Renault Twingo review
The Renault Twingo is an attractive rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive alternative to the VW up! and Hyundai i10
Whether you think the tiny Renault Twingo is quirky, cute or charismatic, there’s no doubt it’s an interesting addition to the booming city car sector.
It has an unusual layout for this class, with the three-cylinder engine tucked under the boot floor, and whether you go for the 69bhp or 89bhp version, it drives the rear wheels. This means rather different packaging to most urban runabouts, freeing up lots of room, while the layout also allows a turning circle that’s as tight as a London taxi’s – perfect for city living.
But the driving experience isn’t up to the increasingly exacting standards of the best choices in this market once you’re out of town, as ultimately the Twingo lacks the refinement and the ‘big car feel’ you get from the class leaders.
The Renault Twingo has a chequered history in Britain. The innovative original was a hit in Europe, but wasn’t sold over here, and while Renault brought the second-generation version to this side of the Channel, it failed to strike a chord with its uninspiring design.
So the question is whether the latest, third-generation Twingo – jointly developed with small car wizard Smart and featuring a radical, rear-engined layout – can finally win the hearts of UK city car buyers.
While all its rivals such as the Volkswagen up!, Peugeot 108 and Hyundai i10 have their engines mounted at the front and drive the front wheels, the Twingo’s engine is positioned at the back and powers the rear wheels. This has allowed Renault to give the car a stubby 'wheel-at-each-corner' look, impressive space – especially in the back – and incredible low-speed manoeuvrability.
The Twingo shares its chassis with the Smart ForFour, and a shortened version of the platform underpins the ForTwo. There are two three-cylinder petrol engine choices, while manual Twingos get a five-speed gearbox, and there’s also an automatic option using the Getrag twin-clutch system that’s found in the Renault Megane and the Ford Fiesta.
The Twingo is priced from around £9,500, and is available in four trim levels. Topping the range is the Dynamique S TCe model, which weighs in at around £13,500.
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The pick of the line-up is the Play SCe 70, which has all the kit you really need, including air-conditioning and driver’s seat height adjustment. The entry-level Expression misses out on these features, although it does include electric front windows and DAB digital radio as standard. It also gets a system that allows you to link your smartphone up to the car and use that as its central display and infotainment system.
While prices for the Renault Twingo look decent value for money, it’s slightly more expensive than a Skoda Citigo and Hyundai i10. Still, there is a wider range of personalisation options and colour scheme combinations than for these rivals.
Engines, performance and drive
Thanks to its rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout, the new Twingo is a tantalising prospect as a driver’s car. However, the arrangement has as much to do with practicality and packaging as driving dynamics.
If you were expecting a city car with the agility of a Porsche 911, you’ll be disappointed, but positioning the drivetrain at the back has some advantages. It enables the front wheels to turn through 45 degrees, giving the Twingo a class-leading turning circle of just 8.6 metres. Around town, you can make turns that only a London taxi or a Toyota iQ can rival.
Parking the Twingo is a breeze, too, while the seating position really helps visibility – you sit much higher up in the Renault than you do in most of its city car rivals. The elevated position is perfect for making the most of the tight turns and manoeuvring in and out of tight spaces.
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The range-topping Turbo model also adds variable-rate steering that allows you to spin the wheel from full left lock to full right lock in half a turn less than cheaper naturally aspirated models. This variable rack is designed to make the car even more manoeuvrable, while remaining stable at speed.
Sadly, the set-up feels unnatural to use and detracts from the driving experience. The standard steering of the lower-powered model is much better, and is another reason the cheaper 1.0-litre car is actually the more tempting buy.
No matter which model you go for, the Twingo is a fairly comfortable car. The suspension deals well enough with bumps, potholes and speed humps, although it can get a bit fidgety over rough surfaces at lower speeds, so the car never feels quite as polished as the Hyundai i10, for example. The ride gets better at speed, although there's quite a bit of wind noise from the A-pillars, which spoils the enjoyment a little.
Twingo buyers have a choice of three-cylinder petrol engines: a 1.0-litre with 69bhp which claims 0-62mph in 14.5 seconds or an 89bhp turbocharged 0.9-litre that promises a time of 10.8 seconds. Both versions come with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, although the turbo is available with a six-speed twin-clutch automatic as an option.
If you plan to do plenty of motorway journeys, the more punchy turbo will be the better bet. If not, the lower-powered engine is the nicer car to drive in town.
