Gavin Braithwaite-Smith | November 2014
I’m going to come right out and say it, I’m a little bit in love with the new Renault Twingo SCe 70. It is, perhaps, my favourite new car of 2014, ending the Fiat Panda’s reign as the most characterful city car. For me, spending a week with the third generation Twingo was like being given an early Christmas present, only in this instance I had to give it back.
In developing the new Twingo, Renault has re-written the city car rule book. By teaming up with Smart – which is using the same platform for the new Fortwo and Forfour – Renault has given us a rear-wheel drive, rear-engined small car. Petrolheads of the world rejoice, because – on paper at least – the Twingo should be an absolute riot to drive.
Prices for the naturally aspirated, 1.0-litre SCe 70, with its 70hp and 67lb ft of torque, start from £9,495 for the basic Expression trim, rising to £10,995 for the Dynamique model, complete with Stop & Start system. You can also opt for a 0.9-litre turbocharged TCe 90 version, of which prices start at £11,695.
The Renault Twingo is a clever piece of packaging. By moving the engine to the back, Renault has managed to make the new Twingo 10cm shorter than its predecessor, but a 12cm longer wheelbase means 33cm more room in the cabin. This is a proper four-seat, four-door city car, with plenty of space for four adults.
Other reviews have been quick to dampen expectations, keen to point out that the Twingo is more at home in the city than on a B-road. But whilst any thoughts of the Twingo behaving like a fun-size Porsche 911 should be put to one side, it is actually a cracking car to drive, but you do have to work at it.
In the city, the Twingo’s main party piece is its ability to turn on a sixpence. The front wheels turn a full 45 degrees, giving the tiny Twingo the kind of manoeuvrability previously reserved for London cabbies or Triumph Herald drivers. It’s quite brilliant.
The excellent in-town performance is aided by light steering and plenty of off-the-line poke, largely thanks to the peak torque arriving at just 2,850rpm.
Once out of town, you’ll initially feel underwhelmed by the Twingo’s performance. You could spend a week with the Twingo and be blissfully unaware that you’re driving a rear-wheel drive car. Renault has successfully dialled in safeguards to ensure those not used to the characteristics of a rear-wheel drive car won’t be caught out on a wet roundabout or when pulling away from a junction.
But enthusiasts need not despair, because working with the Twingo can yield some delightful results. The key is the knowledge that the power delivery peaks at 6,000rpm, right at the very top of the Twingo’s rev counter. Note, you’ll need to connect your smartphone to the Twingo’s R&GO infotainment system to have access to a rev counter. This is quite a novelty, but surely an optional ‘pod’, the kind of which was offered on the previous generation Renaultsport Twingo, would be a better idea.
It’s all about momentum and learning the optimum point at which to change up and the best gear for exiting a corner. Essentially you’ll find yourself a gear lower than you would in a normal city car and don’t be surprised to use first gear in unconventional circumstances. The Twingo’s long wheelbase provides a wonderfully supple ride and the rear engine set-up gives it the kind of balance not normally felt in a city car.
It bodes well for a future Twingo GT or Renaultsport version and hearts should be warmed by the quote in the Twingo press pack, which reads, “it is reasonable to assume there will be a sporty model in the future”.
No, the Renault Twingo isn’t the best city car you can buy, but it is the city car you should buy. There are, however, one or two caveats to this.
If boot space is a top priority, you need to look elsewhere. Renault will claim that mounting the engine at an angle of 49 degrees has helped to preserve practicality, but there’s no disguising the high boot floor and lip. It has also come at the expense of space, with only 188 litres of room available in the boot. Yes, you can adjust the back seats to a 90 degrees “cargo position”, but the seating position becomes uncomfortable as a result.
However, when travelling without rear seat passengers, the 50:50 split folding rear seats can be folded down to provide 980 litres of space. Furthermore, the front passenger seat folds down to provide 2.31 metres of load length, enough – according to Renault – to carry a double bass.
The Renault Twingo doesn’t have a low entry price point on its side, either. The prices of the majority of its competitors start with an eight, but in fairness they soon rise when some much-needed options and accessories are added to the package.
But in all other respects, the Renault Twingo easily holds its own against its chief rivals. Subjectively, it looks the best of the bunch, with the styling a neat mixture of the Fiat 500 and Renault 5. The interior is finished to a good quality and buyers will love the range of personalisation packs and styling options.
The specification of the Expression model is miserly, so it’s worth opting for the Play, if only to take advantage of the air conditioning system. Crucially, Stop & Start is only available on the Dynamique model, which helps to bring CO2 emissions down from 105g/km to 95g/km. Fuel economy rises from 62.8mpg to 67.3mpg, although I’m ashamed – or perhaps, happy – to admit it I only saw an average of 32mpg across my seven days with the car. But hey, I was having fun.
I had high hopes for the new Renault Twingo and I haven’t been disappointed. First impressions are helped by the overall styling, which is loaded with neat touches, like the subtle hints to the Renault 5 and 5 Turbo.
It also feels delightfully French, echoing some of the best small cars of yesteryear. To be disappointed by the way it drives is missing the point. This is merely a prelude to a go-faster version arriving some time in the future.
With the Twingo parked outside, I constantly felt like nipping out for a drive. It’s a willing companion on a twisty country road, constantly urging you to explore the upper reaches of the rev counter. When you do, you’re rewarded with a characterful engine note coming from the back of the car. But when you do decide to drive it slowly – which won’t be often – the engine falls quiet and the Twingo’s ease of driving comes to the fore. Few city cars, or even superminis, feel as good to drive as this.
Based on my experience with the 1.0-litre SCe 70 version, I’d be fully prepared to place a deposit on a sportier version now. And it’s a while since I’ve said that about a new car.
Rivals: 2014 Renault Twingo
- Volkswagen Up, Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii
- Fiat Panda
- Hyundai i10
- Peugeot 108, Citroen C1 and Toyota Aygo
The Volkswagen Up, Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii still offer the best blend of quality, performance, efficiency and value for money. As an overall package, the three cars based on the Up platform are almost impossible to beat. Of the Twingo’s key rivals, the Fiat Panda remains the most characterful city car you can buy, while the recently updated Hyundai i10 is much improved and offers the best warranty package of this group. In truth, the Twingo slots in between the Up and the Panda. It won’t be for everyone, but it offers something different and should be added to your shortlist of new city cars to buy in 2015.
Specification: 2014 Renault Twingo Dynamique SCe 70 S&S
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder naturally aspirated
Gearbox: Five-speed manual
Price from: £10,995
Torque: 67lb ft
0-62mph: 14.5 seconds
Top speed: 94mph