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First drive: Renault Twizy still some years away

Electric four-wheeled Renault Twizy faces tough fight to be sold under Aussie regs

13 Apr 2012

RENAULT has called on the Australian government to create new legislation to accommodate vehicles such as its radical re-imagining of the quadricycle, the Twizy, which it says could be at least three years away from launch in Australia.

The Spanish-built pure-electric urban runabout Twizy – the name is an amalgam of ‘twin-seater zero-emission easy vehicle’ – is under serious consideration for Australia at a starting price of under $10,000.

According to Renault’s corporate communications manager, Emily Ambrosy, discussions have started with Australian authorities on how the Twizy could be approved for Australian roads, as apparently no suitable quadricycle legislation exists.

As it currently stands, the Twizy’s four wheels and steering wheel would put it into the passenger-car category Down Under. But as the Renault is a quadricycle by European standards, it lacks the mandatory side impact bars and electronic stability control – among other things – needed to meet Australian passenger-car requirements.

Henry Ford’s first motorised model of 1896 to 1901 was a quadricycle, while most Australians know them as ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) or ‘quad bikes’ that can only be operated on private property.

It is this last point on which Renault is attempting to get an exemption from or create a sub-category to, so that Twizy can be sold and driven legally on Australian public roads.

“Ideally there would be a new quadricycle category like in Europe to accommodate the Twizy,” Ms Ambrosy said.

Available in France since mid March, prices kick off from €6900 ($A8854 – but not including an $A64-plus monthly rental fee for the battery) for the special ‘45’ 45km/h speed-limited model that requires no driver’s licence in some countries.

The Twizy proposed for Australia would be the ‘80’ – the 81km/h full-power model starting from €7690 ($A9917) after taxes but before battery rental. It is also expected to account for up to 85 per cent of all sales in Europe.

35 center imageSo why is the tiniest vehicle ever sold by Renault not technically a car? Listen up because it does get a little complicated. Note also that ‘quadracycle’ with two ‘As’ refers to a human-powered four-wheel bicycle.

A blank sheet design with no peer, the Twizy’s specifications nevertheless adhere to the traditional European quadricycle categories as per a 1986 French ministerial decree that also encapsulates some mopeds and scooters such as the Italian Vespa.

Accordingly then, the Twizy 45 must not exceed 45km/h, 4kW and 350kg (not including the 100kg battery pack) to qualify for the Light Quadricycle category that requires no driver’s licence.

Renault reckons this will attract city dwellers that only commute within town, parents/guardians of teenagers worried that a scooter is dangerous, and people who cannot or are not allowed to drive a regular passenger vehicle. It is also expecting big business from the leisure industry that might otherwise choose a golf buggy as guest transportation.

The Twizy 80, meanwhile, is classed as a Heavy Quadricycle in Europe (as per a 2002 amendment) because it does not exceed 500kg and 15kW. A driver’s licence is necessary to operate these.

Europe’s recent ‘three-wheeler’ motorised tricycle boom has been led by the popular Piaggio MP3 released in 2006 – and it is this success that prompted Renault to devise its own quadricycle rival in 2007.

A passenger pod sitting on a deformable tubular-steel chassis, the Twizy seats its two occupants tandem-style, allowing Renault to devise a quadricycle that is about half the size of its sub-B class Twingo offering. The newcomer is therefore much smaller than the Smart ForTwo and Toyota iQ – the two models the French company cites as the closest passenger car competitors.

Made from varying plastics, the monospace body features a large hexagonal opening either side of the seats, a deep windscreen serviced by a single wiper, and a high-mounted horizontal tail-light strip situated about where a rear window would be in a regular car. Renault says the Twizy’s narrowness rendered a rear window and rear vision mirror pointless.

Key dimensions are 2338mm long, 1237-1396 wide (depending on whether doors/mirrors are fitted), 1454mm high, wheelbase 1686mm, front track 1094mm, rear track 1080mm and 120mm ground clearance). Total weight with batteries is 446kg (45) and 474 (80).

Driving the back wheels via a single-speed reducer gear and driveshaft is a rear-mounted asynchronous electric motor powered by a centrally sited and fixed 6.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack employing “an uninterruptible power supply”. Maximum charge time is 3.5 hours though a normal 220W household power outlet and three-metre cable located in the nose of the car.

While both models share the same hardware, there are significant differences in the electronics and inverter mechanism. Renault says it prioritised low-speed torque response to give the Twizy a livelier feeling accelerating in the city.

The 45 produces 4kW of power and 33Nm of torque from 0-2050rpm, for a 0-45km/h-sprint time of 9.9 seconds and 120km of range, while consuming 58Wh/km of electricity. Renault says the crucial 0-50-metre dash of 7.5 seconds beats many scooters.

