REVIEW DATE: 20 Apr 2010
June Neary checks out Renault's little Twingo
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. 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. Still, if like me, you saw one of the many thousands of MK1 Twingos that ply the autoroutes of Europe and thought the French might have made a mistake on that one, you'll be pleased to learn that the MK2 model is alive and well in British showrooms. When one arrived on my driveway, I was slightly disappointed to find more conventional citycar looks a world away from the bug-eyed look for the original. Still, it's a clean piece of styling and will probably have a wider appeal.
This isn't the first citycar I've climbed into expecting all the interior space of a 'phonebox and been surprised to find a cabin that's something of a tardis. It probably won't be the last either. Suffice it to say that, apart from the lack of a five-door (or diesel) option, most buyers of larger supermini-class cars would probably be quite happy with this one. This generation Twingo is a massive 170mm longer than the original. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the interior is what Renault has done to the rear seats. The two rear seats can slide 220mm fore and aft to prioritise space for either people or luggage and they also fold flat and then tumble forwards, offering up to 959 litres of space in this guise. Other noteworthy features include a centrally mounted instrument cluster and no fewer than eleven storage spaces dotted around the cabin. I put my keys into one of them and spent ages trying to find them.
Three engines are offered if we exclude the racy Renaultsport models and none of them are diesels. Not that there's much point in buying a diesel version of this class of car: you'd never clock up the mileage to get the upfront cost premium back. What you do get with this Twingo is Renault's clever new 1.2-litre 100bhp TCE (Turbo Control Efficiency) engine, supposedly offering the economy of a petrol 1.2 with the speed and torque of a petrol 1.4. This unit comes only in the sporty GT variant I tried, a car offered at a £1,000 premium that I thought worth paying over the 75bhp 1.2-litre 16-valve model. The 100bhp TCE engine apparently shares over 75% of the 1.2-litre 16v powerplant's parts but you wouldn't know it from a seat behind the wheel. A tiny turbocharger minimises lag and offers sharp responses. An overboost facility allows an additional 5bhp of power and 6Nm of torque temporarily in second, third and fourth gears at engine speeds above 4,500rpm to help with overtaking. I found that really useful. Two transmissions are available, a conventional manual five-speed or the Quickshift robotised set-up if you choose the 75bhp Dynamique. The Twingo inherits the Clio II's chassis, and keen drivers hardly need reminding that this was one of the most capable and fun small car platforms around. Electric variable power steering is fitted as standard, the GT getting a beefier set up to complement the stiffer bushes in its suspension.
There are certainly more pluses than minuses with this car. It's cheap, acceptably well screwed together, based on tried and tested underpinnings and the name carries an element of recognition, despite its predecessor never being sold here. It would have been nice if Renault had been more adventurous in the design stakes, as most people who know the Twingo name associate it with something radically innovative. While 'New Twingo' does offer a few novel details here and there, the overall concept isn't particularly bold or fresh. Perhaps Renault is just counting on doing the basics those crucial few degrees better than anybody else. Younger drivers who can afford it will probably love this car. And a hot hatch version would be a hoot. But I think I'm safe in thinking that the MK2 Twingo won't be remembered for as long as its illustrious predecessor.
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