Weekend Test-Drive: Can Tiny Renault Twizy Be A Real Car?

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2012 Renault Twizy

2012 Renault Twizy

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When we first heard that French automaker Renault was producing a tiny, two-seat electric car with a top speed of 52mph called the Twizy, we have to admit to laughing.

A lot.

But after driving a production Renault Twizy in Ibiza earlier this year, our impression of the plucky go-kart changed. 

Could it, we wondered, be used as a second or third car in a busy family? Or is it nothing more than a fun plaything?

To find out, we borrowed a 2012 Renault Twizy for a long weekend, doing everything from ferrying kids around to the weekly shop.

Friday: rain, rain, rain

As the delivery driver was unloading the loan Twizy, the moderate rain that we’d been experiencing all week got a little heavier.  

He looked worried. 

“You know this has no side windows, right? You’re going to get wet,” he helpfully informed. “Hope you’ve got a raincoat.”

2012 Renault Twizy

2012 Renault Twizy

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He was right. Sitting on a driveway with the rain now falling heavily, the parked Twizy did indeed get wet, with water falling on everything from the seat to the steering wheel. 

Admittedly, sitting down on the drenched seat -- even after giving it a quick wipe with a towel -- wasn’t fun. 

As soon as I pulled away however, I was surprised at how dry it was sitting inside this windowless car.

While there was water ingress -- mainly down the inside of the optional half scissor-doors, very little made it in far enough to reach the driver’s seat. 

Even on fast-moving roads, with heavy trucks passing me, I remained (mostly) dry, while the Twizy’s excellent direct steering and non-assisted brakes provided sure-footed traction.

Later that afternoon, I even ventured out of town, taking the tiny Twizy on a winding country road to pick up my eldest kid from a damp soccer practice. 

Securely fastened in the rear, my passenger found the Twizy an instant hit, but commented that the rear seat passenger seemed to be getting a little damper than the driver thanks to the Twizy’s shape and passenger distance from the windshield. 

Friday’s verdict? The Twizy handled everything I threw at it with unconventional aplomb. A lack of heating or side windows meant the journey was a little cold at times, but for the most part, dry. 

Saturday: chores

2012 Renault Twizy

2012 Renault Twizy

Enlarge Photo

Saturday in our household is chore day. As well as grocery shopping, there’s recycling and the occasional additional errand to do. 

Naturally, the Twizy had to come too. 

With another small person in tow, the Twizy managed admirably in the Saturday morning traffic, out-accelerating most cars to 30 mph and parking with ease. 

But it was Saturday which taught me the biggest lesson about the Twizy: it attracts attention. 

Within the first two hours, I’d been asked a dozen times or more by other motorists where they could get one, and a dozen more had stopped to ask what the strangely shaped car was. 

In my time as an automotive journalist, I’ve driven some pretty interesting cars. None attracted more attention. 

Shopping done, we headed back to the Twizy, to be confronted by its first major drawback: a lack of storage. 

That’s because the Twizy doesn’t have a trunk. Or rather, it has a tiny 1.09 cubic feet of cubby hole behind the passenger headrest. 

There’s also an optional 1.7 cubic feet bag available that attaches to the rear seat in lieu of a passenger, which in my case, was already full with a child. 

Our solution was to place bags alongside the optional doors, wedging them in-between the seats and the door. It was unconventional, but worked. 

Fully laden, the Twizy managed the trip home admirably, even sustaining its top speed of 52 mph on a steep uphill section. 

After chores, the Twizy trips were more fun, taking in a local shopping mall and a fun trip out in the country. 

And it’s in that situation that the Twizy is its most fun. 

Even on tight, twisty roads, the Twizy’s narrow track makes it possible  to enter and exit corners far faster than a conventional car, while its two-up seating position enhances its go-kart-like qualities. 

However, with some chronic understeer, there’s a fair degree of tire squeal if you go too fast, something I learned pretty quickly. 

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Comments (9)
  1. The Twizzy is definitively the answer, but I'm still trying to work out to what question and unfortunately this article didn't bring that any closer. It seems to combine the disadvantages of a car (stuck in traffic, can't park everywhere) with those of a bike (little luggage space, no protection from the weather and not too safe) while adding a low top speed as a new problem.

    I hope there is plenty of people who did find the answer though because I do think these are kinda cool.

  2. Chris - The "stuck in traffic" thing is an interesting point, as there are degrees as to how stuck you can get in traffic. It certainly can't filter between lanes like a motorcycle, but you'd be surprised at the amount of times where you get stuck because your car is literally a few inches too wide, or because a vehicle is partly blocking the entrance to a road or similar. In these situations (all too frequent in busy cities) the Twizy's sub-car body width becomes incredibly useful.

  3. Hi Anthony, guess you found a question after all: darn it how do I squeeze past these narrow spots in city traffic with something that has more than just 2 wheels.....Seems a bit thin to base an entire car concept on though. There must be something else we are still missing....

  4. It's not the number of wheels that's really the issue, unless of course someone doesn't have a bike licence in which case it's very much the issue!

    No, the Twizy can't squeeze through traffic like a motorcycle can, but even if it's ultimately bigger than a motorcycle, it's still a whole lot smaller than a regular car (even a Smart Fortwo) and as such a heck of a lot easier to squeeze through gaps that might otherwise hold up a regular car.

    Then there's extra safety over a motorcycle, a more comfortable rear seat, and of course zero local emissions...

    It's certainly not a car for everyone (and Renault certainly doesn't claim it is) but I would have thought the concept was fairly easy to understand.

  5. I would find the Twizzy more suitable if they offered full doors and they probably will eventually.As to the storage problem why not offer detachable bags as on motorcycles or a removable shopping trolley on the back.
    Still would like it to bank into turns though.

  6. Don, I suspect that Renault doesn't offer full doors, because then they would have to offer climate control (defog / defrost at a minimum for safety). Even those old triangular partial windows they had on the old cars (which complemented the rectangular windows) might even lead to a windshield fogging problem.

    The Renault Twizy, Opel RAK-e, Audi Urban Concept, VW Nils Concept, etc. would be perfect for me, because I don't need to take the highway, and my commute is only 5 miles. I already own a helmet and waterproof gear for my 50cc scooter, so I am ready to trade up.

  7. Jason, it seems you are the perfect person for the Twizzy to be marketed toward. I'm just curious if there are enough people with your attitude to make a business case for it. Renault seems to think so.

  8. The 8 miles per kWh would equate to 240 miles per gallon for .12 cents per kWh electric power and $3.60/gal gas. This far excees the fuel efficicency of available motorcycles while offering limited protection from weather. It would helpful to know the range.

  9. David,

    That depends of course on how you drive.

    According to Renault, the range of the Twizy (tested on the highly-optimistic NEDC cycle) is 60 miles.

    I found more realistically that between 35 and 50 miles was possible on a mixture of roads.

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