In contrast, the Twizy 80 delivers 13kW and 57Nm from 0-2100rpm, hits 0-45km/h in 6.1 seconds on the way to an artificially limited 81km/h (up to 96km/h is possible without the governor), has a maximum range of 100km and uses 63Wh/km of electricity. The 80’s 0-50m best is 6.6s.

These are all official fuel consumption figures. In real-world situations the Twizy 80 has been designed to return between 70km and 80km of range in moderate driving situations, dropping down to about 50km if thrashed about.

To help maximise range, going off-throttle creates an energy regenerative function of 80 per cent efficiency – matching the traction motor – while special eco tyres (125/80 R13 front and 145/80 R13 rear) are fitted.

Simplicity and low weight were the mantra of the RST Renault Sport Technologies engineers that developed the Twizy’s chassis, honing the MacPherson strut front and rear suspension system and unassisted rack and pinion steering (with a 3.4m turning circle) for maximum stability and control. Cost and weight issues mean ABS anti-lock brakes and ESC are not available.

Although no crash test regime exists for quadricycles, Renault felt it needed to push safety boundaries significantly in this segment, so it developed a driver’s airbag, a driver’s four-point harness-style seatbelt, a passenger three-point seatbelt, four-wheel disc brakes, front and rear crumple zones and a safety cell body structure.

It then simulated ENCAP-style 50km/h (instead of the 56km/h for passenger cars) frontal impact, 30km/h (instead of 35km/h) rear impact, and a 29km/h lateral impact testing to protect the battery pack. Though there is no side-impact protection within the circumference of the passenger cell – a corollary of the open design – Renault believes the Twizy is easily the safest three-wheeler and quadricycle option.

Durability testing was done in Normandy, France, as well as the northern parts of Sweden (cold weather) and Granada, Spain (hot weather). The operating temperature extremes are from minus-35 degrees centigrade to plus-45 degrees centigrade.

Storage is not a strong point in a city car with a three-square metre footprint, but the Twizy offers 8.3 litres of storage in two dash compartments (one lockable) and a 31-litre ‘boot’ accessible from behind the rear backrest. About 50 lites of extra stowage is possible using an optional rear-seat mounted shopping ‘backpack’.

Three trim levels are available, starting with Urban (monochrome and grey hubcaps, lockable steering column and handbrake, 12-volt supply, trip computer, EV warning sound to pedestrians and econometer).

The mid-range Colour spec adds €300/$A380 worth of contrasting hues inside and out, special decals, carpet mats, and white hubcaps).

Top of the range Technic costs €500/A$632, delivering alloy wheels, metallic paint, white front seat shell and carbon-look decals and roof.

A pair of scissor-style forward-hinged ‘gullwing’ doors is optional (€590 or about $A745), but these do not offer full weather or side-impact protection. Rug up if you need to stay warm. As the Twizy is exposed to the elements in some form or another, all materials are hardy and waterproof.

The lack of side glass helps cut weight and does away with the need for heating/demisting or air-conditioning, greatly cutting electricity usage as well as weight.

Other options include a Parrot Bluetooth audio and phone transmitter, metallic paint and a transparent roof, while the battery lease program varies from €50/month over 7500km/annually for 36 months to €72/month over 15,000km/year for 12 months. Whether a similar rental plan is provided in Australia is still unknown at this stage.

Renault will not divulge sales nor production figures either, except to say that in Europe the 45’s affordability and low-power safety appeal to parents with children wanting scooters may make it more popular than anticipated.

The Twizy is the first of what is expected to be a wave of EV/hybrid quadricycle vehicles from car manufacturers in Europe and Japan. Similar concepts have been exhibited over the past two years from Audi (Urban Concept), Opel (RAK-e), Suzuki (GSX-R/4) and Volkswagen (Nils), but all are still at the prototype stage.


THE Renault Twizy is a breath of fresh air.

Beyond conventional categorisation, the zero tailpipe emissions two-seater quadricycle is a return to grassroots motoring, from its affordable simplicity and refusal of excess, to the pioneering spirit of it running purely on electricity.

Conceived and executed in record time, and with the chassis work performed by Renault Sport Technologies, the Twizy possesses much of that single-minded inspiration/obstinance that all-too rarely strikes French cars nowadays – think Citroen 2CV, Peugeot 205 GTI and the original Renault Espace, for instance.

Perversely, the fact that the Twizy is a category-defying groundbreaker might destroy our chances of ever seeing it in Australia, since the bureaucrats demand some sort of existing classification, when it clearly cannot be filed as merely a motorcycle or a car, or even as a fish for that matter.

So here we are, face to happy friendly face with a vehicle that might fall into the too-hard basket for Oz. It’s already on sale in France, kicks off from well under $9K (or $10K for the model we may eventually get over here), and is guaranteed to make you smile.

