The Twingo is a small, cute city car that it’s almost impossible to dislike. It looks fabulously retro in a very modern way and is much less contrived in appearance than some of its rivals. Its stance is nigh on perfect and the graphics - often an afterthought that the marketing department insisted on adding at the last minute - suit the car perfectly and look fabulous.
The interior features the sort of primary colours and Playmobile chunkiness that are de rigueur these days for small city cars; despite my reservations about companies infantilising their customers, I liked it. (Which might add weight to my claim that I’m not quite the grumpy old man my family think I am.)
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A genuine four-seater
A small footprint usually means a small interior but other than banging my left leg on the (removable) cubby box that sits in front of the gear lever, I didn’t ever feel too cramped. The driving position is good, even for someone of my size, and the controls are easy to locate and intuitive to operate.
Access to the rear seats is good too thanks to the four-door layout, and the Twingo has more space in the back than many in its class, making it a genuine four-seater rather than the more usual two-seater that can occasionally accommodate rear-seat passengers.
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Surprises that aren’t entirely pleasant
The Renault Twingo has two surprises up its sleeve compared to almost every other small city car.
The first is that it is the rear wheels that are driven rather than the front. The other is that the engine is in the boot instead of under the bonnet.
The Renault team was coy about the advantages of this arrangement on the Twingo’s launch, citing a smaller turning circle as one of the more significant benefits.
The other, which remained unsaid, is the development cost. The Twingo shares a platform with the Smart ForFour, which made it much, much cheaper to bring to market than having to start from scratch all by yourself.
Unless you are a black cab driver then the turning circle will be much tighter than anything else you will have driven, but other than that I found only disadvantages compared with a more conventional layout.
(Of course, a conventional layout only becomes conventional because of the advantages it confers; if the rear-wheel-drive, rear-engined configuration was significantly better than any other then it would, of course, be the one we are all used to.)
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Storage an issue
For a start the front ‘boot’ is full of stuff, rendering it useless for storage.
The rear boot area is full of engine, so the proper boot is quite high as it sits above the engine.
This also means that your luggage will get hot as it soaks up the heat generated below. However, you can fold the rear seats down, enabling you to fit much more luggage in there, half of which won’t be slow-roasted by the engine.
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Susceptible to crosswinds
The Twingo is also more susceptible to crosswinds than its rivals. Driving at 60mph is fine, but anything more feels distinctly precarious in anything other than still air.
Even articulated lorries buffet the little Renault in an alarming fashion, making this something of a one trick pony rather than the sort of multi-purpose vehicles that it is competing against.
However, you don’t have to worry about the Twingo’s rear engine and rear-wheel-drive chassis making it the sort of car that will slide off the road backwards if you try and corner a bit too quickly, or back-off the throttle mid-bend.
The chassis is, if anything, too benign, suffering from too much understeer. The complete absence of torque steer – when the steering wheel tugs gently from side-to-side as you accelerate hard - was welcome but it was difficult to come up with a compelling case for the Twingo as a car the keen motorist will enjoy driving.
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A great town car
And yet, if your journeys are almost solely confined to the city, its tiny dimensions and super-small turning circle do help it make a case as a great town car. The trouble is that cars like the VW/SEAT/Skoda up!/Mii/Citigo and Suzuki Celerio do the job just as well and make fine motorway cruisers into the bargain.
Despite all this, I warmed to the Twingo. If you can live with the compromises it forces upon you then it is a stylish and unusual alternative to the more traditional suspects.
Power – 70bhp
Torque – 67lb ft
0-62mph – 14.5 seconds
Top speed – 94mph
Kerb weight – 864kgs
Official average fuel consumption – 60.1mpg
Honest John real world fuel consumption – 46.8mpg
CO2 emissions – 105g/km
VED class – Band B
Warranty – 4 yrs/100,000 miles
Price – £10,995
Price as tested - £11,935
The Suzuki Celerio is a brilliant example of how to make a cheap car that is fun to drive. It also handles long journeys with the same competence as it does urban commuting, making it a great choice for anyone who needs a car that can do (almost) everything on a budget.
The best of the rest
The VW up!, Skoda Citigo, or SEAT Mii are all nicer to drive on the motorway and just as wieldy in the city. They’re all essentially the same car, so just pick the one that you can get the best deal on.
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