It's impossible not to love the Renault Twingo GT's eighties-throwback looks, but in spite of a spritely engine, its steering and chassis can't cash the go-faster styling cheques.
In the Metal:
If you are one of those who remembers and reveres the classic Renault hot hatches, and even Formula One cars of the eighties, then it's going to be all but impossible not to love the Twingo GT on sight. From the go-faster stripes (black on orange paint, orange on the other colour options) to the tiny but chunky air intake set stop the rear wheelarch, there are so many nods of the head to the likes of the RS01 F1 car (the first turbocharged Formula One car), the Renault 5 Maxi rally car and GT road car and the Clio Williams of the early nineties. It's a riot of retro, and all the better for it. Look, it even has adorable little LED spot lights built into the front bumper. OK, so they should really be bolted on Cibie spots, but still.
Inside, it's basically the same as the standard Twingo cabin, but for the addition of high-backed bucket seats with more bolsters, lots of bright orange trim scattered about and, optionally, the R-Link 2 touch screen integrated into the dashboard. As with most Renault touchscreens, it's a bit fiddly to use, but it looks agreeably impressive in something as small as this.
Space and comfort up front are fine, although you'll find the seats a touch under-supportive on longer journeys, and there is useful room in the back seats for passengers, although if they're tall don't leave them in there for long. The boot is tiny - just 188 litres with the back seats reclined, or just over 200 litres with the back seats in bolt-upright 'cargo' position, but within the confines of the class, the Twingo is useable.
Of course, what compromises the boot space is the fact that the engine is mounted at the back, between the rear wheels it drives. As with the standard Twingo SCe model, it's an 898cc turbo three-cylinder unit and it's been to the gym. Although badged as a GT, the Twingo has been modified by the same Renault Sport wizards who worked on the previous Megane RS and GT so it's not short of power. That boxy little air intake above the left rear wheel feeds more air, and colder air, to the turbo, so with a few tweaks to the engine management system, power rises from 90hp in the standard model to 110hp here, along with 170Nm of torque. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard.
The suspension and steering have also been tweaked - the whole car is lower by 20mm than standard, and the springs and dampers are 40 per cent stiffer. The steering is a new variable ratio rack that alters from needing 18 degrees of lock for one degree of wheel movement on the motorway to just 13 degrees at lower speeds, theoretically making the Twingo GT more agile around town without sacrificing main road stability. The 17-inch alloy wheels are shod with Yokohama tyres (185-section at the front, 205 at the back) that have been specially designed for the Twingo GT, too. The braking system has been left untouched though, with Renault Sport's people saying that it's more than adequate as it stands.
Keep the Twingo GT around town, in its natural environment, and you'll probably be well satisfied. That little engine is a gem - it's not especially refined but it huffs and gurgles with a hard-edged, off-beat soundtrack, and with a kerb weight of 1,001kg to move around (a little heavy for a car this size but not too much so) the Twingo GT attacks gaps in the traffic like a Jack Russell after a rat. Yapping and scrabbling in the manner of that dog, you can easily enough spin up the rear wheels from a standing start (although the electronic stability control can't be switched off) and that speedy steering and London Taxi-tight turning circle (just 8.4 metres) means the Twingo GT is incredibly good at nipping around town. Entertaining too, especially when you're using that extra grunt to spend the shortest time possible between standstill and 50km/h. Actually, some of the best fun is to stand outside the car and watch someone else tackle a tight corner. Seen from outside, the Twingo seems to pivot on its inside rear wheel, almost looking as if it's executing a handbrake turn without anyone touching the handbrake.
Where things fall apart is on the open road. Again, the engine is the star here, allowing the Twingo GT to deliver agreeable levels of thrust whether pounding along a country road or keeping up with the flow on a fast moving motorway. The five-speed gearbox isn't great - too rubbery and occasionally vague - but that doesn't matter as much when you feel how well the 898cc engine picks up in top gear.
The problem is the steering. For all the variable rack cleverness and the efforts of the unquestionably-talented Renault Sport engineers, the steering just feels lifeless and dead. It's too rubbery, over-assisted and doesn't tell you a thing about what those front tyres are up to. Yes. it's engaging to fling about as any small car with a chunky power output would be, but the steering just leaves the driver at too great a distance from proceedings.
Renault says that it has tried to inject a little more rear-drive feel than on the standard Twingo, and has reprogrammed the stability control to allow a hint of drift at the back. You can, just about, feel this if you're really pressing on, but it's faint at best, and in spite of cross-wind assist being packaged with the stability control, the Twingo still feels too wobbly when dealing with side-winds or turbulent air from trucks on the motorway.
The ride quality also suffers. With those bigger wheels and the stiffer, lower springs, the inherently soft flexing of the standard Twingo has gone, and rough-edged Parisian roads often had the car jiggling and jittering nervously about the place.
Keep it in town, in traffic and the Twingo GT feels fun, but it's just not enough of a proper hot hatch to extend that performance to the open road.
What you get for your Money:
We don't have an Irish price because Renault Ireland has not yet decided if it's going to import the GT, but we do know that the UK price of £13,755 on-the-road would probably translate to around €17-18k here. Standard equipment includes automatic climate control, automatic lights and wipers, fog lights with cornering light function, rear parking sensors, cruise control, speed limiter, remote central locking, electric heated mirrors and electric windows as well as extra-tinted rear windows and the Twingo R&GO application, which turns a smartphone into a touchscreen infotainment system, including satnav, phone and music control, with a 'find my car' feature, trip computer and rev counter. The exterior styling, alloys and spotlights are also standard.
It feels almost harsh to criticise the Renault Twingo GT - like kicking a puppy. Sadly, the handling simply doesn't live up to the styling, the engine nor the heritage, so for all the Twingo GT's sense of loveable fun, we have to chalk it up as a disappointment. Nonetheless, it has such wonderful styling, such obvious influences from the classic Renault hot hatches that came before it, and such an engaging attitude that you would have to have a motoring heart of stone to hate it. It also has a terrific little engine, and the knowledge (albeit not the sensations) that you probably have the only rear-engined, rear-drive car on your street.