The Telegraph
Sunday , June 24 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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On the right track

We look into the future of personal transportation through the eyes of Renault.

Renault has coined a new abbreviation for the Twizy — UDO, an Unidentified Driving Object. The French carmaker had to conjure up a whole new vehicle type because the Twizy really doesn’t fit in anywhere. However, the unimaginative gaze of the law hasn’t been as taken by the Twizy’s car-like cabin and motor-cycle-like appeal, pegging it simply as a quadricycle. But what it is, is gorgeous. And gregarious. And engaging. Not words you normally use for an inanimate object.

The motorcycle-style tandem seating drew some unsure glances from curious bystanders, but the optional panoramic sunroof brought big grins, as did the car-like dash and steering wheel. But the second those plastic doors scissored open, there was a new wave of appreciation for the Twizy.

Underneath that funky facade, the Twizy is sensibly minimal; this is why the ‘vanity’ doors are an option. If doors were standard, customers would expect windows, and hence the Twizy would need de-fogging equipment, and then not having air-conditioning would seem completely absurd. All this would bring the Twizy right into proper car territory, and dealing with the disadvantages of added weight and reduced range would hurt its appeal.

Right-sizing the Twizy goes further than that, though. For instance, the driver’s seat — set to a rather attentive upright position — can’t be adjusted for recline. The plastics for the dash and the seat covers feel functional and tough; after all, like motorcycles, they will have to endure the elements without fuss. But where it matters, there’s no skimping. The Twizy is built around a solid spaceframe chassis that gives it a robust feel that far exceeds the norms for quadricycles.

The UDO is more fun than anything with a steering wheel and only 17bhp has any right to be. Credit for that is due to Renault Sport Technologies, the team that works on Renault’s Formula 1 motors. The rear mid-mounted electric motor delivers the equivalent of 17bhp to the rear wheels.

Renault claims 125cc-scooter-matching performance, which translates to a 0-65kph time of 6.1 seconds. However, the experience is livelier than the numbers suggest. Since the Twizy doesn’t have any form of stability control, its 5.8kgm of torque is enough to spin the rear wheels from standstill. So, in the interest of traction, initial throttle response has been kept a bit tame, but once past 20kph, the Twizy feels distinctly more responsive. We even ventured onto the motorway, here it proved capable of getting to and holding a steady 80kph without fuss.

On the winding coastal roads of Ibiza, the Twizy drove like a go-kart. The lack of power assistance or variable- ratio hocus-pocus gave the steering a beautiful weight and directness. For most conditions, the narrower (compared to the rear) 125/80-R13 front tyres helped keep steering effort low, but around tighter corners you could feel the weight. Its go-kart nature extended to the way it cornered — flat, the way it rode — stiff, and the brakes — wooden. The lack of a brake booster is to blame for the wooden brake feel.

Another result of regenerative braking being limited to the rear axle is that the batteries aren’t topped up as much as they could be. Still, the Twizy comes with a claimed 100km range with a minimum of 55km. Even with the lithium ion batteries drained completely, the Twizy takes only three-and-a-half hours to be charged completely — that too on the same 220V plug point you use to charge your phone.

The big question is whether the Twizy is too ahead of its time? It’s hard to tell but Renault has given it its best shot. The Twizy blends practicality with futuristic cool, and underlines it with economics that boost this pod from being a fanciful whim to a modern-day urban tool.

In the Indian context, the Twizy means little sense with our climate and pollution levels. However, given the fun factor of driving the Twizy, I really wouldn’t mind making an exception, say, if Renault put a small screamer of a petrol motor in the back!

Renault Twizy

Price              Rs 4.8 lakh (+Rs 3500/ month for battery rental)*
Length           2338mm
Width             1237mm
Height            1454mm
Kerb weight  475kg
Engine            Electric asynchronous
Installation    Mid, transverse, RWD
Battery           6.1kWh lithium-ion
Power            17bhp
Torque           5.8kgm at 400rpm
Gearbox         Single reduction
Tyre size (f-r)  125/80 R13 - 145/80 R1