Gareth Butterfield spends a week in Renault’s new rear-engined Twingo
THIS is the new Renault Twingo. Cute, isn’t it?
Because we’re English, we think this is the second generation of Renault’s small city car. But it’s actually been around longer than we think.
Renault built a Twingo years ago but we didn’t have much of an appetite for tiny cars back then so it never made it over the channel.
And that’s a shame because it was a pretty good car. The second one that we finally got our hands on wasn’t brilliant but this is the third one and I’m told it is brilliant so I’m looking forward to this week.
TODAY I’ve had my first chance to have a proper look round the Twingo and I’m not sure about its styling. From the front, it looks cute. From the back it looks almost passive-aggressive and from the side it just looks a bit awkward. Overall, I quite like it, but it’s not perfect.
I think the reason I keep wandering round the back for another look is because of how this fits in with Renault’s pedigree. It’s rear engined, you see.
The first rear engined Renault hatchback I can remember was the Renault 5 Gordini Turbo – and that was bonkers.
Then, for no obvious reason other than to have a bit of a laugh, Renault made a rear engined version of the Clio. That was also quite bonkers.
Then they made another version of the Clio and, once again, they made a handful of rear engined versions. You’ll never guess what that was like… That’s right, it was bonkers.
And the Twingo? It’s remarkably sensible, to the point of being worryingly sedate.
I’m not disappointed though. There’s probably plenty of complicated reasons Renault will give you that made them opt for a rear engine layout with the latest and, in a sense, smallest Twingo but if they’re honest it’s because they shared the platform with those experienced purveyors of rear engined things; Smart. And as a result it borrows heavily from Smart’s new Fourfour
Yep. It’s an odd coupling, a small Renault and a brand that Mercedes Benz is proud to call its own, but I’m starting to find there’s a lot to like about this car.
SO I’ve been driving the Smart, sorry, Twingo around for a few days and I have a few observations at this early stage. Firstly, it’s slow. Really slow.
I’ve picked the 70bhp version with its non-turbocharged, three-cylinder engine because everyone told me it was a better all-rounder than the more powerful 90bhp turbocharged version. They’re getting the benefit of the doubt for now and that’s that.
Get used to the lack of power, however, and there’s a good car waiting in the wings. It’s a lot of fun to drive, for a kick-off. I love throwing it around and it has a delightful steering response for a modern car.
It’s definitely at its best in town and that’s absolutely no surprise because that’s what it’s built for but even on the open road it rides well and it’s a really comfortable cabin to sit in for long periods. The visibility is also predictably brilliant.
I’VE got a long drive today so I’m thrilled to discover the Twingo I’ve been sent has cruise control.
It works well, but the switch to turn it on and off is in front of the gear stick and you have to arc your hand round like you’ve had some sort of horrible wrist injury to operate it. It’s a shame, everything else is in just the right place.
I also need to use a sat nav to reach my destination, which is buried in the murky and dizzying depths of Milton Keynes and that’s not an easy feat in the Twingo.
There’s no central dash display. Instead, you have to connect your phone to the car, mount it in the holder provided, plug it in with the lead provided if it needs charging and then use a free app to guide you from turn to turn.
To be fair, it works very well once set up. The app even offers up a rev counter that’s missing from the instrument binnacle, controls the stereo and gives MPG and trip information – but if you’ve not got a smartphone you’re stuffed. This is the future, I guess.
The Smart is incredibly similar in so many ways, but it’s a bit over-styled for me. It’s like your older brother, trying to be cool but not really pulling it off.
The Renault is your younger brother and manages to be stylish without really trying.
Having said that, I wish I’d gone for the 90bhp engine already. The added punch makes it a lot more fun.
YESTERDAY’S drive home went well. I still like the Twingo and I’ve got to know it really well. Today I’ve got some more rural miles ahead of me so it’s time to have some more fun. And the Twingo knows instantly what fun is.
It isn’t very powerful and I can think of some superminis that handle better but the Twingo has a unique feel.
It’s obviously to do with the engine, the heavy bit, being right at the back.
It’s meant designers can have the freedom to put a wheel at each corner and the steering doesn’t have to cope with changing direction and putting down power. Get it up to speed and it’s an absolute hoot.
My test car has a fully retractable roof, too, which is great because today’s a sunny day. I’m starting to love this car.
Oh, and I’ve noticed another thing the rear engine layout offers as a surprise benefit – it frees up space for the front wheels and the turning circle is miniscule. Nothing this side of a London cab will turn in the same space. Great stuff.
Here’s another thing I’ve noticed. I’ve worked out what its engine note reminds me of. A Porsche 911.
No, really, I kid you not. The noise comes from behind you – like a 911 – the engine has a cylinder count divisible by three – like a 911 – and it’s got a nice, low, throaty character – like a 911.
I know you all think I’m going mad but try one out and you might just see what I mean.
RUNNING everything your car does through your smartphone might be the future and it might be really clever but it’s not very practical. In fact, its annoying. And it’s hammering my phone’s battery.
I’m glad such a small, cheap car has all the functionality my phone affords it, but my screen isn’t big enough and it’s hard to control things through it, especially on a bumpy road. Today I mostly won’t be bothering to connect the phone at all. It’s a shame, I miss the rev counter and the trip computer.
I have noticed, when the phone’s been connected, that I’ve been getting really good MPG. 51mpg average hasn’t been a problem at all and that’s really impressive.
Another thing I’m impressed by is the space. Packaging the engine away at the back has made for a very spacious row of rear seats. And, although the boot is obviously a bit shallower, it’s still a decent size.
Having said that, with the engine mounted underneath the boot floor it does get rather warm in there. That won’t cause problems for everyone, but I’d imagine if you leave some chopped veg, diced pork and a bit of stock in a pot then drove from Land’s End to John O’Groats you’d have a cracking casserole to enjoy by the time you finished your journey.
I don’t like the pop-open rear windows, either and there’s a few cheap plastics and panels if you poke around enough.
The indicator light on the instrument display is too dim and the glove-box is too small.
But now I’m splitting hairs. On the whole, I’ve been impressed with the Twingo, and I’m sad it goes back tomorrow.
AFTER the nice person from Renault came to pick up the Twingo today I was walking back to my office and the first car I saw was a Volkswagen Up.
There’s another example of a well-designed, pint-sized, three-cylinder supermini-cum-city car I’ve always been fond of. That and its Skoda and Seat clones.
I’ve driven all three and I remember being fond of all three but I thought to myself; what if I was having to make the choice. Which one would I buy?
I didn’t have to think for too long. It’s the Twingo. As good as they may be, the Skoda/Volkswagen/Seat trio just aren’t as interesting.
It’s not without its flaws but, as is often the case with small French cars, the Twingo will put the biggest smile on your face. And that’s why I think it’s the best car in its class.