Renault Twizy owners must be a brave bunch. Not only have they put their money where their environmental mouths are by buying an electric city car, but they actually have to face zipping around in it for 12 months of the year.
The Twizy is a two-seater (yes, believe it or not, there is room for a passenger in the back) electric runaround that, once charged off the mains, is designed to pootle along for 100km of emissions-free motoring. It's actually almost a year since it first launched, but Renault, rather cleverly, launched it last April in Ibiza, where the temperature is just a little warmer than the average European city.
Not that I'm blaming Renault - I wouldn't want to try to flog a tiny car with no door in Europe in December or January either, but how will it handle the rigours of a British winter?
Thankfully, since it went on sale for just over $12,500, plus a monthly rental fee for the battery, the Twizy has grown doors and even some plastic windows.
Annoyingly for buyers, though, the doors are an option and the windows are a self-assembly addition. Yes, you have to get your Allen keys out and fit them yourself, and they don't even provide a flush finish - there is a gap at the back.
In the rain or snow there is no way to pretend that using the Twizy to get to work or to pop out in the evening is a pleasant experience. Damp doesn't really come close to describing the experience as cold spray lashes the side of the car and your feet turn to blocks of ice. On a cold but dry morning it isn't that bad, though, so much so that you can start to imagine what the joy of zipping around town in one on a summer's evening would feel like. Or, at least, you can for the first five minutes. Soon, things get very nippy and you realise the doors provide only limited protection from the arctic blasts of wind. Wrapping up in a ski jacket, thermals, thick gloves, woolly hat and scarf is essential if, like me, you want to tackle a 10km drive into work.
Renault says the Twizy will cover 100km on a full charge and you can even get it up to 80km/h (this is a fairly bum-squeaky experience). A range of 65km is probably nearer to the truth in winter (cold temperatures reduce the effectiveness of the lithium-ion battery), but it certainly has enough juice for commuting with one or two charges a week.
It's just 1.4m wide and 2.3m long and it can really pull away at the lights, a combination that takes a little getting used to. I often commute to work by bike and on more than one occasion while driving the Twizy I had to stop myself from darting down cycle lanes or cutting corners. That said, it is possible to nip past quite a lot of traffic safely. Be warned, though: you're exposed to the comments, snide remarks, road rage and witty observations of other motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, too, which also take some getting used to.
The Twizy is a fun thing, then, with some use for brave commuters, but at nearly $13,000 plus the monthly battery rental fee, it's hard to pin down exactly who will buy one. It doesn't pretend to be the answer to all your automotive and transport problems, but other than early adopters and the odd eccentric you can't help but think it's really suitable only as a third car in a family. At least it's a third car that will get you noticed, though, and I think that's exactly what Twizy buyers will want.
At this stage there are no plans to sell the Twizy in New Zealand, although Renault's Ben Montgomery says there have been a handful of inquiries from electric-car fans.
"We've looked at it, but there are no plans to bring it in at the moment," he told Driven. "There is a market, but it's really quite niche. And having seen it around Europe and how it's used in those cities, I'm not sure how well it would translate to Auckland."