It’s rear-engined, rear-wheel drive, turbocharged and lightweight – it also has a fuel economy figure of 65.7mpg, emissions of 99g/km CO2, and costs less than £12,000 – it can only be the new Renault Twingo.
Virtually all small cars are front-engined, front-wheel drive. There are some exceptions, most notably the smart fortwo and the Mitsubishi i. But apart from these, all other city cars have similar layouts and similar handling characteristics. That means when you accelerate through a damp corner, the tendency is for the front wheels to spin, torque steer may result (if there’s enough torque), and ultimately the outcome is understeer. This is a subjective thing, but from a personal point of view, this is not a desired state of affairs. The Renault Twingo, however, offers an alternative.
The new Twingo is rear-engined and rear-wheel drive, and the engine in the TCe 90 is turbocharged. This is sounding like an interesting proposition. Officially, the reason for this layout is packaging. The 3-cylinder, 898cc engine sits under the boot (in a rear-end collision it’s pushed beneath the passenger cell), but you do still get a boot – and at 188-219 litres, depending upon the position of the seat backs, it’s a reasonable size. Under the bonnet, there’s no engine – but there’s also no storage space liberated by the lack of an engine. What you do get is a very short bonnet and the ability for the wheels to turn at an angle of 45 degrees to improve the turning circle (the angle is around 30 degrees for most cars).
Between the engine at the back and the short bonnet at the front is the passenger compartment, with a long wheelbase (meaning very short front and rear overhangs), and four doors (plus the hatchback). Space up front is fairly typical of the class (and you get a folding front passenger seat as standard), and space in the rear is on the tight side – again, like most rivals. So there’s a good amount of interior space in relation to the car’s overall length, but is there another benefit of the car’s rear-engined layout?
For us, the benefit of the rear engine, rear-wheel drive layout is the way the Twingo drives. The Twingo is designed to be a compact, agile city car, but during our week-long review we had to travel from Cheshire to Ambleside in the Lake District. The Twingo was perfectly acceptable on the motorway – decent performance, comfortable ride, and reasonably quiet (apart from the canvas roof on the (blue) Twingo that we had for this part of the week, which lets in more noise than the metal roof on the (yellow) Twingo that we had for the first part of the week).
When we arrived at Troutbeck Bridge there had been an accident and the road from Windermere to Ambleside ended up being closed for a number of hours. So we – and everyone else travelling between Windermere and Ambleside that evening – had to do a detour up to the Kirkstone Pass and back down to Ambleside. This route is very twisty, hilly, and narrow. There were also many hundreds of other cars also diverting on to the same route.
All other city cars with front-wheel drive would have had the front end lifting under acceleration up the hills, resulting in the driven wheels scrabbling for grip. There would also have been a fight going on between traction and steering. Most rivals wouldn’t have had turbo engines, and so there wouldn’t be enough power and torque to scamper up the hills with ease. In contrast, the Twingo, with its rear engine and rear-wheel drive, could put down all the traction to easily zip up all the hills, and the front wheels were left to do the steering, without fighting with the torque. And the Twingo’s amazing lock came into its own on a number of occasions. Turning hard left from the Kirkstone Pass back down into Ambleside meant two attempts to get round the corners for most cars. However the Twingo made it round easily in one go. It’s worth noting that the Dynamique TCe 90 and Dynamique S TCe 90 have Variable Gear Ratio power steering, meaning that less twirling of the steering wheel is required to make the most of the Twingo’s lock.
The other huge advantage of the Twingo in such narrow lanes was its width. Massive jams were caused by SUVs trying – and failing – to get past each other between towering dry stone walls. Meanwhile the Twingo squeezed through all gaps with no problem.
The rear engine, rear-wheel drive layout also gives the Twingo a unique feel in day-to-day urban driving, not just in the extreme environment of the Lake District. Another advantage is the weight distribution of 45:55 front-to-rear versus 70:30 for a front-engined, front-drive small car. It’s a refreshing experience, although there’s lots of research to suggest that many drivers may not be concerned by such subtleties.
