The toy-like Renault Twizy is part-bike, part-car and all fun
Batteries included The compact Renault Twizy is nimble and light, and comes with a three-pin plug for easy recharging. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Renault touts the Twizy as a green "last mile" solution that is targeted at the legions of public transport users who might want to car-share.

But the battery-powered tandem two-seater is actually a fun, futuristic- looking and impossibly nimble micro- hatch that might just run circles round a Lotus Elise in a gymkhana.

Weighing just 474kg (about half that of a Smart Fortwo or slightly more than a big Harley), it is possibly the lightest electric car in the world.

Renault kept down the weight (the No. 1 enemy of electric vehicles) by constructing a body almost entirely out of plastic and doing away with frills such as windows.

The featherweight car thus requires just a tiny motor and a modest 6.1kWh battery to operate.

This gives it a number of plus points over other electric vehicles. Firstly, it takes only 31/2 hours to fully charge its lithium-ion battery (versus 12 to 18 hours for other EVs) for a range of 100km. Secondly, there is no need for special electrical equipment - the car comes with its own 3m-long three-pin plug that you can slot into any household outlet.

Last but not least, it makes for one nippy, zippy runabout.

Measuring less than 2.4m long and 1. 3m wide, the Twizy is not much bigger than a touring bike.

The car has zero overhang. In fact, the wheels jut out in front and sideways, like what you see on a Caterham. This scooter-like configuration - as well as the Twizy's super-compact dimensions - result in an extraordinarily tight turning radius of 3.4m.

So you can actually keep the steering wheel in full lock, floor the throttle and do incredibly small "donuts" on the tarmac without having to drift.

The tall, narrow rear-wheel-drive with skinny 13-inch tyres looks like it might tip over when aggravated. But it is actually very stable. With its battery banks laid out beneath the vehicle floor, the car has a useful ballast that keeps its extruded wheels from lifting off.

Its so-called "pseudo McPherson" suspension system copes well with stress. And the overall lightness of its upper body helps too.

But in spite of its lightness, the Twizy is strong. Its tubular frame, developed by Renault Sport, offers a decent level of integrity in the passenger cell.

The car has all-round disc brakes and a driver's airbag. Of course, the car does not get up to high speeds in the first place. It maxes out at 80kmh, which is still fast enough for it to be used on expressways.

But whether it will go on the road here at all depends on a few things.

Potential buyers must accept that the radical Renault does not have air- conditioning. And the authorities must accept that the vehicle is not a full-fledged car, but a cross between a quad-bike and a car.

Under current legislation, a bike cannot have more than three wheels, and the operator must straddle it rather than sit in it.

A revision may be timely, seeing how bike-car hybrids are popping up as cities cope with traffic congestion. Toyota, for instance, has just unveiled its funky i-Road electric three-wheeler.

If classified as a bike, the Twizy - with an open-market value of around $10,000 - should cost less than $30,000. But if it is deemed a car, it will be close to $100,000 today.

For a start, Renault will enrol the Twizy in the electric vehicle test-bed programme here, which exempts it from all taxes. It is also in talks with car-sharing operators to start a fleet.

With the top grouse of car-share firms being the lack of designated parking, the tiny Twizy will be welcome. Three can fit into a normal car-park lot.

But maybe Renault should also consider partly sponsoring the funky EV for a low-emission gymkhana series. The car will easily dominate the podium.

Specs

RENAULT TWIZY

Price: To be announced

Motor: Induction type, powered by 6.1kWh lithium-ion battery

Transmission: Single-speed

Power: 12.5kW at 2,100rpm

Torque: 57Nm from 0rpm

0-100kmh: Non-applicable

Top speed: 80kmh

Range: 100km

Agent: Wearnes Automotive

Click here to view all Renault models.