New city car is entertaining to drive and commendably spacious, although it lacks the refinement of the Volkswagen Up

What is it?

The all-new Renault Twingo, the product of a co-operative project between the French company and Daimler’s Smart brand. It’s the first five-door Twingo and the first new rear-engined Renault since production of the boxy 10 saloon ended in 1971.

The new Twingo is just 3.59m long, which is pretty compact for a full four-seater with a well-sized rear cabin. Indeed, the new Twingo is a full 10cm shorter than the outgoing three-door Twingo but has a 12cm longer wheelbase.

Renault says the rear-engined layout has allowed its engineers to push the dashboard further forward. This lengthy cabin, combined with a front passenger seat back that folds forward, allows loads as long as 2.31m long to be fitted inside the Twingo.

Although there’s no luggage space under the bonnet (the space is filled with the radiator and various fluid reservoirs), Renault says that not having the engine mounted between the front wheels has greatly improved crash safety. 

Renault expects a four-star result in the NCAP tests, but says it will regard that as a good result in the wake of more the stringent regulations introduced in January this year. The Twingo structure’s main safety cage is made of very high strength steel than can absorb forces of "120kg per square millimeter".

Pedestrian protection is also claimed to be much improved thanks to the amount of free deformation space allowed by the empty nose. Renault engineers have not had to raise the bonnet line to meet the pedestrian protection regulations, which – along with the very short nose – they say gives the Twingo driver the best forward view of any car in the A segment.

Perhaps the biggest advantage with the rear-engined layout is the ability to allow the Twingo’s front wheels to pivot by 45 degrees off the straight-ahead position (the previous Twingo managed only 30 degrees). This gives the Twingo a tiny turning circle of just 8.9m, only marginally larger than that of a London black cab.

At the rear is a re-engineered version of Renault’s familiar three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. The unit has been rotated by 49 degrees, so it is 15cm lower than its usual upright position, sitting under the boot floor. Renault says that this re-positioning of the engine means half of the components have had to be re-designed. The rear suspension is an unusual De Dion torsion beam design.

This turbocharged engine, like the 69bhp normally aspirated unit, drives a conventional five-speed manual gearbox. There will be the option of a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, but it won’t arrive for another 12 months. Interestingly, the engine block can be lowered by 150mm to aid with major servicing.

Inside, Renault’s designers say they have managed to carve out 52 litres of storage space, including space under the rear seat bench (like the original Mini). The boot offers a limited 188 litres, however. The seat backs can be locked in a more upright position to stretch that to 219 litres. Pushing the rear seat backs forward creates a completely level load bay.

What's it like?

Hardly anything like a rear-drive car. The new Twingo, by Renault’s own admission, has been tuned to be as similar to a typical front-drive city car as possible. 

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Even though the car’s weight distribution is balanced 55 per cent rear and 45 per cent front, there's hardly any sense that the Twingo is moderately tail heavy. It’s even hard to place the source of the engine’s prominent warbling note when you're hard on the gas.

The Twingo’s driving position is higher and more upright than normal and none the worse for it. The dash is flat and upright, as are the door panels and the overall effect makes the cockpit feel quite spacious and liveable for car this compact. 

That effect is magnified when bowling along at 70mph on the motorway, where the Twingo is quite hushed and feels unusually capable of longer, high-speed, journeys than nearly any other A-segment car (save for the exemplary Volkswagen Up). 

There was a reasonable amount of wind noise and whistle around the A-pillars and wing mirrors, but it is possible that this was more noticeable due to a lack of noise from under the bonnet. The Twingo also felt pretty well tied down at motorway speeds and straight running, perhaps another benefit of the rear-mounted engine.

On more winding roads, it was possible to get this car flowing quite nicely, once the engine was operating around its peak torque levels (frustratingly, the Twingo does not have a rev counter as standard). The shift action is little overlong, but then the linkage has to reach back into the rear of the car.

It is possible to pull a series of B-road curves in to a satisfying whole, once you’ve got the engine on the boil. Despite its resolutely ordinary set-up (although this model does get steering which is usefully half-a-turn quicker than on the normally-aspirated car) the Twingo has some country road potential.

Our test car had covered just 250 miles or so, and felt very tight and took some revving to get going. That will improve over time, but it has quite a decent pace. In general, the Twingo’s ride was pretty good, though it was disturbed by short-wave undulations and broken surfaces. The tyres also kicked up something of a racket on coarse surfaces.

Naturally, the Twingo was at one with the city environment, especially thanks to its exceptionally tight turning circle. 

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Should I buy one?

As city cars go, this Twingo is definitely one of the more entertaining options available. It is reasonably brisk and will get better with miles, the interior is genuinely accomodating for such a small car and the extraordinary turning circle should not be underestimated in everyday use. 

This Twingo also has the legs for motorway running and is more spacious than the latest city cars such as the Toyota Aygo. It could use another round of refinement work to best the VW Up, but overall the Twingo is near the top of table.

In this Dynamique form, it’s also remarkably well equipped. It gets 15-inch alloys, air conditioning, a DAB/Bluetooth sound system, stop-start, front fog lamps, lane departure warning, leather wheel and gear knob, remote locking and even hill-start assist.

We'll have to wait for the warm and hot versions of the Twingo to see its potential as a pocket sports car, but for now the Twingo TCe 90 is an intriguing and innovative model whose unique engineering package has allowed it to shake off most of the downsides of conventional city cars.

Renault Twingo TCe 90 Dynamique

Price £11,695; 0-62mph 10.8sec; Top speed 103mph; Economy 65.7mpg; CO2 99g/km; Kerb weight 943kg; Engine 3cyls in line, rear-mounted, 898cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 89bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 99lb ft at 2500rpm; Gearbox five-speed manual

Join the debate

Add a comment…
pSynrg 2 September 2014

Ordered ours!

One 60min test drive is all it took. Myself & Mrs were smitten.

I just love the pointy feel of the front end and the unusual sense of where the (very quiet) engine note is coming from.

It all just looks and feels right!

Like what Smart should have done years ago... Oh, hang on...

dgate 30 August 2014

Rear Engine

I have seen it touted many times that placing the engine in the rear has made the passenger compartment bigger, how so?
Rear placement between the "widest track" is a waste of space, results in a smaller boot and affects directional stability especially in cross winds.
The only advantage is a better crumple zone.
Andrew 61 29 August 2014

Renault confirms

What I suspected, that fitting the engine out back has allowed crash protection to be built in without having to have an overly large front end. The lines on this are nice and neat with side window heights continuing from the windscreen base. I have said this before but I think rear engine would work well in the focus class, in theory it should be Renault who try this first but lets see.