The new Renault Twingo is something of a maverick in the city car class.
Instead of the simple front-wheel-drive, front-engined layout favoured by rivals such as the Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Up, the Twingo's three-cylinder engine sits beneath the boot floor and drives the rear wheels.
This, Renault claims, brings various benefits including more space for passengers, an incredibly versatile cabin and also allows for a tiny 8.6-metre turning circle to help make light work of u-turns and tight car parks.
That three-cylinder engine comes in two outputs – either a non-turbo 1.0, or a more powerful turbocharged 0.9 – although the 0.9 is available only in range-topping Dynamique trim. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard on both, although a six-speed twin-clutch auto will join the range next year.
There are plenty more tricks to the five-door only Twingo, including a phone dock that – courtesy of a free 'R & Go' app – allows you to use your Android or Apple smartphone as a nav, media interface, and even a rev-counter, by linking through the car’s standard Bluetooth connection.
What’s the 2014 Renault Twingo like to drive?
The cheaper 1.0 SCe 70 is the one to go for. It’s pretty slow, even by city car standards, but builds speed steadily, and revs more smoothly than the 0.9 TCe – which is considerably faster, but harder to drive smoothly at low speeds due to its less predictable throttle reponses.
So, unless you regularly need to venture on to motorway and faster A-roads, the cheaper and less powerful engine is your better bet.
It's just a pity that, whicever engine you choose, you'll have to put up with vague clutch and brake pedal responses, which make it hard to keep things smooth when pulling away or slowing your progess.
The higher-powered 0.9 TCe car gets variable-ratio steering as standard, so it responds more quickly as you turn the wheel and requires less arm-twirling to negotiate tight corners. Both steering set-ups are usefully light, but with almost no feedback through the rim, which doesn't give you a great sense of confidence or connection with the road at faster speeds.
Body lean is kept in check fairly well through corners, and there’s plenty of grip, particularly when riding on the optional 16-inch alloys of our test car. It's just a pity the Twingo isn't a bit more fun.
The ride is a mixed bag; it's fairly well settled at higher speeds, but scruffy urban surfaces can send shudders through the cabin and steering wheel. Larger obstacles such as speed bumps and undulations in the road are dealt with better though, with little disturbance felt by those inside.
Refinement is hit-and-miss. While both engines are fairly smooth and hushed by city car standards, you will hear the 1.0 engine more – simply because you have to rev it a lot harder. There's plenty of transmission whine, too, and you’ll also notice a lot of wind noise on the motorway.
What’s the new 2014 Renault Twingo like inside?
The good news is that the rear-engine layout has really paid off in terms of interior space.
While it's a little narrow inside compared with rivals such as, say, the Hyundai i10, there’s plenty of head- and legroom in the front and back, making the Twingo one of the roomiest city cars around.
Most adults will be comfortable in the back, too, unless sitting behind a very tall driver, when their knees may be brushing the seatbacks. However, the optional fabric sunroof (£850) cuts rear headroom significantly – so don’t choose it if you need to regularly carry adults in the back.
Rear access is good, too – there's no high sill to step over, and the rear doors open wide enough to make getting in and out easy, which isn't the case with rivals such as the Citroen C1 and Seat Mii.
As you’d expect, the boot floor is quite high because the engine sits beneath it, but the load bay is big enough to carry a couple of small suitcases or a reasonable sized weekly shop. The 50/50 split rear seats fold flat easily and lie flush with the boot floor, leaving no annoying step to lift luggage over.
The Twingo has the added bonus of a front passenger seat that folds flat for those occasions you need to carry extra long items – and there are various cubbies around the cabin, including generous storage bins beneath the rear seats (a £20 option).
With a smattering of gloss plastic inserts (the white trim in our photos is standard on all models) and contrasting textured plastics, the Twingo’s cabin looks great and quality is reasonable by class standards.
Expression and Play models gets the Smartphone-based infotainment system, aslong with two USB inputs (one behind the phone dock, for charging, and one to connect a second MP3 player if you so wish). The R & Go App has its foibles, though – the phone screen can be hard to see in direct sunlight, as with other phone-based systems we've tried.
It’s also prone to freezing, and the nav directions can be hard to read on such a small screen. The fact the phone mount is directly in front of the stereo is another irritation, because it blocks access to the buttons on the radio.
An optional seven-inch touch-screen system is available on range-topping Dynamique models. It's excellent, with logical menus and quick responses, but at £600 it's very hard to recommend in what's supposed to be a budget city car.
Base Expression cars get two-tone upholstery, although you can choose different colours and decal packs from the array of personalisation options Renault offers. Front electric windows are also included, but the rear windows are hinged on all models, so only open out a few inches rather than rolling down.
Most buyers will opt for mid-spec Play trim, which costs an extra £500 and adds air-con, fancier-looking wheel trims and a height-adjustable driver’s seat. However, as with almost all city cars, the Twingo’s steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach; it only moves up and down.
With seat height-adjustment specified, most drivers will be able to get comfortable; the seat have a reaonable amount of lateral support, and the big speedo is easy to read. Forward visilbity is excellent , too. However, as with most city cars, you’ll also notice the shortage of lumbar support on long journeys.
If you want the 0.9 TCe engine you have to go for top-spec Dynamique trim, which adds such luxuries such as alloy wheels, cruise control, stop-start (on both engines), a leather-covered steering wheel, electrically adjustable door mirrors and lane-departure warning.
Should I buy one?
There’s lots going for the Twingo. It manages to blend something of the Fiat 500’s retro style with an interior that’s very spacious by city car standards, and remarkably versatile, too.
We remain unconvinced by the Smartphone-based R & Go infotainment system, but the Twingo is otherwise well equipped, while the four-year, 100,000-mile warranty and – if you go for finance – free servicing will help make running costs very competitive.
The cheaper 1.0 70 SCe is the one to go for, because it’s easier to drive around town and a good deal cheaper to buy, despite the zingy performance of the 0.9 TCe on country roads.
Meanwhile, the 0.9 TCe is harder to recommend. True, it benefits from quicker, more precise steering, but it's not worth the extra; especially since you still have to pay £600 extra for the excellent R-Link touch-screen; something many buyers will value, and kit that comes as standard in several rivals.
What Car? says...
Renault Twingo Expression SCe 70
Renault Twingo Dynamique Energy TCe 90