The new Renault Twingo is something of a maverick in the city car class. Rather than the simple front-wheel-drive, front-engined layout favoured by rivals such as the Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen Up, its three-cylinder engine sits beneath the boot floor and drives the rear wheels.
This, Renault claims, brings various benefits including more space for passengers, and allows for a tiny 8.6-metre turning circle to help make light work of u-turns and tight car parks. The three-cylinder engine comes in two sizes: either a non-turbo 1.0, or a turbocharged 0.9 as the range-topper – although the turbo is available only in the most expensive, Dynamique, trim. A five-speed manual gearbox is the only option currently, but a six-speed dual-clutch auto will join the range in September 2015.
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?
Fun? Sort of. Fit for purpose? Definitely. Of the two engines, the cheaper 1.0 SCe 70 is definitely the one to go for. It builds speed progressively, and revs more smoothly than the turbocharged 0.9 TCe, so while the entry-level car needs to be worked a little harder if you want to nip into fast-moving traffic, it still feels peppy enough around town, and it’s easier to drive.
It even hustles along well enough at steady motorway speeds. However, vague clutch and brake-pedal feel can be an irritation regardless of engine, but you get used to it with time.
Handling is also better on the 1.0 70 SCe. The higher-powered 0.9 TCe gets variable-ratio steering, so it responds more quickly as you apply lock, but in practice this just makes it feel a little inconsistent, where the base car’s slower steering is more predictable and reassuring. Both steering set-ups are usefully light, and while falling short of the sense of confidence you get in the VW Up, the Twingo is easy to drive in town.
Body lean is kept to a minimum through corners, and there’s plenty of grip, so you can enjoy wringing what performance there is from the dinky Renault, even if it’s not quite as fun to drive as a Skoda Citigo.
The Twingo feels settled at higher speeds, but on the optional 16-inch alloys of our test car it also thumps heavily over sharp-edged potholes, and very scruffy surfaces can send shudders through the cabin, so the ride could be a bit unforgiving over poor UK roads. Settling for the 15-inch wheels that are standard is likely to improve this.
Refinement is hit-and-miss, too. While engine noise is fine at a steady low-speed cruise, the thrummy engines make a racket if you rev them hard and emit a constant drone at motorway speeds. It's here that you’ll also notice a lot of wind noise over the windscreen and front pillars. Again, the SCe is the better of the two, fading to a more easily ignored hum at a steady throttle, where the TCe emits a bit more clatter.
What’s the new 2014 Renault Twingo like inside?
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 feels of a decent quality by class standards. Even without the optional R-Link 7.0-inch touch-screen fitted to our car it looks good, with well-damped switchgear.
Entry-level Expression trim gets the Smartphone-based media system, as well as two USB inputs (one behind the phone dock, for charging, and one to connect another MP3 player). The ‘R & Go’ App has its foibles – the phone screen can be hard to see in direct sunlight, like other phone-based systems we've tried. It’s also prone to freezing momentarily, and the nav directions can be hard to understand on such a small screen. However, it’s still a decent system, and of course you can use any phone-based nav software you want to, so this system will be ideal for most buyers. 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 included, but the rear windows are hinged on all models, so only open outwards a few inches rather than rolling down – not great for any kids with motion sickness. Safety kit includes head and side airbags for front occupants, traction control, central locking and hill-start assist.
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, the Twingo’s steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach; you can move it up and down only.
With seat height adjustment specified most drivers will be able to get comfortable; there's reasonable lateral support, a big speedo that’s easy to read regardless of your driving position and excellent forward visibility over the bluff nose. As with all city cars in this class, you’ll notice the shortage of lumbar-support on long journeys, when the hard seats can cause back ache.
If you want the 0.9 TCe engine you have to go for top-spec Dynamique trim, which adds such luxuries as alloy wheels, cruise control, stop-start (on both engines), a leather steering wheel and gearknob, electrically adjustable wing mirrors and lane-departure warning. Rear parking sensors will be a popular addition, costing £150 and available on mid- or top-spec cars.
The good news is that the engine layout has really paid off in terms of interior space. While it is a little narrow compared to rivals such as, say, a Hyundai i10, there’s plenty of head- and legroom in the front and back of the Twingo, making it 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.
As you’d expect, the boot floor is quite high because the engine sits beneath it, but the boot is big enough to carry a couple of cabin bags quite easily. The 50/50 split rear seats fold flat easily and are flush with the boot floor.
The Twingo also has the added bonus of a front passenger seat that folds flat for maximum load space – and if that still isn't enough room, there are also various cubbies around the cabin, including storage space beneath the rear seats (a £20 option).
Should I buy one?
There’s loads going for the Twingo. It manages to blend something of the Fiat 500’s retro style with an interior that’s as spacious as any other in the class, and in some ways is more versatile.
Factor in the clever Smartphone-based infotainment and it's also well equipped, while a four-year, 100,000-mile warranty and – if you go for finance – free servicing will help make running costs competitive, too.
However, the 0.9 TCe is very hard to recommend, given that it’s quite expensive in the first place for a city car and doesn’t get the £600 fitted colour touch-screen and nav as standard – something that many buyers will value – and kit that comes on most rivals in the same price bracket.
The cheaper 1.0 70 SCe is better, as it’s easier to drive smoothly around town, more refined and is very well priced in Play trim with a few choice optional extras.
It’s a shame that, even in the better SCe 70 guise, the Twingo remains resolutely average to drive. It’s very good, but just not quite good enough to beat the best.
What Car? says...
Renault Twingo Expression SCe 70
Renault Twingo Dynamique Energy TCe 90