By Paul Clarke & Andrew Leadbetter
Model/Engine size: Renault Twingo GT TCe 110 v smart forfour BRABUS Xclusive 109hp
Fuel: Petrol / Petrol
Fuel economy combined: 54.3mpg / 61.4mpg
Green Car Guide rating: 9/10 / 6/10
The Renault Twingo GT and smart forfour BRABUS are essentially the same car underneath, but they’re very different to drive and very differently priced; so which is best?
Tell a motoring enthusiast that you’re going to let them drive a small, sporty, rear-wheel drive, rear-engined car with a turbo petrol engine and they’re likely to get quite excited. Tell them that they can do a back-to-back test of two theoretically very similar cars and they’ll be even more interested. Then tell them that one of the cars is much more expensive than the other, and they’re likely to expect that car to be the best one to drive. Would this assumption be correct?
Both the Renault Twingo GT and smart forfour BRABUS are based on the same rear-engined, rear-wheel drive platform. The engine is a 3-cylinder, 898cc turbo petrol unit. Both have four doors plus a hatchback, and four seats.
The exterior and interior styling of each is different, and the other major variation is that the Twingo has a 5-speed manual gearbox, whereas the smart has a 6-speed dual clutch transmission.
Renault Twingo GT
In terms of specifics for the Renault Twingo GT, the suspension is well-judged, with better body control than the regular Twingo; it’s firm but not uncomfortable. The steering is also better than the standard car; the weight is very good and it’s precise. It lacks feel, but it isn’t completely devoid of it.
There are also much higher grip levels than in the standard Twingo; the Yokohama tyres probably help. Not surprisingly, you still can’t turn off the ESP. It’s much better to drive slowly too – in traffic, the extra torque makes setting off much smoother. And very short first, second (45mph) and third gears (58 mph) are handy for getting out of junctions.
The Twingo GT is lighter (1,001 kg v 1,095 kg for the smart) and it feels better for it.
Some areas for improvement in the interior include the fact that there’s no rev counter – a strange omission for a small sporty car with a revvy engine and short gearing. There’s also no temperature gauge, so you can’t tell when the engine has warmed up.
The buttons for ECO, the speed limiter and cruise control are behind the gear lever, meaning that you can’t see them and they’re difficult to use. And the steering wheel spokes are too fat to wrap your hands around the rim at this point.
The rear doors don’t open as wide as the smart, making it hard to get in and out of the back. And the external boot release is not where you’d expect, at the bottom of the tailgate; instead it’s much lower down, above the number plate – a strange position, and all the more so for being in a different position than the smart.
Perhaps one of the Twingo’s biggest issues to live with on a daily basis is that there’s nowhere to put your clutch foot when it’s not on the clutch. And space for your left leg isn’t helped by the storage bin in front of the gear lever – thankfully you can remove it, which had to be done instantly, revealing two cup holders. The seat belts are also at a fixed height, without any adjustment.
smart forfour BRABUS
The smart is more refined than the Twingo, and the seats are more comfortable. The rear doors open wider, it has a rev counter and engine temperature gauge, and it tells you how much fuel you have when you get into the reserve. The dashboard is better laid out and has higher quality materials, there are controls on the steering wheel, and it has height-adjustable seat belts.
In terms of dashboard information, there are lots of buttons to scroll through for information, but none of them give you a driving range read-out (unlike the Twingo). The satnav isn’t the best system, the controls aren’t that clear, and it has fiddly buttons – including when trying to zoom in and out.
The drive mode gives you economy or sport options. The smart’s automatic transmission – the only option – is slow off mark (but light years better than the terribly slow gearbox in the previous model), although it changes swiftly when on the move. The manual ‘box in the Twingo is much more fun and better for both city and country driving.
The smart’s suspension is stiff, despite claiming to be the same as the Twingo. It rarely settles, and gets thrown off course by big bumps. It’s more prone to understeer, then falls into scrappy oversteer – not fun! The Twingo is better balanced.
The smart’s steering isn’t as precise, with little feel, meaning that it’s more difficult to place. And the car doesn’t feel reassuringly stable in motorway cross winds.
The BRABUS doesn’t feel any quicker than the 90 hp manual forfour in the real world.
If you’re planning to use them on motorways, both cars have lots of wind and road noise.
Let’s finish with a good point for both cars: the turning circle is amazingly small, at 8.69 metres, meaning that you can spin them round in many roads without the need for any three-point turns.
Apart from the manual v automatic transmissions, there’s another big difference between the two cars, theoretically at least – fuel economy. The Twingo has an official combined economy figure of 54.3mpg (115 g/km CO2) whereas the smart officially returns 61.4mpg (104 g/km CO2). But what about in real-life? After a week the Twingo averaged 44.5mpg, the smart averaged 48.0mpg. So predictably both are down on their official figures, but the smart still nudges ahead. You could expect to enjoy over 50mpg in both cars if you drive them carefully (although that’s hardly the point of these cars). Note that the fuel gauges go down quickly on both cars due to their small tanks.
The Twingo costs £13,755; the smart costs £19,985. In other words, the smart costs £6,230 more. Both cars had options. Twingo: metallic paint (£495), GT roof/bonnet decal (£200), storage under rear seats (£20), Techno pack R-Link (£600); bringing the total price to £15,070. The smart had one option of body panels in graphite grey metallic paint (£295), bringing the total price to £20,280.
The Twingo range starts from £9,875. There are five models to choose from: Expression, Play, Dynamique, Dynamique S and GT.
The smart comes as a fortwo, a fortwo cabrio and a forfour. Trim levels are pure, passion, prime, prime sport, BRABUS sport and BRABUS Xclusive.
The headline is that, on the surface, both the Renault Twingo GT and the smart forfour BRABUS are similar cars. However the Twingo costs £13,755; the smart costs £19,985: so the smart costs £6,230 more. Therefore you would expect the smart to be around 30% better. But it’s not; the Twingo is the car you’d want. A key difference here is the transmission – the manual just works so much better, giving quick reactions. This makes the Twingo more fun, and isn’t that what these cars are all about? Both cars have their faults, but, because it’s more fun, you’re more likely to forgive the Twingo. We think the Twingo looks better too.
So the Renault Twingo GT ends up with a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10. The smart forfour BRABUS ends up with a Green Car Guide rating of 6 out of 10. Go for cheap and cheerful.
Paul Clarke & Andrew Leadbetter
Fuel economy extra urban: 63.0 / 67.2 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 45.0 / 52.3 mpg
Test economy: 44.5 mpg / 48.0 mpg
CO2 emissions: 115 g/km CO2 / 104 g/km CO2
Green rating: VED Band C / VED Band B
Weight: 1,001 kg / 1,095 kg
Company car tax liability (2016/17): 20% / 19%
Price: £13,755 / £19,985
Insurance group: 11 / 11
Power: 110 hp / 109 hp
Max speed: 113 mph / 96 mph
0-62mph: 9.6s / 10.5s
Torque: 170 Nm / 170 Nm