Even the turbocharged Twingo doesn't enjoy the 'big car' feel of a Skoda Citigo or its SEAT Mii and Volkswagen up! sister cars. The VW Group trio also ride better and deliver far more mature body control, plus they are considerably quieter at speed – although they don’t have the character of the Twingo.
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Despite its lacklustre performance figures, the lower-powered car is nippy enough around town, which is primarily where it was designed to be used. It even feels more responsive than the turbo, which is a bit sluggish off the mark until the boost kicks in.
When revved hard, the more powerful engine is noisier than the naturally aspirated 1.0-litre, and the turbo whine can be unpleasant at very high engine speeds. The two versions of the Twingo deliver similar economy.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The entry-level 1.0-litre Twingo Expression SCe 70 and next-in-line Play SCe 70 both feature a small and frugal three-cylinder petrol engine that claims 62.8mpg fuel economy. It also emits 105g/km of CO2, which means the cars fall into VED tax band B, so buyers will pay £20 a year for road tax after the first 12 months of ownership.
Order that engine in the Dynamique trim level, and the Twingo comes with a stop/start function that raises economy to 67.3mpg and cuts emissions to 95g/km. This moves the car into the desirable VED band A, making it exempt from road tax.
The 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine in the Dynamique and Dynamique S will also cost nothing to tax as it emits 99g/km of CO2, and returns 65.7mpg. Those figures are an improvement on the non-stop/start SCe 70, even though the turbo serves up significantly stronger performance.
Select a TCe 90 model with the dual-clutch automatic transmission, and as well as having to cough up around £900 extra in the showroom, you’ll spend more on fuel. Economy drops to 59mpg, while the 108g/km CO2 emissions mean £20 a year road tax – although the added convenience around town will make this a price worth paying for many buyers.
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There’s no diesel option, which would potentially extend the fuel economy figures even further.
Group three insurance will certainly mean low annual premiums for the Twingo. However, bear in mind that the least powerful 59bhp versions of the VW Group city cars – the Volkswagen up!, SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo – can be had with group one or two insurance.
Second-hand values will be a concern for private buyers, as our experts predict that the Renault Twingo will retain only 40.3 per cent of its new price over three years. That puts it squarely in the bottom bracket of the city car depreciation spectrum – although considering the low starting price, you won’t lose much more in cash terms than if you chose a Volkswagen up!, which is estimated to hold on to 45 per cent of its showroom value. Lower-spec versions of the Twingo will perform best, as the second-hand market takes little notice of the cost of bells and whistles.
Interior, design and technology
With the Twingo, Renault’s designers have balanced just enough retro styling cues with a modern edge to make sure the car has plenty of appeal on city streets. There are hints of the Renault 5 in the shape, but the squat proportions and tiny overhangs mean it looks thoroughly up to date, with bright LED running lights mounted in the front bumper.
The oversized Renault badge sits in the middle of the Twingo’s narrow grille, with the dainty headlight clusters either side, while at the back, the black glass bootlid and small lip spoiler provide a bit of visual attitude. Renault has mounted the Twingo’s engine in the rear, which means the front is short and the wheels have been pushed as far towards the corners of the car as possible, giving a compact stance.
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The Twingo looks good, but that’s not enough in today’s city car sector, so Renault has added plenty of customisation details and option packs so buyers can further tweak the style. There are Fashion, Chic, Urban and Street options to go for, or you can customise the look of your model yourself with stickers and decals.
Inside, the Renault is just as unusual as it is on the outside. There are more coloured accents for the doors, air vents, steering wheel and storage box, and while the interior can’t quite match the premium ambience of the Hyundai i10, the big, Tonka toy-style door pulls and solid plastics do feel robust.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Although our recommended Play and Dynamique models don't get the optional R-Link touchscreen sat-nav of the most lavishly equipped Twingos, there is a smartphone cradle which allows you to connect via Renault’s R&Go phone app.
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This clever device effectively turns your own smartphone into a touchscreen sat-nav, as well as giving it control over the car stereo – on top of your regular phone functions, of course. Sadly, the smartphone cradle looks and feels like a cheap aftermarket item, plus it obscures some of the buttons on the dash.
On the entertainment front, even the basic Expression comes with DAB radio and Bluetooth and USB connectivity. Plus, you can upgrade to a six-speaker sound system with subwoofers on all models.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Twingo is a tiny five-door hatchback with a Tardis-like interior for five people. Plus, the luggage area is highly practical and well thought out, even if it doesn’t offer class-leading space.
