Long-term test review: Renault Twingo

Third report: Trendy city car needs some TLC to get back to its best

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

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The Twingo is still an intriguing alternative in the city car class, but it’s clearly losing some of its sparkle during its time with us. Its first service isn’t far off, and we’re hoping that will bring its nippy, fun performance back to the fore and push its niggles into the background.

Mileage: 11,131Fuel economy: 37.0mpg

A unanimous opinion in the Auto Express office is rare, but anyone who has driven the Renault Twingo on our fleet agrees that it seems to be suffering from diminishing performance. The car is only coming up to the 10,000-mile mark, yet it’s displaying a few worrying signs of fatigue.

A full service will sort out certain issues, such as the spongy brakes – which don’t have as much bite as when they were new – although there are still growing niggles.

The transmission has never really been crisp, but changes now feel more laboured and clunky. This makes nippy city driving less comfortable, and with an explosion of roadwork projects on London roads to make way for safer cycling, my commute time has increased. It can be so frustrating, sometimes I wish I was on two wheels, even in the inclement weather!

The traffic is giving me plenty of time to play with the multimedia system, but I’m even finding a few issues with that. Compared to rival set-ups like the Vauxhall Astra’s updated IntelliLink, Renault’s R-Link system seems dated, especially as it doesn’t feature Apple CarPlay, which is quickly becoming a must-have item. 

• Best city cars

However, this is an issue that all makers have to deal with and isn’t really a slight on the Twingo. You see, the product lifecycle for tech is significantly shorter than it is for cars, so even recently launched models either miss out on the latest kit, or what they do have is likely to be obsolete in a couple of years.

And this little city car packs quite a punch when it comes to gadgets: it has sat-nav with live traffic updates, Bluetooth connectivity and even a reversing camera as part of the £600 Techno Pack.

Strictly speaking, you don’t need that camera, as the compact dimensions and super-tight, black cab-rivalling turning circle make the Twingo simple to park. This is where it comes into its own. City cars are meant to make urban life easy, and diving down back streets and nipping in and out of traffic is where the Renault feels right at home – and good fun.

So although I’ve had a few glitches – including the ongoing audio problem as reported in the Twingo’s second report – its versatility still continues to delight. For a small car, its storage capacity is impressive, as I’ve easily squeezed aboard all manner of Auto Express products and items of my own, even though the tiny turbo engine sits under the boot.

There’s still one thing I’m concerned about, though. I’ve had a tyre pressure warning light mocking me for several days. It simply refuses to go off, despite the fact I’ve checked the tyres. There’s clearly a bug, so it’s my New Year’s resolution to find a fix.

Renault Twingo: second report

Mileage: 7,117Fuel economy: 33.6mpg

As product and tech writer for Auto Express, I need to cart around various products to keep up with our comprehensive testing schedule. And thankfully, our Renault Twingo is perfect for my role.

Space isn’t this city car’s top feature, but it’s surprisingly roomy for its size. As the engine is mounted at the rear, the cabin has capitalised on the additional space up front. 

Unfortunately, there have been sacrifices made in boot capacity. I’m not the only one in the office to have had issues locating the opening mechanism, either. 

There’s a bit of a gap between the tailgate glass and bodywork, so the button release actually sits about 10cm under the boot handle, and initially you feel incredibly stupid as you hunt about for it. However as it’s a practical five-door, popping stuff on the back seat is really easy. 

The Twingo excels as a city runaround – it’s fun and stylish and has delivered good fuel economy. It handles longer journeys on motorways and on country roads equally well. 

I piled my family in for a celebratory lunch out recently, and despite the additional weight, the Renault didn’t lose its agility.

Undoubtedly, the Twingo has decent city car punch – the 900cc turbo three-cylinder petrol engine serves up a handy 135Nm of torque – although this isn’t found so much at lower revs. 

This can cause a bit of an issue when climbing hills, because if you downshift to maintain momentum, other drivers who are overtaking can be surprised by the car’s sudden pick up in pace. 

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Renault’s R-Link infotainment system is one of the more intuitive set-ups to use. With TomTom-based navigation and real-time traffic alerts, you end up relying on it for every journey, even when you know your way. The multi-view screen is also helpful, allowing you to toggle between audio choice, eco-driving view and navigation without too much distraction from the road. 

In an attempt to be as safe as possible, I try to use voice control to avoid taking my hands off the wheel. But the Twingo’s system is frustrating. Like many competitors, it can’t interpret my house number, thinking I’m saying a three-digit number, rather than two.

It’s not my northern accent, either, as it also happens if I change pronunciation: there’s still work needed here from Renault.

Nonetheless, the infotainment system connects to Bluetooth easily and can be paired with up to five devices. From this you can play your own music or use DAB radio. The DAB is effective at picking up most stations, and the audio quality itself is really good. 

At least it is now that the Focal Music Premium speakers have been sorted. They’d picked up a fault, but Renault fixed it quickly and there haven’t been any issues since.

Renault Twingo: first report

Innovative city car is the latest model to join our fleet

Mileage: 1,306Fuel economy: 47.2mpg

When the third-generation Renault Twingo was first announced, one key detail stood out for me: its rear-engine layout. This harks back to fast Renaults such as the sixties R8 Gordini and the wild R5 Turbo of the eighties. However, when I arrived at Renault London West to pick up our car, it was clear the brand’s designers went for versatility rather than sportiness.

As sales executive Chris Williams pointed out, the Twingo’s engine position provides more space in the cabin, plus no front driveshafts make for a super-tight turning circle. But most importantly, it’s great to drive.

Renault deserves credit for making the city car so much fun on the road, especially considering the 0.9-litre turbo three-cylinder engine serves up just 89bhp. 

This comes to life at higher revs, and feels like it’s loaded with far more grunt. The engine is ready to unleash its power when it matters, though. I’ve driven the Twingo in all sorts of conditions, and so far, zipping around crowded London roads feels just as comfortable as taking on high-speed country lanes, or even motorways.

Our model’s £14,995 price tag may seem steep for a city car, but it’s the top-spec Twingo with several options added. Cruise control is a useful piece of standard kit, and although you may expect dual carriageway work to be a strain in some city cars, the Twingo cruises at 70mph with ease.

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Considering the other optional extras we got with our car, the hefty initial outlay becomes easier to understand. The plush, sporty interior looks great, with half-leather seats – heated for those up front, as part of a £250 extra – as well as matching, colour-coded parts of the dash and door panels. 

A peel-back fabric roof (£850) means I’ve been making the most of the warm weather we’ve had so far this year, and as the car also gets air-con, I’m prepared for every temperature that Britain can throw at me.

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Although the Twingo is a star on the motorway and country roads, it feels most at home in its natural habitat – the city. It owes some of its brilliance here to its central touchscreen, which features TomTom sat-nav with live traffic updates.

Staying one step ahead of jams is key for me, as I travel from south-west London to our office in the centre of the capital every day, and the flow of traffic is unpredictable. However, the TomTom eyes hold-ups and reroutes accordingly, plus it’s become so useful that I programme in all destinations for the traffic updates, even if I know where I’m going.

Bluetooth hands-free calling and iPod and SD card compatibility for music playback are further excellent additions to the multimedia unit.

So far, it’s tough to fault our Twingo. The engine is unrefined when starting from cold and could use a temperature gauge, but seeing as there’s not even a rev counter, I’m hardly surprised that this is missing, too. And while rear legroom is cramped for  my six-foot, three-inch frame at the wheel, the rest of the interior is relatively roomy. 

Every time I grab the keys to the Twingo, I really look forward to driving it; and I can’t wait for it to take me on more adventures.

*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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