Okay, I know that the new Renault Twingo was recently tested in these pages and awarded a just-above-average three and a half stars – in a class that has three higher-polling entrants.
Some will say that this means it’s not an ideal candidate for Autocar’s collection of the year’s 10 most appealing cars, but I disagree.
I’ve consulted the rulebook. A winner is allowed unique points of appeal that can overshadow a class winner’s ability merely to deliver seamless competence across the board. Character makes great cars, and the joy of the Twingo is that it has character in spades.
Let’s start with the simplest advantages: the Twingo’s unique styling and proportions, the size of its mighty doors and the shape of the tiny nose. Second, I like the colours, the ribbed seats and the geometric fascia design that look simple yet not cheap.
Third, I’m excited about where the noise comes from. It reminds me of a Renault R8 I knew and loved when God was a boy – except that the Twingo’s gearchange is modern and slick, and in corners it doesn’t keep trying to chuck you backwards through the hedge. Fourth, that tiny turning circle is a thing of wonder.
The packaging of the Twingo’s tiny engine between the rear wheels and below the boot floor promises that it’ll drive differently, and it does. You ride a chassis that, for once, isn’t nose-heavy. For many, that will be a new experience. From the slightly bouncy ride, you soon detect a mild rearward weight bias (54 per cent) that’s different from the norm. Understand it before you call it bad.
The handling is different, too. Even at the limit, the steering stays light, which can seem weird.
I find it slightly disappointing that in energetic cornering, tamed by an over-zealous ESP system, the chassis can never achieve neutrality, let alone oversteer – although some will point out how much better this is than former days, when a rear engine meant your shiny new motor was subject to backside breakaway that you couldn’t control.
The new Twingo’s understeer is an interesting, rather delicate form of the condition caused by tyres too lightly laden at the limit to go on gripping. It contrasts with the less genteel understeer form in front-engined cars, where lots of mass over the front wheels, plus hard cornering, overpowers tortured rubber, with associated fast-rising effort at the steering wheel rim.
The Twingo isn’t perfect, and there are surprisingly simple ways (chassis balance, ESP tuning, steering gearing, throttle response, tweaks to ride rates) in which it could have been made quite a lot better.
One way to improve yours is to choose the upscale turbo engine. In any case, the basic car is fascinating and different, it’ll get better and, in my book, it deserves to live a very long life.
Come back tomorrow as we reveal another star car of 2014
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