First drive: 2015 Renault Zoe and Twizy electric cars in the UAE
The only electric cars you’ll ever see in the GCC are at golf clubs, with little wheels and no doors. Sure, there are the unloved Lexus hybrids, there was that pricey Fisker Karma with the backup petrol engine, and some Chevy Volts were spotted testing in Dubai before disappearing for obvious reasons, but there are big things happening this week on the electric front. Dubai’s DEWA utility company has just announced the first dedicated charging station here for electric cars, in what is to become a network all over Dubai soon. And Renault is hoping to bank on that with the Zoe hatchback and the Twizy runabout.
We drove both these vehicles at a launch event that also included a couple of laps with the Renault Clio RS. As impressive as that hot hatch is on the F1 circuit, it was more of an anti-thesis to the electric cars we trundled around in on smaller coned tracks.
The Renault Twizy is already on the streets as a city “car” in Europe, but it’s never going to catch on here except as a gated-community crawler, and Renault knows it. On sale for several months now in the UAE, it is powered by an electric induction motor that makes all of 17 hp. It makes 100% of its torque at zero rpm, but you won’t feel that as it accelerates pretty slowly, all the way to a top speed of 80 kph. It has a theoretical range of 100 km on a single charge, but we could see its reserves getting depleted more quickly with the thrashing we were giving it. Renault claims it can be fully charged in less than four hours from a 220V wall socket.
It looks like a single-seater, but you an actually fit an adult passenger in a tiny back seat just behind the driver, in a legs-apart position. There are two “lambo” doors, but no windows or door-locks. Still, no one can drive your Twizy away as it still needs a key to start it up.
And yet, it’s not just a motorcycle in disguise. There’s four-wheel-disc brakes, proper seat-belts, rear parking sensors and a roof over your head. There’s also indicators, headlights and tail-lights.
Driving the Twizy is a no-brainer, with a button-operated gear selector for drive, neutral and reverse. There’s only one gear, and once you figure out where the parking handbrake is and the odd response of the pedals, you can drive off.
The steering is unassisted and therefore a bit heavy. The brakes are good enough, and the turning circle, predictably, smaller than that of a car. Taking it around a slalom, there’s pretty much no body roll, but we couldn’t judge the ride, as it was perfectly compliant on the super-smooth tarmac at Yas Marina.
The Renault Zoe is the more promising offering. While at first glance it may appear to be a regular econo-hatchback, it is a bespoke design with squinty headlights and intricate tail lamps. The cabin is all hard plastic, but the design is space-age, from the LCD gauges to the unique seats. It has a 5-star crash-test rating.
With 87 hp from an electric motor, it’s still not particularly quick, even with 220 Nm of torque from zero rpm. It seems to offer adequate acceleration for city driving, although we suspect turning on the a/c at full blast would have a noticeable effect. The brakes are very strong, if a little uneven-feeling, probably because they’re of the regenerative variety, sending energy back to the 290-kg battery every time you brake hard. That battery can be charged in anything from 30 minutes to 9 hours, depending on where you’re charging from.
We didn’t drive it much aside from few seconds around a short course. There isn’t any engine noise, therefore road and wind noise are obviously more noticeable.
The Zoe offers a range between 100 km and 150 km, enough for inner-city runs, with a top speed of 135 kph making it just about suitable for Dubai highways. The lack of a petrol engine as a backup means that you’ll be out of juice by the time you reach Abu Dhabi, and you can’t “refuel” it if you only have street parking like we do, but who knows. If there are enough charging stations set up in the future, inside and outside the city, the Zoe could become a viable alternative to a Toyota Yaris.
Pricing will be key though. The Twizy is priced north of Dhs 70,000, but if Renault priced the Zoe within reach of regular commuters, there could be a serious market for it in the near future.
Keep track of updates in the Renault buyer guide.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury.