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 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 only available in the most expensive, Dynamique, trim.
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, and media interface, and even a rev-counter, by linking through the car’s standard Bluetooth connection.
What’s the new 2014 Renault Twingo like inside?
We’ve spent time in the top-spec Dynamique trim, complete with the optional £600 R-Link 7.0-inch touch-screen, sat-nav and rear parking camera, and so equipped it certainly feels very high-tech. There are plenty of gloss and contrasting- textured plastics, too, which offset the slightly brittle-feeling materials that pervade much of the rest of the cabin around the doors and lower dashboard.
Entry-level Expression trim gets the Smartphone-based media system, digital radio, and two USB inputs (one behind the phone dock, for charging, and one to connect another MP3 player should you want to). It also gets the contrasting gloss-white dash inserts and two-tone upholstery shown here, although you can choose different colours and decal packs as optional extras.
Front electric windows are included, but the rear windows are hinged on all models, so will only open outwards a few inches rather than rolling down. Safety kit includes head and side airbags for front occupants, traction control, remote central locking and hill-start assist.
Most buyers will opt for mid-spec Play trim, which costs an extra £500 and adds air-conditioning, fancier-looking steel 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 short, 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 tested here you have to go for top-spec Dynamique trim, which adds such luxuries as alloy wheels, cruise control, automatic 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).
What’s the 2014 Renault Twingo like to drive?
Fun? Sort of. Fit for purpose? Definitely. We tested the Twingo complete with the 89bhp turbocharged 0.9, three-cylinder engine, which makes the little Renault feel peppy around town when you work it, so you'll have no qualms about nipping into gaps in the traffic. You can also let the revs sink quite low without the engine feeling like it's on the verge of stalling.
That means there’s no need to change gear so regularly through the notchy, five-speed manual ‘box. Acceleration is painfully slow from low revs in a high gear, though, because it’s not until higher up the rev range and the turbo is on full boost that the Twingo TCe starts to feel nippy. This uneven power delivery, combined with a vague clutch biting point, can make smooth driving in stop-start traffic tricky, although it’s something that gets easier with familiarity.
Harder to forgive is the vague steering; the car wanders about at motorway speeds, so it seems that you need constant small inputs to keep it straight, and it never feels precise or confidence-inspiring. Still, it’s light and quick enough to make the Twingo easy to thread through busy city streets.
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 as fun to drive as a VW Up.
The Twingo generally rides quite well, particularly at higher speeds, where is settles down, 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 it could be a bit unforgiving over poor UK roads. Settling for the 15-inch wheels that are standard on all trims is likely to improve this.
Refinement is hit-and-miss, too. While engine noise is fine at a steady low-speed cruise, the thrummy engine makes a racket if you rev it hard, and it’s a constant drone at motorway speeds, when you’ll also notice a lot of wind noise over the windscreen and front pillars. Ultimately, it’s no more refined at town speeds than the best rivals, and a fair bit noisier than some at higher speeds.
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 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, there are issues. Unfortunately, despite a light body and rear-wheel drive, the Twingo 0.9 TCe is resolutely unremarkable to drive, barring its impressive turning circle. Also, this TCe Dynamique model looks expensive, and that’s before you’ve found £600 for the integrated colour touch-screen and nav (something that you get as standard in virtually all the rivals at this price point), so we’d suggest you look to the top-spec VW Up models if you want a luxury-laden city car.
Even the cheapest Twingo looks to be charging a premium for the design, given that it costs a whopping £1300 more than a basic Seat Mii, which could well be the better bet for those not worried about having gadgets and funky interior finishes.
We’ll reserve judgement until we’ve driven the bigger-selling and better-value SCe 70 model, but on first impressions, the Twingo looks to be good, but not quite good enough.