Dep-O pops along to have a nose at a couple of Renault’s new-fangled electric cars
It’s noisy in a Twizy at full-chat. It’s also cold and thanks to the soggy weather, zip-in windows and scissor doors which fit only in the sense that they are in the same postcode, it’s also really rather wet.
There is very little going on in here, apart from me trying to place the seemingly familiar name Twizy (was it the name of an old sweet!?!) It has two inline seats which offer little rear room for the passenger; awkward doors which jam against the B-pillar; it has two pedals, a steering wheel connected to manual rack-and-pinion steering; it has a single wiper, a heated screen, little in the way of instrumentation and you make it go or stop by punching either the D, N or R buttons on the dash.
The rear-wheel drive Twizy also has a pair of door mirrors, which reminds me to see where tail-end Gez is. You see, we decided to take a Twizy each due to the aforementioned lack of passenger room – or as Dep-O’s approved pre-owed Brummie put it, “it looks like a fucked-up fairground ride”, while I cautioned ‘there is a very real risk that one of us might end up getting pregnant’.
The grimace on my face drops as I focus on the nearside door mirror…
Gez is roughly 40 yards behind me, where – glued to his backside is dirty great HGV – clearly niggled that someone who looks must be an ecotist is holding him up in some sort of £8505 glam-rock golf buggy (that’s plus battery leasing). The troubling vision – surrounded by a fug of road-spray and pin-pricked with blazing headlamps – looks as if Tinky-Winky has strayed onto the set of Duel. It’s enough for my frightened foot to pin the throttle to the floor and to briefly witness a speedo reading of 52mph in this 50mph-limited e-contraption. Well, there’s little point in both of us ending up bruised and with a funny walk.
In the shouting match for which can deafen you first, it is the wind-roar which easily overpowers the gentle whirr of the 17hp electric motor. The ride is firm, bordering on harsh – the driving experience slightly fidgety; the disk brakes are excellent; lateral grip and body-control thanks to 220lb+ of battery rather than its almost wheelbarrow-like tyres (125/80R13 at the front, 145/80R13 astern) is also good. However the lofty driving position doesn’t cultivate assurance – it’s like attempting to lounge confidently on a bar stool – and the steering is decidedly numb.
Still the Twizy is really designed for urbane Parisians who wish to publicly display their eco-credentials – be it around town or on the Riviera – rather than a moist and partially-frozen petrolhead plying the Cotswolds. Fun though the Twizy is, as a novel experience, it doesn’t really make for a fair assessment of electric cars.
Why are we doing this and should you be worried? Have we started parroting the word ‘sustainable’? Despite recent sightings of Mr Huge sporting a fully-blown Brian Blessed and my previous ownership of sandals – no. Think of it as more of a way of quenching journalistic curiosity.
My days of being a disciple of the latest must-have thingamajig are long gone – mainly in thanks to such unwise purchases as an APS camera and a MiniDisc – in 2014, I’m equally wary of fads, gadgets and early adopters. Alas, this isn’t my problem with the electric car. To me, sound, noise or whatever you want to call it, is a vital part of the buzz you get from the motoring experience – and in electric cars it is more or less completely totally mute.
Of course, there is a distinction between noise and n-o-i-s-e. It is the reason I miss the occasional glory of a VC10’s Conways or of Concorde’s Olympus 593s which filled the air with something akin to the sharp-edged intensity of an archangel battling with an ancient demon. Yet I repeatedly curse the quiet banality of airborne chartered 737s. It is why we yearn for a Ferrari V12, a TVR V8 or a Bristol ‘six’ rather than the unpleasant ramblings of a diesel ‘four’.
This though is the subjective viewpoint of an enthusiast, somewhat similar to that expressed by Eric Lomax when he dissected his train obsession in his autobiography The Railway Man. ‘Some things that humans make transcend their function; instruments can be magical. That explosive, rhythmic sound we call puffing says more to us about getting under way, about departure, than a petrol-driven snarl can ever do; perhaps it has something close to the beat of our pulse…’
However it is stored or generated and regardless of the validity of the argument, electric power is likely to replace the commonplace four-stroke internal combustion engine. While the Twizy – entertaining though it is – isn’t the future, we’re not so sure about dismissing its bigger sister, the £16,000 (again plus battery leasing) Zoe.
It looks eminently modern, is quiet (gone is the Twizy’s angry hair-dryer repost), refined, digitally chic, comfortable and, above all, it is clear that its specification adheres to the contemporary notion of progress – for driving it is easier than child’s play.
EPAS? Yes, over-assisted, slightly pointy and decidedly numb. Two-pedal transmission? Yes, a gearbox with single-speed reduction bar which transmits the 88hp electric motor’s instantaneous 162lbf.ft of torque from just 250 to 2100rpm to the front wheels. Point and go performance? 0-62mph in 13.5 seconds on the way to a top whack of 84mph – unless the ‘Eco’ button is activated which restricts performance to 60-61mph.
Throttle-response? Like the Twizy, it’s overly springy and disconnected. Overtyred? Arguably with 195/55R16s. Supermini-norm suspension? Yes, ‘Pseudo’ MacPherson struts followed by a torsion beam – both curtailed by nearly an inch worth of anti-roll bars. All of which means that when pressed through corners, the weight of the 3236lb Zoe – 639lb of which is battery – dulls turn-in and discourages body-roll. Ride? Good. Brakes? Somewhat grabby.
Speaking personally, as someone who has just popped their e-car cherry, I did find it quite stressful having to keep an eye on a car’s range – expressed as a diminishing mileage number – rather than the more familiar fuel gauge quantity. If I got it wrong – which was a distinct possibility – then there just wasn’t the option of pulling in for a quick splash and dash to put your mind at rest.
There is nothing really objectively wrong with the Zoe, far from it. Indeed, much of its engineering is prophetic – but it does broadcast a message that enthusiasts will dread. The modern car is changing. Its days as a living, breathing, vociferous machine with smells, sounds and vibrations that encourage the cultivation of affection and enthusiasm, are drawing to an end. It is continuing its evolution into a device – a transportation tool – a wheeled white good capable of generating as little passion and desire as a shovel.
The car’s critics will doubtless be rejoicing at the news, its devotees should shed a tear.