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The Renault Twingo is fun, versatile and only slightly flawed. It’s a great effort

Style is everything nowadays in the city car segment. It is no longer enough for cars like the Renault Twingo to merely offer a good-value, solid dynamic package, when even rivals from Korea, such as the Kia Picanto, are starting to have greater visual appeal to the more fashion conscious motorist.

This latest Twingo is Renault’s response to the segment’s trend. The second-generation Twingo initially failed to match the cheeky charms of its simple, chic predecessor that first launched in 1993 to critical acclaim – and 2.4 million sales over its lifetime – but never actually officially made it to the UK because it was not engineered for right-hand drive.

The original Twingo never made it to these shores

But as part of its mid-life revisions, the Mk2 Twingo has received a new exterior skin to reignite some of the Mk1’s charm and make a more compelling rival for the style-led city cars including the Fiat 500, Mini and Citroën DS3, as well as the more functional city cars including the Volkswagen Up triplets and Fiat Panda.

This Mk2 Twingo is quite different from the original, chiefly because it is available in right-hand drive.

Based on a modified version of the previous-generation Renault Clio platform and available with a punchy 1.2-litre turbocharged engine, it is much more sophisticated technically than its predecessor (mechanically the first-generation Twingo was a fairly basic device, even though its interior was cleverly packaged and featured a sliding rear bench seat), not to mention significantly more expensive.

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So is the more accessible approach taken by the latest Twingo enough to keep its head above water in a segment that’s as stylish and competitive as it’s ever been?

DESIGN & STYLING

4 star Renault Twingo

The Twingo is the first Renault to sport elements of the firm’s new ‘Circle of Life’ design language, conceived by ex-Mazda design chief Laurens van den Acker. So there’s a more expressive front face that includes a larger Renault ‘diamond’ logo and large round foglights.

There’s also a response to the likes of the Citroën DS3, Fiat 500 and Mini with a much longer list of colour and trim options, designed to give an air of individuality to each Twingo that rolls down the production line.

Just one engine and trim is available

The styling revisions to the second-generation Twingo go someway to addressing the tame appeal of pre-facelift second-generation models. With rivals such as the sensational-looking Fiat 500 to compete with, the pre-facelift Mk2 Twingo doesn’t grab its audience with anything like the same conviction in the showroom.

From engineering point of view the Mk2 Twingo features a set of underpinnings that are decidedly more cutting edge than of old.

The basic platform, as intimated, is an updated version of the Mk2 Renault Clio’s, which means front-wheel drive, struts and coil springs at the front, with a torsion bar and coil springs at the rear. Braking is by discs at the front and drums at the rear, and the anti-lock features a full-house Electronic Brake Distribution system.

Steering is by rack and pinion, as you’d expect, but the assistance is electrically powered; this system weighs less and benefits economyby a small amount.

There’s just one engine option (asides from the Renaultsport version) as part of Renault’s recent trimming of the fat in its UK line up: a 74bhp 1.2-litre petrol.

INTERIOR

Renault Twingo interior

Climb inside the new Renault Twingo and you’ll discover lots of good things and one or two major disappointments, but the overall feeling is positive, which is important in a car of this type.

Let’s get the bad bits out of the way first, such as the steering wheel, which looks and feels unimaginably cheap and nasty in the hands. As does the gear lever.

Cheap-feeling plastics in the cabin are disappointing

Worse still, perhaps, is the almost total lack of support on offer from the front seats. Inevitably you end up clinging to the wheel (which frustratingly lacks reach adjustment) for support, so little is there from the seat itself.

We’re also not huge fans of the vast expanses of hard grey plastic that lie between the driver and the base of the windscreen, even though the dash design itself is quite appealing and features a rev counter pod slightly to the left of your line of sight. A central digital speedometer is housed in the main instrument cluster above the centre air vents.

Where the Twingo really scores inside is with its packaging, specifically the seating combinations. The rear seats, for example, are split and can be moved backwards and forwards individually to increase the size of the boot where necessary. The passenger seat folds away completely to become a picnic table with a grippy tray-like shape moulded into the seat back. You can even turn your Twingo into the world’s smallest van by removing the rear seats.

Music connectivity is also impressive; three different ports enable you to connect your MP3 player and it can be controlled via the steering column. There’s also the option of full Bluetooth hands-free telephone connection.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

1.2-litre Renault Twingo engine

Unless you go for the quite brilliant 1.6-litre petrol-powered Renaultsport version, the Twingo comes with just one engine: a 74bhp 1.2-litre unit. There’s talk of a new 0.9-litre three-pot to come, but for the time being, the revised Mk2 Twingo range has just the sole powerplant after the 98bhp 1.2 petrol version bit the dust as part of Renault’s realignment of its entire UK range.