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The driving position is relatively high up, making visibility very good, and when combined with the tiny turning circle, this ensures the Renault is a doddle to drive in town. That’s not to say the driving position is perfect, though: there’s no seat height adjustment on the base model, and some Twingo owners have reported the footwell and pedals are too cramped.
On the positive side, there’s a whole host of storage spaces dotted around the cabin, including three cup-holders and a 6.4-litre glovebox. Dynamique models get large rear door pockets and there’s also the option to add storage areas under the back seats for £20. Meanwhile, heated front seats, with an Isofix child seat mounting on the passenger side, cost an additional £250.
The latest Renault Twingo is considerably smaller than its predecessor, but it doesn’t have the smallest tarmac ‘footprint’ in the class. At 3,596mm in length, the car is 5cm shorter than the Hyundai i10, but 3cm longer than the Skoda Citigo.
The cars don’t differ much for width, but the Twingo has a clear advantage on height. Its 1,554mm roofline compares to 1,500mm for the Hyundai and 1,478mm for the Skoda.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Thanks to its rear-engined configuration, the new Renault Twingo has a 22cm longer cabin than its predecessor, even though the body is 10cm shorter. This benefits rear legroom, which Renault says is class-leading. Headroom is good, too, and even tall adults will have no issues fitting in the back of this city car.
The only real problems are that the integrated front seat headrests make it hard for passengers sitting in the back to see the road ahead, while the pop-out rear windows don’t let in much fresh air; wind-down windows would be more welcome. Still, Isofix child seat mounts are standard in the back.
On paper, the boot doesn’t seem terribly impressive – although the numbers can be deceiving. With a capacity of 188 litres, the Twingo trails all its main rivals; even the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108 have slightly more space, at 196 litres. But in practice, the Renault’s load area is more usable than most.
The rear-mounted engine has been positioned at an angle to keep it as low as possible, while designers have ensured there is no boot lip to lift stuff over. Combine this with the relatively square space, and you can actually carry bulkier items in the Twingo than you can in the deeper boots of its rivals.
What’s more, you can lock the back seats in an upright position to increase available load space to 219 litres – although they won't be very comfortable for passengers travelling sitting there. And even then, the capacity is still way off the 251 litres in the Volkswagen up!.
Still, fold the rear seats down, and the total volume of 980 litres is second only to the Hyundai i10 in this class – thanks to the Twingo's taller body. Plus, the load bay is completely flat.
The Renault trumps the Hyundai, and every other city car for that matter, with its fold-down front passenger seat. Drop this right forward, and you can carry items of up to 2.3 metres in length inside the car – ideal if you need to transport flat-packed furniture, for example.
Reliability and Safety
The latest Renault Twingo is too new to have featured in our Driver Power satisfaction survey, and many of its components, such as the chassis and the low-capacity engines, are firsts on this car.
Still, as a brand Renault came in a very respectable seventh place out of all the major manufacturers for overall satisfaction. It’s been on an upward trend for a while, in fact, having skipped up the table in stages from its poor showing of 27th place in Driver Power 2012.
When polled on reliability alone, Renault ranked 14th in 2015 – a solid mid-table result. Its 22nd place for overall build quality isn’t such good news, but against the steadily improving background, and bearing in mind the Twingo is sold with the brand’s four-year warranty, we reckon reliability shouldn’t be too much of a worry.
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In the tougher 2014 Euro NCAP crash test, the new car scored four stars overall, with adult occupant protection rated at 78 per cent and child safety at 81 per cent. This is still a very impressive showing, and buyers should remember that the Skoda Citigo and Hyundai i10 earned their five-star ratings under an earlier and less rigorous Euro NCAP testing regime.
The Twingo comes as standard with four airbags and stability control, plus tyre pressure monitoring. All models also have a speed limiter, while the range-topping Dynamique version gets cruise control and a lane departure warning system.
The Twingo has a decent four-year warranty package that beats the old industry standard of three years/60,000 miles. In years one and two, there’s no mileage cap, but Renault limits cover to 100,000 miles in years three and four. If you want the peace of mind of a longer guarantee, it’s worth remembering that the Hyundai i10 comes with a five-year/unlimited mileage warranty.
It shouldn’t be expensive to keep the service book fully stamped on a Twingo. However, buy the car via Renault Selections finance, and you’ll get the superb 4+ deal included – this gives you four years of servicing, roadside recovery and warranty for free.