Overall rating: 3.5/5
Hopes were high that the new rear-engined and rear-wheel drive Renault Twingo would bring some driving fun to the city car class, but it's more about space than pace.
In the Metal:
Among the ever-swelling ranks of city cars the new Renault Twingo stands out, its broad hipped stance, sharp detailing and plentiful personalisation opportunities really appealing on the diminutive French hatch. The wide bottom is a cheeky homage to the iconic Renault 5 Turbo 2, another arse-engined hatch - albeit with a slightly different brief. Add stripes, or not, cool wheel covers and neat-looking alloy wheels and a face that's appealing without being overly cutesy and the Twingo avoids the twee of some of its rivals to give it broad appeal and plenty of charm. Renault has worked exhaustively on the panel gaps, and it shows, the Twingo feeling and looking of far higher quality than its somewhat flimsy feeling predecessor.
That is evident inside too; while the materials cannot quite match the near premium levels of the Volkswagen up!, the Twingo doesn't shout low rent either; indeed it's all very smart and pleasingly tactile. As with the exterior, there's the opportunity to personalise, with splashes of colour and different textured inserts in the dashboard, while Renault's been clever with its oddment stowage, with plenty of cubbies and bins littered around the spacious cabin.
With the engine in the boot Renault has maximised cabin space. The passenger area is longer, as is the boot, allowing four adults to sit in it comfortably - while still carrying a decent amount of luggage. The front seat folds flat to allow loads of over 2m to be slipped in, while the variable backrest for the rear pews allows a bit more luggage space should you need it. The turning circle is also incredible, which makes U-turns and parking a cinch.
A rear-engined, rear-wheel drive layout might sound like an exotic, driver-focused idea, but Renault's reasoning for positioning the engine under the boot is more pragmatic. It's all about space, and Renault's top brass admit it has set the Twingo up to feel much the same to drive as a front-engined, front-wheel drive car that's more normal in this class. A shame, perhaps, but entirely sensible given the audience. So no oversteer and rear-driven slides, as the ESP stability control system is way too cautious for any such nonsense; there's understeer aplenty and no surprises.
Understandable, if slightly disappointing from an enthusiast's point of view, though our biggest criticism is with the steering. Given there's no drive through the front wheels you might imagine some feel and precision, but the steering is fairly inert and light on feel. Indeed, most of the Twingo's front-wheel drive rivals steer with more accuracy. That's exacerbated in the 0.9-litre turbocharged model, Renault equipping it with a variable system that's devoid of feel and seems to require more lock at town speeds, and too much correction at higher speeds.
We'd avoid the more powerful and more expensive car at all costs, even for the additional 20hp it brings. The cheaper SCe 70 is not only the sweeter steering of the line-up, but - thanks to its natural aspiration - the sharper to react to the accelerator and it's keener to rev. The suspension does a fine job of isolating the sort of knocks and jolts you'll find around town, and managing decent control at speed on more open roads. The gearshift is fairly unremarkable, though the transmission whine when downshifting is rather obvious.
With the engine in the boot the sound comes from behind you, and it's rarely intrusive, though oddly, without the engine up front to distract you, wind noise seems more pervasive at speed. The sound of the fan in the ventilation system is also more obvious, especially as you need it blowing heartily to have any real effect.
What you get for your Money:
At the time of writing, Renault Ireland has no information regarding pricing, but the new car will be on sale this October. In the UK, it's well-stocked, with Renault's R & Go system allowing smartphone integration from base level Expression upwards. Air conditioning comes with the Twingo Play, and range-topping Dynamique is required for niceties such as cruise control - or more importantly Stop and Start, which improves consumption and emissions.
That Stop and Start system drops the CO2 emissions on the SCe 70 by 10g/km to 95g/km, which is down a tax band and €10 less to tax a year. Buyers will also gain nearly 5mpg on the official combined cycle too, it improving from 62.8- to 67.3mpg with the stop-start system. It's not clear how Renault Ireland will market this as yet.
The engine might be in the back, but there's no luggage space up front, the space under the bonnet taken up with washer and coolant filling bottles, as well as crash structure.
Hopes that the new Renault Twingo might be the unhinged, driver-focused city car contender were always likely to be dashed, as this market is more about the practicalities, pricing, running costs and style than anything else. In these it scores well, Renault's offering in the city car sector an appealing one.