​First Drive: Renault Twingo

Renault Twingo

The original Renault Twingo was born as a quirky small car back in the early 90s and was a great success in its native France, with many still on French roads. Despite strong interest from this side of the channel, it resolutely stayed in mainland Europe though - unless you went to the effort of importing your own.

The second generation Twingo however, did find its way onto British shores, though it had lost its cute looks and sense of space. While that car may have become an also-ran, the third generation Twingo offers a radical new take on the city car theme, by playing around with the basic layout of the car to maximise the amount of interior space on offer, while minimising its exterior dimensions.

What is it?

Though the previous Twingo was a conventional small car, the new version harks back to the original model with its cheeky styling and clever use of space.

Where the new Twingo really differs from both of its predecessors though is when it comes to what is - or rather what isn't - under the bonnet; Renault has shifted the engine from the front to underneath the boot floor and unusually for a city car, it's the rear wheels which are powered. The benefit of this is that it frees up space in the cabin while cutting the car's length.

What's under the bonnet?

The new Twingo is available with two thrummy three-cylinder engines - a 1.0-litre with around 69bhp and a turbocharged 0.9-litre motor which produces 89bhp.

In 1.0-litre form the car accelerates from a standstill to 62mph in 14.5 seconds and is capable of returning 62.8mpg and 105g of CO2 per km. In 1.0 'Stop & Start' form economy climbs to 67.3mpg while CO2 emissions drop to just 95g per km.

The 0.9-litre engine on the other hand requires just 10.8 seconds to sprint to 62mph, though economy is strong at 65.7mpg. CO2 emissions for this more powerful model stand at 99g per km.

Both models are rear engined, with the motor hidden underneath the boot floor. The engine sits below a metal lid, boot carpet and thick sound and noise insulating mat.

What's the spec like?

Renault has stuffed the Twingo with lots of standard equipment, even in entry-level Expression trim. Bluetooth, a digital radio, four airbags and a hill start assist system which holds the brakes as you make a hill start, are standard on all models, as is remote central locking, a speed limiter and split folding rear seats.

For a £500 premium Play specification adds driver's seat height adjustment, manual air conditioning and different wheel trims for the steel wheels.

Step up to Dynamique for an additional £1,000 and you get cruise control, front fog lights and a lane departure warning. The engine also gains a stop/start system, which mildly boosts fuel economy and reduces emissions. Other additions include 15-inch alloy wheels, electric heated wing mirrors, a leather steering wheel and gear lever and a, rather questionable, pinstripe along the car's flanks.

Standard stability control and wider tyres at the rear than at the front should mean the Twingo's rear wheel drive setup shouldn't hold any surprises around slippery corners.

New Renault Twingo

New Renault Twingo

Any rivals?

The Twingo lines up alongside city cars including the Citroen C1, Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo which share a number of components, and the Skoda Citigo, Seat Mii and VW Up, which were also developed alongside each other. Another stylish city car option is the Fiat 500.

The Renault offers a more practical interior than the C1, 108 and Aygo triplets, with a reasonable amount of space for four adults, standard-fit split rear folding seats, which fold completely flat and a folding front passenger seat.

The boot is also large and a useful shape and is much easier to load and unload than the very deep boot in the Citigo. The Twingo also compares very well on the road, being nippy around town and refined at speed, with longer journeys in the Twingo likely to be more comfortable than in the Citigo or its Seat and VW siblings.

According to official figures the 1.0-litre Renault is slightly less economical than some of its rivals, though equipment levels are generous and the 0.9-litre model accelerates quicker than all of its main competitors, while retaining a strong claimed fuel economy figure.

What's it like to drive?

The Twingo is easy to drive with a light clutch, slick gear change and good visibility. With the engine tucked under the boot and the power going to the rear wheels, the car has weight balanced more evenly across the front and back of the car. This means that it takes corners confidently, without the front being as quick to run wide during faster cornering.

The 0.9-litre motor pulls strongly and provides a good spread of power, though the less powerful 1.0-litre motor is smoother and more refined. Both provide more than enough power for nipping through tight gaps in city traffic and overtaking on faster roads, though the turbocharged unit will cope better with heavy loads.

The car also has a smooth, though firm ride and it makes a very comfortable machine for longer journeys, especially when you consider its small size.

The AOL Cars verdict

The new Renault Twingo is a very convincing city car. It looks stylish, the interior is chic and simple to use while quality seems high and it's fun to drive.

Overall, the Twingo is a city car which makes a stronger case for being your only car than many rivals. The boot is large, the interior is spacious and prices are keen, with a strong standard specification on all models.

Of the two engines, the 1.0-litre motor is sweeter, with less power, but a smoother power delivery than the 0.9-litre, though buyers should be very happy with either.

The Knowledge

Model: Renault Twingo SCe 70 Play
Price: £9,995
Engine: 1.0-litre, four-cylinder
Power: 69bhp, 91Nm
Max Speed: 94mph
0-62mph 14.5 seconds
MPG: 62.8mpg (combined)
Emissions: 105g/km