Just in case there are any thoughts circulating about drifting through corners on opposite lock, the Twingo has Electronic Stability Control that you can’t switch off. You can enjoy the rear engine, rear-wheel drive handling dynamics through corners, but to prevent any over-cooking, the car’s safety systems cut in before you can get it sideways – and they can cut in quite abruptly. We had the odd occasion of driving over patches of ice when the traction control intervened too much. In an ideal world, there would be a way to minimise this intervention, but we can’t imagine Renault putting this car on sale with the ability for people to switch off such safety systems.
The five-speed manual gearbox works well (thank goodness it’s not any form of automated manual transmission which would ruin the driving experience), but the gear knob is metal and during a week when the average temperature was zero degrees, changing gear first thing in the morning resulted in your hand succumbing to hypothermia.
The interior as a whole looks modern and stylish. The steering wheel has an excellent thick, contoured feel. As is standard for cars in this class, there’s no reach adjustment for the steering column. This usually means that you end up with a problem trying to get a decent driving position. However the Twingo’s wheel comes out far enough to make it bearable. One issue is that there’s nowhere to rest your clutch foot, which isn’t ideal.
There was no touch screen in our car, although this is an option, but you can attach your phone to the dashboard to use as a touchscreen using the new R & GO smartphone connectivity system – but you need to download an app.
Our test car came equipped with a storage box sitting in front of the gear lever. Although useful, it feels very unsecure, as do the pieces of plastic supporting the rear parcel shelf – and it’s such cheap build quality perceptions that are probably the biggest issue with the Twingo.
The official NEDC combined fuel economy figure of the Twingo TCe 90 Stop & Start is 65.7mpg, along with emissions of just 99g/km CO2. Official extra urban fuel economy is 72.4 mpg, with the urban figure being 57.7mpg. The best economy we recorded was 59.8mpg. We averaged 48.9mpg at 70mph on motorways. Over a week of mixed (but mainly motorway and countryside) driving we averaged 45.0mpg. This is considerably less than the official figure, but downsized engines do show the largest discrepancy compared to the official figure, and this gap isn’t helped by stop/start systems, which improve economy on the NEDC test, but this technology was hardly used in our week of driving. But the key issue is that the Twingo is just too much fun to drive as though you’re competing in an eco-marathon.
The base price of the Renault Twingo Dynamique ENERGY TCe 90 Stop & Start is £11,695. Our test car had a number of options including 16” Emblem diamond-cut alloy wheels (£275); powder blue or inca yellow non-metallic paint (£225); side decal, ‘strokes or retro’ (£150); interior style pack – blue or red upholstery, door armrests and front storage box (£100); and storage area under the rear seats and net (29 litre volume) (£20), taking the price as tested to £12,465.
There are four trim levels available over a range of five models: Expression SCe 70 (£9,495); Play SCe 70; Dynamique SCe 70 S&S; Dynamique ENERGY TCe 90 S&S; and Dynamique S ENERGY TCe 90 S&S. There are also a number of ‘personality packs’.
The Twingo SCe 70 has a less powerful 70hp non-turbo engine – and at 91Nm, much less torque. We’ve not driven the car with this engine, but colleagues have, and they report that it’s underpowered. We’d recommend paying the extra to get the ‘turbo’ version – it offers more performance, but it’s only marginally less economical.
More observant readers will notice from the photos that during our week with the Twingo the colour of the car changed, along with the roof changing from hard top to soft top…
There’s a range of city cars out there, and many of them offer a perfectly acceptable proposition for most owners. However for people who want a different (in our view better) driving experience from front-wheel drive and its potential for wheelspin, torque steer and understeer, then they should try the rear engine, rear-wheel drive layout of the Twingo. Go for the TCe 90 engine and you’ve got good performance as well as interesting driving dynamics – and of course all this is helped by the car’s light weight.
Having said all this, many people will buy the Twingo because of its stylish looks, reasonable practicality for its size, economy, low running costs, and affordable purchase price, and in urban driving they won’t be at all concerned about its mini-Porsche 911 driving characteristics – which is fine. However we would say that the Twingo is the most fun in its class and it’s rewarded with a Green-Car-Guide rating of 9 out of 10.