Cars that make you smile: Renault Twizy
Every now and then I drive a car and literally emerge with a smile on my face. This, of course, is a big fat cliche in motoring journalism.
Reactions may vary between an appreciative nod, wrinkled forehead of intrigue, a furrowed eyebrow of doubt or dislike or a simple pat of the bumper. I once emerged from a car shaking, drenched in sweat and reaching for a cigarette.
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But very rarely have I emerged actually smiling. They're usually small, fast and venturing into 'hot' territory. The Citroen DS3 Racing is the last car that I remember affecting me in this way. And now another French car - of sorts - has had me beaming from ear to ear. It's small, but it sure as heck isn't fast or hot.
It is the Renault Twizy. And though it is not hot, it is cool. The Twizy can only be powered via an electric cord that unfurls from its front face like it's a small hoover. You plug it into your mains and over ten hours you get about 60 miles of range. It has no doors. It was two seats (or one and a half to be totally honest). There is no car radio, satnav, gearstick, aircon or luggage space. It is, literally, not a car.
I missed out on the Twizy's international launch to my eternal dismay - and heard stories about one of the most purely enjoyable driving experiences imaginable. On Ibiza's smooth, quiet, gently curved, sunny roads I can kind of imagine that.
Take the Twizy onto a four-lane ring road in Liverpool with a massive truck approaching rapidly (did he see me? Is this how it all ends?) and it's a rather different matter. Not being classed as a car it's not crash-tested and, rather like the G-Wiz, I rather suspect it transforms into a rather funky-looking matchbox in a serious shunt. It's rather small, short and noiseless. How easy is it for other road user to see?
There are other problems. There are no doors (well, they are, but they're optional - and only cover about a third of the ingress / egress space. Good luck discouraging tramps, dogs, pigeons, spiders, children and ne'er-do-wells from clambering inside when you've parked it in the supermarket.
In my voyage around Liverpool city centre I attracted a heck of a lot of attention. During the day in the city centre it was rather fun. In a less salubrious area - perhaps with the sun departed for the day - I suspect I'd feel rather differently.
While it's waterproof inside would you really want to sit, shivering, as the cold and wet make your commute a misery? Ah, the commute. A man at Renault Liverpool told me he'd worked out a route back home to Warrington (about 20 miles and 30 minutes by my reckoning) and driven it home one night.
I take my hat off to him but it's not a route I'd want to undertake without a warm coat, brolly, flask of coffee and a higher opinion of the judgement and abilities of my fellow road users than I currently have.
Yet, the people at Renault Liverpool says there has been interest in the Twizy - professionals who live in the urban sprawl looking for something they can tootle along to work in and save some cash on fuel, road tax, maintenance and insurance.
Back in Ibiza, in the urbanizations and gated communities - and for tourists looking for cheap and simple transport to the beach and back - the Twizy fits the bill.
And it is very enjoyable, in a rattly, basic, noisy and rather exposed sort of way. Like an electric go-kart - the milk float comparisons don't stand up, it's too fast and grippy for that - the Twizy feels like a lot of fun to drive. Think of it without having a car in mind to compare it to and it's rather fun, smart and different; sensible even in the right conditions.
It's rather like a cheap cell phone that might accompany your all-singing-all-dancing cellphone because it's cheap to buy and use and does what it says on the tin. It's like the Raspberry Pi - an ultra-cheap PC with all the basic functions present and correct - alongside the car of the Macbook. The Twizy is a very different way of thinking about cars.
Because it's not a car at all. It may well be, however, the most enjoyable not-a-car you could ever drive.