Day one: The Twingo arrives at my house. Its first job is taking me to the dentist. Great joy. On first acquaintance it feels like a normal car. The engine is at the back, though you’ve little sense of that, and it’s sister car to the new Smart ForFour, although it all feels quite Renaulty inside. Getting back into the Twingo with a face full of novocaine the car feels almost as numb as my gums. I was expecting a lot of pep and zing and other things that sound like floor cleaner. That’s what you want from a small Renault. But the Twingo seems more grown up than that.
Day two: This press demonstrator is the top spec Twingo with the more powerful turbocharged engine. Many parts of it give the impression of trying to be sporty. The red trim on the outside, for example. And the red trim on the inside. Yet despite this, the car has no rev counter. How odd, I thought. But hang on a sec. There’s an official smart phone app that hooks into the car’s Bluetooth and an official smart phone holder that clips onto the dash, and an official extremely short bit of cable that plugs your phone into the USB on the dash so it charges as you drive along. And the app part of this fiddly equation lets you pull up a rev counter on your phone’s screen. You can also see trip information, play music from your library and, if you make an in-app purchase, bring up a sat-nav. This is clever thinking on Renault’s part. Why go to the bother of fitting a fancy touch screen at the factory when everyone is already carrying an extremely high quality screen in their pockets? Although the rev counter bit lags slightly behind what the engine is really doing, which is annoying. Still, nice try.
Day three: A while back there was a concept version of this car called the Twinrun which was ace and really played up some of those old Renault 5 influences. They’re still there, but less obvious on the production version. It looks like quite a long car although measurement fans will note it’s actually 10cm shorter than the old Twingo. But the narrowness and the long wheelbase make it look lanky. I think our definition of cuteness is things that look almost as wide as they are tall, such as the Fiat 500 or six-month-old babies. It’s not things that seem stretched, like the Twingo or Peter Crouch. Still, it’s a nice looking car. And it has neat daytime running lights with a square of four LEDs inside, like a Porsche. Or one of those stick-on bulkhead lights you get from Homebase.
Day four: This car has almost 90 horsepower. That’s quite a lot in a titchy car. Yet somehow it doesn’t feel that fast. Part of the problem is the power delivery, which is distinctly odd and unbalanced. It starts with not much, then almost immediately there’s a big surge, and then that disappears and the car feels flat and not especially revvy. The gearchange is quite nice, but no matter how much you use it you can’t escape the feeling that what it’s connected to is rather limp and laggy, enlivened by a brief moment when all the power arrives at once. Still, because the engine is at the back, the whole car is unusually quiet. It’s about the only way you sense it’s rear engined. Otherwise you’d barely know.
Day five: Trundling around town today it’s impossible to deny the Twingo’s ride is a snadge too hard. On the plus side for city driving, the turning circle is hilariously small. So much so, I want to grab the attention of a passing cab driver and shout, ‘Oi! WATCH THIS!’ On the downside, under normal driving the steering feels slow and sluggish. Renault says this turbo version gets a special variable ratio rack. It could do with being quicker. Maybe then the car would feel more lively.
Day six: They’ve made an effort with the Twingo’s interior and generally it’s quite jazzy and interesting. There are a couple of signs of strange cost saving though. The electric windows aren’t one-touch. And there’s no flick wipe function. Speaking of wiper disappointments, it’s wazzing it down today and the rear wiper doesn’t seem long enough, leaving a big unwiped gap at the top of the back screen. I find this disproportionately irritating.
Day seven: More zizzing about town on two seconds of turbo boost.
This is Smart’s engine so it must be Smart’s fault. [UPDATE: Turns out the engine is Renault’s own.] If you once owned an old SAAB and you really miss the turbo lag, get one of these. I pick up my friend Matt from the station in the evening. What’s this like? he asks. I’ve been driving the Twingo for a week. I should have a cogent response. All I can think of is, ‘Mmmmmehhh’.
Goodbye: They’re taking the Twingo away again. I really liked the old, front engined model. It felt lively and whizzy, especially the RenaultSport version. But even the basic model had a bit of spirit and that sort of cheeky, revvy feeling you want from a small car. The new Twingo doesn’t have that. With its engine at the back and its three cylinders and its turbo, it felt like it could have been a genuinely different and amusing thing. Actually, it feels like just another car.
The car talked about here is a Renault Twingo Dynamique ENERGY TCe 90. It has an 899cc turbocharged three cylinder petrol engine making 89 horsepower. Renault says it can go from 0-62 in 10.8 seconds and on to 103mph. In this spec it costs £11,695.