kilometer test? I would buy it, but many of you probably wouldn't. It is clearly much more closely related to a car than to a motorcycle, and in comparison to even the most cheap and basic of traditional cars, there are simply too many faults. Not offering a fully enclosed interior is probably the biggest, though the unadjustable seatback and harsh, bumpy ride, especially over European cobblestone streets, also stand out as big sore points.

Those people looking for something different than a regular car, something along the lines of a glorified go-kart that offers useful acceleration and fun handling, and who are willing to put up with the various shortcomings have their new toy: the Renault Twizy!
Next time I will get into the details and how-to of the TwizyWay rental program, and also take a closer look at the pricing of the Twizy. You will see that if you're not already 100% convinced, Renault won't make you love it any more with the pricing and restrictions they have placed on their unique but flawed battery-powered city vehicle...

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