Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Renault Twizy and Vauxhall Ampera are electric cars you might actually want to buy

IT was, to get the obvious puns out of the way, a shocking conclusion. Out of a host of brand new cars I've just driven the most impressive were the electric ones.

You'll already know that in the noble interests of Champion research I headed down to the motor industry's annual test drive day at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire last week - think of it as speed dating, just with cars rather than potential partners - and got to put a host of different motors through their paces, all of which you'll be able to read about in these pages over the coming weeks. Everything from the Jaguar XKR-S to the Fiat Panda's been given the Simister treatment.

Yet what surprised me most of all were two very different - but boldly brilliant - electric models. At the same event two years ago I drove a MINI of the volt-powered variety and concluded the world of electric cars needed to come on in leaps and bounds - and it has. The little Citroen C-Zero I drove last year nearly did it (ridiculous pricetag aside), but it's Renault's Twizy and Vauxhall's Ampera that I reckon are the game changers. Both of them pass the most crucial test of all. The “Would you actually buy one?” question.

Yes, I know the Ampera's got a petrol engine but it's emphatically not a hybrid - it is an electric car that occasionally uses a petrol engine to charge it up, which until they sort out the refuelling issues is the only way to make ‘leccy vehicles even mildly practical. Should you wake up tomorrow with a sudden urge to drive it to Inverness, there's nothing stopping you. Not even the price. It costs roughly the same as the Insignia, but that doesn't matter because it's roughly the same sort of car.

It's a hugely impressive bit of kit but it's not the first electric vehicle I've driven with a definite ‘want one' factor - that honour goes to Renault's faintly ridiculous Twizy. Think of it as a car and yes, it's rubbish, but think of it as the spiritual successor to all those bubble cars that bumbled around Britain in the Fifties and Sixties and it's spot on. It's a scooter for people who are scared of falling off. Oh, and as far as I know it's the only car this side of a Lamborghini Aventador which comes with scissor doors. It is, for want for of a better word, hilarious.

I don't think Renault, keen to be seen as an innovator of all things electric, were that happy though with my suggestion after my test drive. Wouldn't it be fun to fit it with a superbike engine?

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