17bhp, the option of no doors, and a chassis tuned by RenaultSport - is the Twizy a sensible or foolish used buy?

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Despite not being on sale for a few years now, the Renault Twizy, an electric quadricycle (important to note that it's not an electric car) with two seats arranged in tandem, continues to fascinate and delight those who glimpse one.

Yes, it’s a bit chilly in winter, but otherwise the Twizy has much to recommend it. Such as? Well, it doesn’t take long to charge via a domestic socket, early examples are inexpensive (prices start at around £4000) and driving one will put a smile on your face.

A cynic might point out that the charging time is so short – around three and a half hours – because the battery is tiny (6.1kWh), it’s cheap because new ones weren’t exactly expensive (from £7000 in 2012) and when you’re smiling it’s only with relief that it hasn’t run out of power (its range is around 40 miles) and your back is still in one piece (the stiff suspension makes for entertaining handling at the expense of comfort).

A scooter would be cheaper and better suited to urban travel, they may also say. But in a Twizy you’re riding more safely on four wheels attached to a chassis tuned by – get this – RenaultSport.

Not only that, but you’re also protected by a steel frame and crumple zones front and rear, there’s an airbag in the steering wheel and you’re secured to your seat by a four-point seatbelt. You sit quite high in the Twizy, so all-round visibility is good.

The dashboard is simple but attractive and includes two gloveboxes, one of them lockable. A comprehensive trip computer keeps you abreast of range and the instrument display of battery capacity.

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The cabin is hard-wearing and easy to clean but there’s no cabin heater, so be sure to buy a Twizy with the optional zip-in windows.

One with doors, too. They were also an option, but only at the point of the car’s production: you can’t buy and fit aftermarket ones. The battery lies below the floor, from where it sends current to the rear-mounted electric motor.

This produces 17bhp and 42lb ft of torque, sufficient to propel this little EV to 50mph. Acceleration from 0-30mph is strong and you will keep up with traffic in town, but any faster and the Twizy soon runs out of puff. However, you’re so exposed and it’s so close to the road that it always feels enjoyably rapid.

From launch until 2021, the battery had to be leased from Renault at a cost of around £45 per month.

With older cars, it’s now possible to buy the lease out for a small sum; with newer cars, you might have to pay up to £800 for the battery. From 2021, the battery was bundled in with the car, raising the Twizy’s list price to around £12,000.

All cars have a three-metre charging cable so you need to have a three-pin socket close by.

Early trims were Urban (with steel wheels) and Technic (alloys). Later on, they were replaced by Expression, offering 13in wheels, a lockable glovebox and a heated windscreen, and Dynamique with alloys and a choice of 14 body colours. All versions have front disc brakes and regenerative braking.

Everyone we spoke to in research for this guide said a Twizy was the most fun they’d had on four wheels. Try one: you might like it.


Motor and batteries: Performance should be brisk – at least up to 30mph. Press the button on the end of the right-hand stalk to scroll through the system menu and check the range. Check the condition of the 12V auxiliary battery that’s mounted behind the front bumper. It needs changing at least every three years.

Regen and charging: Be sure that regeneration kicks in on a trailing throttle to slow you down and make sure the battery indicator shows the energy flowing back. The on-board charger was troublesome on early cars, so check it’s working. An updated charger costs £1500.

Wheels and suspension: This is an urban vehicle, so check the wheels aren’t badly kerbed. The firm suspension doesn’t like potholes, so scrutinise recent MOT test reports for component advisories.

Tyre and brakes: Check the bespoke (original equipment) tyres are free of cracks and correctly inflated. The rear brakes can corrode and become noisy. Badly rusted drums will need replacing at a cost of around £550 for the set. Pistons are prone to seizing but are easy to clean. Check for fluid leaks from failing caliper seals.

Interior: Check that the lights and heated windscreen work. The hazard switch is prone to failing. Make sure the driver’s seat can slide to admit the rear-seat passenger; there should be a fabric tag to enable them to pull it back.

The holes in the footwell near the rear of the driver’s seat and in the seat squab are to allow water to drain, so make sure they are clear. See that the seat fabric isn’t badly worn.


Renault Twizy doors open

Unlike the ‘ZE’ models that Renault had already introduced in the UK at the time, the Twizy was a ground-up electric vehicle.

Technically, it’s not an electric car but a heavy quadricycle. And although this so-called ‘sub-A’ segment of the market had not been particularly visible to car industry watchers up until the point at which the Twizy launched, it ended up becoming a huge source of growth over the coming years. 

Built around a lightweight steel frame wrapped with plastic panels, the Twizy is small – more than a foot shorter even than the then Smart Fortwo, and six inches narrower – but it’s also strong and safe, Renault promised. It has proper crumple zones front and rear and a four-point seatbelt for the driver, who sits in a central position, with a passenger seat immediately behind. 

Directly beneath is a 100kg, 6.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which shuffles current, via a power inverter, to a 17bhp, 42lb ft asynchronous electric induction motor situated just ahead of the rear axle. Drive is by the rear wheels. Weight distribution is 45/55 percent front to rear, according to our scales.

When it launched, Renault made a big virtue of the fact that the Twizy has a wheel at each corner, unlike some of the overgrown scooters that it seeked to supplant. Its chassis is made up of MacPherson-style struts front and rear, with stiff anti-roll bars designed to control the body roll that such a tall, narrow car lays itself open to. 

Believe it or not, Renault’s in-house performance specialist, Renaultsport, was tasked with tuning that chassis and delivering on a brief for handling that’s fun but also benign enough for particularly inexperienced drivers.


Renault Twizy interior

A fairly conventional seatbelt, two pedals, two indicator stalks and an entirely normal steering wheel characterise a driving environment that might make the Renault Twizy feel quite familiar.

This would be true were it not for the central driving position and for the fact that – even with the optional scissor doors of our test car lowered – the cockpit never feels remotely enclosed.

A high driving position makes for good all-round visibility. But most testers agreed that they felt as if they were riding on the Twizy rather than driving in it. It’s an impression underlined by the air rushing into the cabin where conventional windows might otherwise be, and on a chilly day at cruising speeds it makes you acutely aware of the lack of any cabin heating.

The Twizy offers its driver as much room as any supermini. Its controls are easy to use and the digital speedometer, trip computer and battery meter are clear. 

The interior plastics are hardy enough and easy to wipe clean – important given that there’s no way to protect them from rain and road grime – but they do feel cheap, reminding you more of the cubbies and fittings on a mass-market motorbike than those of a contemporary car. 

Ironically, a big motorbike might offer more storage than the Twizy. The main cubby – a 31-litre box behind the rear seat – is fiddly to open and tricky to access and would barely accommodate a small shopping bag.

Although it may be a much safer and more energy-efficient means of getting around the city, the Twizy barely seems to offer any more practicality than a big scooter. 

On the equipment front, the standard Twizy got disc brakes, an electronic engine immobiliser, regenerative braking, day-time-running lights, and a driver's airbag included, while Expression trim added a digital drive and speedo display, a lockable rear storage space and heated windscreen.

The range-topping Dynamique model gained floor mats, alloy wheels and a choice of 14 colour collections, while those looking to use their Twizy as a commercial vehicle can do so with the Cargo model, which removed the rear seat and replaced it with additional storage space.


Renault Twizy front three quarter

There are two elements to this: speed and range. You shouldn’t expect a vast quantity of either, which is an indication of what Renault was trying to do with the Twizy; it’s an urban runabout like a G-Wiz or a Qpod rather than an alternative to the city cars against which it’s priced.

To that end, it tops out at a heady 50mph, and although the 8.4sec it takes to get even to 30mph (two up) seems an inordinate amount of time on paper, in reality the Twizy has no problem keeping up with urban traffic, especially with just one occupant on board. It’s just that you use more of the throttle travel than you would in a conventional car – more like a scooter, in fact. 

It is one of the things that makes the Twizy good fun: driving everywhere at what it thinks is an enthusiastic speed but which none of the rest of the world does, with the elements fizzing past. 

Drive it normally – not overly cautiously – and you’ll get a 43-mile range out of it. Be very gentle with the throttle and cruise to a stop rather than working the unassisted discs and you might get a few more miles, but its range in our hands was relatively consistent. 

Only on the test track, with a lot of hard acceleration, did its range drop to 27 miles. For those who do the same short commute every day, or hop about in town, the Twizy will most likely be surprisingly usable.


Renault Twizy side

Developing a car for a driver who has yet to pass his or her test must have been a tricky task, even considering the chassis tuning expertise that we know Renaultsport possesses. And given that Renault’s business plan was to sell lower-powered Twizys to European teenagers ineligible to drive a full-sized car, the dynamic manners of the car make perfect sense.

The Twizy is a simple, manoeuvrable, lively entertainer at everyday urban speeds and up to a fairly conservative threshold of grip. There is no ESP or traction control, though.

Once you’ve breached the Twizy’s lateral hold on the road – something that’s easy enough to do on a wet urban bend at entirely legal speeds – the car lets you know with absolute, non-negotiable understeer. And that understeer can only be managed by doing what we’d all want the giddy 16-year-old pilot to do: slowing down.

The car’s remarkable roll stiffness primarily defines its motive character. The body barely leans when negotiating tight turns or roundabouts. Instead, short springs and chunky anti-roll bars load up the contact patches of the Twizy’s skinny tyres the instant you turn the steering wheel. The car responds very quickly to steering inputs but never leans on its outside wheels hard enough to produce extremes of lateral grip.

That breezy, amusingly accessible handling is partnered with ride comfort that’s slightly compromised, though. Renault’s decision to dial out body roll from the Twizy has also dialled out most of the compliance from the chassis – particularly at the rear end.

The suspension deals with drain covers, sleeping policemen and broken urban asphalt quite abruptly and with little concern for your comfort. That responsive steering and narrow track make it easy to drive around disturbances in the road much of the time – but on the occasions when you can’t, you’ll wish that you could trade just a little of the Twizy’s body control for wheel travel.


Renault Twizy front three quarter lead

When it first came out, the Twizy was far from a sound financial prospect at almost £7000, but now you can grab one from around £5000 which is a little more in keeping with its ability.

And while the Twizy’s battery will have been leased to the end user, with prices starting from £45 a month, there are several examples where the battery is owned. Group 10 insurance, however, means that owning one might not represent a saving compared with an entry-level second-hand city car like a Citroen C1.

Obviously, you’ll need an outside electrical socket to charge the car. Renault’s power cable is only three metres long, which may restrict your at-home charging options. 

The more satisfied Twizy owners will be those with the flexibility to treat it more like a motorbike – putting it away for the winter months, when low temperatures would make the battery range and open cabin trying.


Renault Twizy doors open

Realistically – objectively – the Renault Twizy is nowhere. A range of less than 50 miles. An approximate 50mph top speed. No windows, no heater, and a price that most second-hand city cars can get close to.

But, in this instance, there is a ‘however’. And the Twizy owes its caveat to the amount of fun that it provides its driver, and to the fact that it is a remarkably cute piece of product design that people laugh with, rather than at. 

Yes, it’s another electric vehicle that, we can’t help but conclude, would be better with its own power source on board.

It'd still be just as fun, it'd still be cheap to run and - more importantly - it'd be a much more practical and usable form of transport.

But, nonetheless, the Twizy has a loveable character in a field that’s all too often devoid of charm.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Renault Twizy 2012-2021 First drives