June Neary checks out Renault's little Twingo
Will It Suit Me?
Small can be beautiful. Or failing that, it can at least be charismatic. For proof, you only had to look at Renault's first generation Twingo launched way back in 1993. If you could find one to look at of course. Renault never officially imported them, afraid of the UK right hand drive conversion cost that would price it too close to (and consequently rob sales from) entry-level Clio supermini models. The French brand did bring the MK2 version here in right hand drive form just after the turn of the century, but it was an unremarkable thing, unless you ordered it in rip-snorting Renaultsport hot hatch form, a car that had rock-hard suspension that threatened to shake my fillings out when I tried one. This wasn't my idea of what a Twingo should be. But this third generation version certainly is. Innovative, clever and forward thinking, it sets a new trend in the citycar segment by using an unusual rear wheel drive, rear-engined layout. I was looking forward to trying it when one appeared on my driveway.
Like me, you might think of a typical modern citycar as being a pretty space-efficient thing. Then you come to this MK3 model Twingo and realise just how much more is possible. Here's a design so different from its conventional predecessor that you might wonder if a couple of generations have been skipped while you weren't looking. Outside, it's 10cms shorter than before, yet somehow inside, it's 33cms longer. The bonnet's tiny and the turning circle's tighter than that of a taxi. Such are the benefits of Renault's decision to put the engine in the rear. Being rear-engined defines this 3.5-metre-long car in other ways too. With no oily bits at the pointy end, the front wheels can be pushed right to the corners, which improves stability - as well as increasing cabin space to such an extent that the interior of this Twingo is virtually as big as that of a Renault Clio supermini from the next class up. As a result, some have hailed this as the most significant small runabout we've seen since the original Mini. For proof of that, you've only to lift the glass tailgate. Yes, the boot floor is quite high because that engine sits beneath it, but there's 188-litres of space on offer - or as much as 219-litres if you tilt the rear seatbacks forward to their 90-degree angled 'cargo position'. Where this Twingo really does have an advantage though, is when you push forward the rear bench, here split 50:50. The 980-litre capacity this reveals is nearly class-leading.
Behind the Wheel
So, how does it feel to drive? Well to be honest, if you weren't told beforehand that the engine was in the back, you probably wouldn't realise the fact - which is probably about as big a compliment as I could pay Renault regarding this Twingo's handling neutrality. Essentially, though the driving position is a little more commanding than most, in every other respect, on first acquaintance at least, this feels just like any other modestly-powered city runabout. Or at least it does until you come to tightly twirl the wheel. In this car, the front wheels can turn to an impressive 45 degree angle: more typically, urban runabouts are limited to about 30-degrees. As a result, this car offers a super-tight turning circle of just 8.59m - which is pretty much on par with a London taxi cab and over a metre tighter than any other rival can offer. Enough to make the difference between making a successful U-turn or being caught in the traffic having to hurry a three-pointer. In terms of urban usability, it certainly gives this car a huge advantage. On to engines. I tried the one most buyers will opt for, the 70PS 1.0-litre SCe petrol unit, three cylinders in size - as is common in this segment - but offering a mere 91Nm of pulling power, which explains the distinctly leisurely performance. If you really can't face going quite that slowly and feel prepared to pay a little more for your Twingo, then your Renault sales person will quickly direct you towards the other mainstream engine on offer, the TCe 90PS unit.
Value For Money
The mainstream Twingo models we're concentrating on here sit in a fairly narrow pricing band - we're talking from just under £10,000 to just under £12,000. That's because there are only two petrol engines on offer - both three cylinder petrol units - and just this single five-door bodystyle. You can though, talk to your dealer about a 6-speed twin clutch EDC auto gearbox option. If, like most buyers, you choose the lower-powered SCe 70 variant, then bear in mind that it doesn't come with a fuel-saving Stop & Start system, unless you stretch your budget to around £11,000 for the plush Dynamique version I'm trying here. And Dynamique is the only trim level available if you can find around £12,000 to get yourself the extra power of the single turbo TCe 90 model.
Could I Live With One?
It's good to see Renault once again willing to do things a little differently. This company has, after all, often been at its best when it tears up the rulebook. It did that way back in 1993 in creating the original Twingo model and again does so here with that car's appealing third generation successor. The almost unique selling point in this case, the rear wheel drive layout, ought to be just another engineering solution, though a very intriguing one. In practice though, it's more than that, conferring upon this car a different feel and giving it a more individual character you can then further personalise to your heart's content.