First Drive: Renault Twingo

The new Renault Twingo takes an unconventional route in its mechanical make-up.

The new Renault Twingo takes an unconventional route in its mechanical make-up.

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WHAT’S NEW?: Renault’s latest generation Twingo is all back to front: the engine’s in the boot and drive goes to the rear wheels. Confused? You shouldn’t be, because the French firm’s logic is surprisingly sound. This new Twingo might buck convention in city car circles, but the upshot to everything not being where it should be is a more spacious cabin and improved refinement.

The French firm has a long and largely successful history when it comes to small cars. Right from the start the first-gen Twingo nailed it in terms of space, ease of use, affordability and fun to drive attributes. With this more polished approach, Renault hopes this third-gen car can do the business 20-odd years later.

Undated Handout Photo of 2014 Renault Twingo. The Twingo's neat and compact design is appealling. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

Undated Handout Photo of 2014 Renault Twingo. The Twingo's neat and compact design is appealling. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

LOOKS AND IMAGE: Short but tall is the new black when it comes to city cars these days. The Twingo is no different; its lofty stance yet compact footprint allow it to squeeze into some seriously tight spaces, yet afford occupants a good amount of cabin space and comfort. And then there’s the name — don’t underestimate the power of the Twingo brand. Historically the cars have benefited from a large take-up in mainland Europe and, predictably, you’re tripping over them in France.

SPACE AND PRACTICALITY: There’s a reason why the Twingo’s engine is in the boot, and it isn’t to excite keen drivers. No, the logic behind the rear engine and rear-wheel drive layout was to liberate more cabin space. And it’s no gimmick, as Renault’s engineers have shaved 10cm off the previous car’s length, yet have been able to extend this car’s wheelbase by 12cm, ensuring this five-door car is a genuine four-seater — just. Furthermore, you can fold the rear seats and, if you pick the right option, fold the front passenger seat forwards to liberate a whopping 2.3m of load space. Try doing that in an average supermini.

BEHIND THE WHEEL: With no engine up front, the Twingo’s modest fascia is less bulky than normal. This in turn boosts forward visibility. And with no front driveshafts present, the car’s turning circle is smaller than anything else in its class. What the Twingo is not is a tail-happy hooligan, as Renault’s engineers have set the car up to be refined, benign and easy to drive. The result is a car with a decent ride, slick manual gear change and accurate steering.

Like the car, engine choice is equally compact. The flagship 0.9-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol motor also powers the Clio, but for the Twingo, this 90 horsepower motor has been modified so it fits under the boot floor. The result is a punchy response and ample power, even for modest motorway trips. The engine fitted to all bar the top trim is a 70 horsepower non turbo 1.0-litre unit, which delvers an equally refined performance at low speeds but does need to be pedalled harder out of town.

Undated Handout Photo of 2014 Renault Twingo. A simple but stylish cabin is on offer inside the Twingo. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

Undated Handout Photo of 2014 Renault Twingo. A simple but stylish cabin is on offer inside the Twingo. See PA Feature MOTORING Road Test. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature MOTORING Road Test.

VALUE FOR MONEY: This latest generation Twingo is no hair shirt econobox, so don’t expect Tata Nano rock bottom prices. You’re looking at 11-and-a-bit thousand pounds for the high power model, although this does come with enough kit to embarrass a supermini from the class above. In reality the more popular 70 horsepower cars strike a better balance of affordability and luxury, with all the safety basics covered plus DAB radio and mid range models adding air-con for a shade under 10 grand.

WHO WOULD BUY ONE?: Want a small city car but fancy something a little leftfield? If so, Renault’s Twingo might do the trick. The car’s unconventional rear engine layout has more to do with liberating extra cabin space than replicating the antics of Porsche’s 911, and it’s this logical approach to practicality that should have savvy buyers beating a path to the dealerships.