First Drive: Renault Twingo

Has Renault accidentally built a Porsche 911 rival, or is it just a different take on the city car?

You’re looking at a mini Porsche 911. Actually, Renault will tell me off for saying that, but the fact is the new Twingo has the engine at the back of the car and powers the rear wheels, just like a 911.

However, the reason for this is due to a different German company; the result of a collaboration between Renault and Daimler’s Smart brand, the Twingo is very much a city car rather than the sports car that the engine layout suggests it might be.

It’s smaller than the outgoing model by some 10cm or so, but has an extra 12cm in the wheelbase, making it roomier inside. It’s also safer, with the lack of an engine up front improving crash safety.

This means that Renault gains a four-star result from the Euro NCAP crash tests. That might sound like one star too few, but new tests introduced last year are more stringent, with bonus points being awarded for technology such as automatic braking that the Twingo doesn’t have.

The rear-engined layout suggests the Twingo should be a huge bundle of fun, but it’s been engineered to behave in exactly the same way as any other small car. Push things to the limit and you get computer wizardry kicking to prevent things going awry, but keep pushing and the laws of physics take over. At that point the Twingo reverts to safe understeer.

Tail-out fun on wet roundabouts is off the menu then.

Instead what you get is a peppy, zesty little number that zips around town with such ease that you completely forget that driving in the city isn’t meant to be fun.

It’s diminutive dimensions means you can zip through gaps that a Corsa would baulk at, while a London taxi-rivalling turning circle allows you to change your mind on pretty much any road.

Ride quality is mostly good, but expansion gaps and broken surfaces thump through to the cabin.

It’s finely balanced for a country blast, but the lack of a rev counter and skinny tyres means it’s tricky to get the most out of it. It also gets a little vague and wayward at speeds in excess of the national speed limit.

At speed something weird happens too; as you’re ahead of the engine, and all the noise it creates, it’s a remarkably quiet place to be.

At just 3.59m long it’s almost exactly the same size as the Fiat 500, but manages to squeeze in a boot that’s marginally larger, despite the engine hiding under the boot floor. However, fold the seats down, including the front passenger seat, and there’s enough space to bring a Billy bookcase home from IKEA.

Don’t think that the stubby nose might hide an extra boot though, instead it’s filled with suspension bits, radiators and other gubbins. There are storage pockets hidden under the rear seats though, ideal for keeping some of the kids’ toys in.

There’s plenty of room up front for adults, and even enough for two in the back, and feels considerably more spacious than the new Toyota Aygo. There are two ISOFIX points in the back, with a third available as an option for the front passenger seat.

The tiny 0.9-litre turbocharged engine produces a reasonably healthy 90bhp that will drag you to sixty in a little under 11 seconds, but it manages to return a very healthy 65.7mpg. CO2 emissions are 99g/km, which means you won’t be paying any car tax at all.

A larger, but oddly less powerful engine (thanks to it missing out on a turbocharger) is also available. The 1.0-litre engine option is marginally more economical, but lacks the punch needed to cope with the motorway or, for that matter, the slightest of hills.

If you’re a city dweller, then the Twingo makes a great deal of sense. In the Dynamique 90 TCe version tested here it’s zippy and nimble around town and out on the open road. It’s also exceptionally well equipped and, at £11,695, is very competitively priced.

The Fiat 500 Lounge is around the same price, but can’t compete on practicality, while Vauxhall’s Adam is an extra £2,000 or so for the entry model, although it’s quite a bit bigger. MG’s 3 could be a rival, especially as it’s significantly cheaper, but lacks the flair and panache of the Twingo.

Quality can’t match that of the Volkswagen up!, but the funky style and tempting price tag should do just enough to get past that obstacle.

Now, if we can just get a hot-hatch version…

Model Tested: Renault Twingo Dynamique ENERGY TCe 90
Price: £11,695
Engine: 0.9-litre turbo petrol
Top speed: 103 mph
0-62 mph: 10.8 seconds
Power: 90 PS (89 bhp)
Torque: 135 Nm (100 ft-lb)
Official fuel economy: 65.7 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 99 g/km
VED Band: A / £0 per year
Car insurance group: 8E
Kerb weight: 943 kg
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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