Touching down on the Spanish island of Ibiza, we are greeted by a large number of parked Twizy 80s (the powerful one), looking like gestating alien pods from some angles. The first thing that springs to mind is how unbelievably narrow and short it is, like an arcade-game driving simulator on wheels.

With a gusty wind and absolutely no side windows, we wonder about weather protection, but then all is forgotten as we fall in love with the theatre of the scissor-hand front-hinged doors that swing up to allow for unfettered access. Passing drivers slow down and almost universally give Twizy the thumbs up.

Our love fest continues with the centrally sited flat-bottomed steering wheel, minimalist digital instruments and tandem seating position that calls to mind a McLaren F1. Somehow, sitting in the middle of this egg-shaped vehicle feels completely natural.

Low cost but smart solutions abound: hard waterproof plastics cover all cabin surfaces the barely-padded driver’s seat is firm but well contoured and the Perspex-lining lower-door mouldings act as easy leverage handles when swinging them up and down – which we do even at speed, much to Renault’s consternation. But others may not be so charmed by the constant exposure to the outside elements, or zero sound-deadening that means all mechanical and road noises are amplified inside like a cheap boom box.

After an unnecessarily fiddly starting procedure and a decent stab of pedal pressure, the Renault whirrs away – but not quietly or as smoothly as we’ve come to expect from EVs such as the Nissan Leaf, for there is only 13kW of power and 57Nm of torque hauling 450kg of quadricycle plus 85kg of driver and backpack.

Disappointingly the combination of the hard-working motor behind and the wind noise all around conspire to make the Twizy sound like a three-pot petrol car such as the Daihatsu Sirion.

But that’s all temporarily forgotten as speeds quickly rise to the electronically limited 81km/h top, where the Twizy – quite unexpectedly – holds its own commandingly on the road … even if we had difficulty holding a conversation at the same time due to the wind noise intrusion.

On the go, the performance on offer is sufficient as long as you don’t venture on roads with speed limits beyond 80km/h. In heavier traffic, step-off acceleration is stronger than you might imagine, with the Twizy keeping up with other traffic extremely easily.

And the helm is such a hoot. The Renault Sport magicians have fashioned a sharp and responsive steering rack that allows for a super-tight turning circle around town despite the lack of power assistance, while at speed the whole chassis set-up feels planted and hunkered-down, for predictable handling and quite unshakable cornering capabilities. How can something so narrow and tall not be roly poly? The exposed wheels at each corner further add to the fun.

One chief engineer revealed that the combination of a low centre of gravity provided by the centralised battery pack, thick anti-roll bars and specific tyre choice have all helped make the Twizy dynamically sound, with safe and controllable understeer being the name of the game. We’re inclined to believe that too.

But we’re not too keen on the artificial feel of the brakes, especially when sudden stops are needed. No ABS technology is also a worry.

After a few hours starting and stopping at various waypoints, with a quick electricity top up over a two-hour lunch, the Twizy 80 felt natural and normal to drive, if a bit noisy and fatiguing from all the constant exposure to the elements. But we couldn’t wait to drive again, and soon we were zipping up and down hills at top speed because it is that sort of vehicle – it just begs to be thrashed about.

As a result, though, our range was nearly depleted after only 50km during one stage of the drive.

The ride, like the seats, is always firm but not choppy or uncomfortable unless the roads deteriorate badly, and that is another victory for the Renault Sport Technologies engineers.

Bad points? Obviously getting wet won’t be fun for many folk the cricket sound of the indicator might drive some batty getting in and out of the rear tandem seat is tight for taller people while being heard from back there at higher speeds can be a bit of a hit and miss affair the lack of a sun visor is not good enough and reversing without the aid of a rear window is tricky. Thankfully rear-parking sensors are one of the few options available. The next day found us sampling the Twingo 45 – the 4kW/33Nm detuned version designed to be driven in Europe by people without driver’s licences – in an old medieval fortress town.

While we were impressed with the low-speed performance and super-tight manoeuvrability that every Twizy offers, the fact that the 45 won’t go beyond 45km/h means this has very little relevance in Australia beyond a role as a private property or resort runabout. We’d definitely stick to the 80.

And then it was all over. The final 10km drive back to the airport in a Twizy 80 was one of reflection, for there is a strong chance the smallest-ever Renault – and the first-ever electric Renault Sport product – won’t make it to Australia.

This would be a shame because the Twizy is something genuinely fresh and timely. More of us are living in higher-density areas that require smarter, cleaner and more efficient commuter solutions. It addresses these in a disarmingly charming manner.

Indeed, for sheer scope and bravery, the Twizy has no peer.

Renault and the Australian governmnt, please see to it that Australians don’t miss out on this modern and avant-garde example of Gallic innovation.

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