When the original Mini was unveiled in 1959 it was hailed as an engineering triumph. In a world where rear-wheel drive ruled, here was a little car with all of its mechanicals up-front connected to a transverse-mounted engine. That freed up space in the rear to make full use of the tiny wheelbase.
It was to be the template for future cars and the same thinking underpins much of what we come to expect from a modern car. Engine up front with the driven wheels, predictable handling, and plenty of useful space for passengers and luggage.
So it’s something of a surprise to see the new Renault Twingo turning against conventional thinking and making a switch to rear-wheel drive. Not only are the rear wheels pushing the Twingo along, but they’re also bearing the weight of an engine that’s been dropped under the boot floor. Yes, the new Twingo is rear-engined, just like a Porsche 911.
But this is more than just a return to old-fashioned thinking. The Twingo, like the Mini, makes use of very clever design to make sure that it stays small but feels big.
That stubby bonnet, for example, serves as a crumple zone in the unfortunate case of an impact. Necessary to satisfy Euro NCAP tests but also convenient as it provides space for the radiator and various engine fluids, all of which are topped up at the front. This means the engine needs much less space at the rear, allowing it to lay horizontally behind the rear bumper.
That, in turn, means you retain a useful boot. 188 litres might not sound like a lot but the space is more user friendly than the Citigo/Mii/Up triplets. The backs of the rear seats can also be set to a 90 degree ‘cargo’ position, increasing space to 219 litres, although rear passengers might not enjoy the upright seating position for long. You can also lay the rear seats down and the front passenger seat will go completely flat which results in a load space that Renault claim is large enough to fit a popular bookcase from a well-known Swedish furniture retailer.
This is also the first Twingo to add a pair of doors for easy rear access. This makes it much more appealing for families looking for a little runabout, and features like the storage nets under the rear seats and a removable bin in the centre console just add to the practicality.
The Twingo has another ace up its sleeve. By freeing up space under the bonnet the Twingo’s front wheels have a 45 degree arc, granting it a turning circle of 8.65 metres, roughly 1m less than rivals and just 65cm more than the legendary London Taxi cab. Flinging it into tight spaces in a car park is child’s play and what would be a three-point turn in a bigger car just requires a single twirl of the Twingo’s steering wheel. It’s perfect for the cramped city environments it’s designed to live in.
Not that you need to keep the Twingo in an urban environment as it turns out to be quite handy on fast-flowing rural roads too. The chassis features damping and wheel control to shame some bigger cars, covering ground with a supple nature that’s surprising considering its relatively light weight. It makes the new Citroen C1 seem very crude.
It’s a good job the Twingo can cover ground well as that allows you to keep up momentum, a valuable commodity when you’ve only got 70PS to play with. The SCe 70 is the least powerful engine in the range but it’s a sweet little unit, giving what little it has freely and with a characterful sound that never feels intrusive.
Will It Drift?
Rear-wheel drive prompts the question ‘will it drift’? Simple answer – no. The non-switchable ESP puts paid to that although you’d struggle to trouble the rear wheels with only 90Nm of torque. In fact the SCe 70 never feels like it’s driving those rear wheels and you could easily mistake it for a very well sorted front driver.
Step up to the turbocharged 0.9-litre TCe 90 engine and you start to get more of a feeling for what’s happening at the back. Again, the ESP puts paid to tyre-smoking antics but as you deploy 90PS and 135Nm you get a hint of the rear wheels pushing you along.
The TCe 90 certainly does give the Twingo more pace but you can catch the turbo unawares and there seems to be a few flat spots in the power delivery. The bigger 16-inch wheels on the test car made the ride feel less settled too and there also seemed to be more noise coming from the engine. It’s far from uncouth and it makes the Twingo more usable on dual carriageways but it does highlight just how good the entry level model is.
What the TCe 90 does have is a lower CO2 rating. At only 99 g/km it beats the SCe 70 to a Band A rating and a free tax disc. What it can’t do is beat the SCe’s insurance group, rated as group 8 against the slower car’s group 3.
New Car, New Tech
No modern car is complete without a plethora of phone and multimedia options. The Twingo comes with a cradle that allows various smartphones to be plugged into its speaker system, with Renault apps providing sat-nav and trip computer functions through the phone’s screen. There’s DAB, Bluetooth and USB to play with too.
Far better to upgrade to proper sat-nav with the Techno pack. This adds a 7-inch touchscreen that brings various other functions such as rear-view camera and apps to support emailing and weather forecasts, although strangely missing some of the information in the phone app. For example, if you want a rev counter you’d need to use the phone app with the lesser-specced Twingo as there’s no equivalent in the Techno pack’s touchscreen.
The rest of the cabin is a stylish affair, particularly with the optional coloured highlights, but there is a lot of plastic in here and closer inspection reveals some bits that feel a little flimsy. Just remember that this is a car that retails on the right side of £10k and you can just about forgive it that.
Where’s The RenaultSport Twingo?
Fans of the last fast Twingo will be disappointed to hear that there are no plans for a Renaultsport model. While the Twingo’s designers may have done an amazing job of packaging the Twingo’s engine under the boot, it doesn’t leave much room for the RS team to play around with. There will be a faster model to follow with around 110-115PS but it won’t be a full-fat RenaultSport model.
Another feature to follow is a dual-clutch EDC gearbox with six ratios. The EDC will be sold as an option alongside the standard 5-speed manual.
Fantastic Little Thing
The new Twingo is a fantastic little thing. Clever design, fresh new looks, good to drive and cheap to run. It’s more appealing than the more strait-laced rivals from the Volkswagen group and a better drive than the triplets from Peugeot, Citroen and Toyota. The sensible reality of the rear-wheel drive layout may be a bit of a disappointment for those looking for power-slides off every roundabout but it’s allowed Renault to pack a lot of car into very little space.
In a market where true innovation seems to be in short supply it’s good to see Renault trying something different. It’ll be interesting to see if they set a new trend that others will follow.
Renault Twingo Specifications
|Performance & Economy||Twingo SCe 70||Twingo TCe 90|
|Engine||999cc 3-cylinder petrol||898cc 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Transmission||5-speed manual, rear-engined, rear-wheel drive||5-speed manual, rear-engined, rear-wheel drive|
|Power (PS / bhp)||70 / 69 @ 6,000rpm||90 / 89 @ 5,500rpm|
|Torque (Nm / lb.ft)||91 @ 2,850rpm||135 @ 2,500rpm|
|0 - 62 mph (seconds)||14.5||10.8|
|Top Speed (mph)||94||103|
|CO2 Emissions (g/km)||105||99|
|Combined Economy (mpg)||62.8||65.7|
|Kerb Weight (kg)||864||943|