The engine needs to be revved to make progress that could ever be described as swift. Indeed, the claimed 0-62mph time of 12.3sec felt somewhat optimistic. Peak power doesn’t arrive until 5500rpm; it’s very much a waiting game until that moment arrives. You won’t have the patience to see if the top speed of 105mph can ever be achieved.

The 1.2-litre engine doesn't have the legs for motorway cruising

The lack of power isn’t compensated for by a glut of torque, either. Peak torque of 79lb ft arrives at 4250rpm, so there’s no diesel-like surge thanks to a strong low end off the line.

The anaemic engine also makes for a noisy companion at motorway speeds, proving to be fairly vocal sitting at around 3000rpm at 70mph. Its five-speed gearbox doesn’t help this; its top ratio feels too short, especially when many of the Twingo’s rivals are now offered with six-speed manual gearboxes and the refinement and economy benefits these bring.

Still, at least the Twingo manages to slip below the 120g/km threshold with its CO2 emissions of 119g/km. And despite the rather sorry performance and the noises coming from under the bonnet, more than 50mpg is easily achievable in mixed driving conditions, which is just below the official figure of 55.4mpg.

RIDE & HANDLING

Renault Twingo rear quarter

You can dream up every trick in the book to make a car ride and handle properly, but if you start with a light car in the first place you’ll inevitably end up in a better place, and the Renault Twingo is the perfect example of this.

The standard Twingo’s suspension is surprisingly soft when you consider the platform also spawns the spine-crushing Renaultsport version, but the fact that it weighs so little (950kg) allows it to do things that heavier rivals simply cannot.

The Twingo is enthralling on a twisty road

And when it comes to agility it’s hard to think of any rival beyond the similarly lightweight Mazda 2 that feels sweeter or sharper than the Twingo.

Initially you might be quite surprised by how much body roll there is, even during quite relaxed cornering. Aim the Twingo’s nose at an apex and the electric power steering (though not the most touchy-feely system in the world) allows you to place the car accurately, but the level of body movement that accompanies turn-in is, to begin with, slightly off-putting.

Once you realise that nothing odd happens beyond this point, however, you can start to enjoy the Twingo for what it is: namely, one of the most enjoyable small cars on the road. Not the grippiest or the most incisive, perhaps, but certainly one of the more amusing to manhandle along a twisty road.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Renault Twingo 2008-2013

When arriving at your local Renault dealer to order your Twingo, life is a very simple process. Not only is there just one engine offered (the 74bhp 1.2) there is just the one trim level, too: Dynamique. All other trims and engines were axed as part of Renault’s UK range overhaul in early 2012.

For your money – a smidgen over £10,000 – you get a remarkably well-specced car in the Renault Twingo 1.2 Dynamique. Standard kit includes electric front windows, cruise control, 15in alloys, electrically adjusted door mirrors, air-con and tinted rear windows.

Options list includes racing stripes, vibrant colours and different alloys

With such a generous amount of equipment, it’s easy to keep the cost of a Twingo down. The options list mainly consists of racing stripes, vibrant colour choices and different alloy wheel designs should you want to turn your Twingo into a rival to the Citroën DS3 or Mini.

The Twingo should also prove to be a cheap car to run; it dips below the 120g/km CO2 emissions threshold (119g/km), so its first year road fund licence is free and after that it’s just £30 per year.

On our test, the Twingo rarely dropped below 50mpg, even under more spirited driving. Its official figure is 55.4mpg, something that’s achievable in everyday conditions.

Insurance wise, the Twingo sits in Group 9. For comparison, a 68bhp 1.2-litre-powered Fiat 500 can be found in Group 5 in its entry-level Pop trim.

VERDICT

4 star Renault Twingo

Renault has nearly struck gold with the latest Twingo, broadening its appeal with some handsome new exterior looks and keeping the excellent chassis and its fun-to-drive traits untouched.

But the style conscious buyers Renault will be looking to attract will be put off by the interior and the enthusiast may be tempted to look elsewhere for the punch to match its poise.

We particularly like the chassis and flexible interior

Better news on the latter front is on the horizon: the Twingo is in line to get a torquey new 0.9-litre three-cylinder engine as its base powerplant next year.

As to where the Twingo sits against its city car peers depends largely on your own particular priorities, and even if the Twingo isn’t our outright favourite — largely on account of its surprisingly thrashy engine and drab-looking (if functional) interior — Renault has nevertheless done a good job in replacing one of its most iconic cars.

We like the Twingo’s chassis, its eco-consciousness and its flexible interior. We’re not so keen on its lack of cruising refinement. Yet in the end it’s just a surprisingly good car to drive, and the fact that it costs just over £10,000 makes it all the more appealing.

So the Twingo is a very likeable car, and if you fall for the cute looks and old-school handling ability, then you’re likely to forgive its shortcomings.

Mark Tisshaw

mark-tisshaw-autocar
Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

Renault Twingo 2008-2013 First drives