The Renault Twingo Is The Greatest City Car Ever And I'll Die On That Hill
A rare sighting on UK roads but could this French curio be the best city car we never got? We took the plunge with a suitably cheap and slightly rusty example
Copious amounts of good things herald from our neighbours, the French. Haute cuisine, fine wines and even the invention of photography to name but a few. It was a Frenchman who is credited with the invention of rubber, and we all know how important that is for the motor car. For me though, all of these Gallic innovations pale into insignificance when compared to my Renault Twingo - an outlandish and utterly joyous method of personal transportation.
The world got a first glimpse of the Twingo on the 5th of October 1992 at the Paris Motor Show, with customer cars hitting the road the following year. And hit the roads they did. This was a practical four-seater hatchback with that je ne sais quoi Renault is so good at - its success was all but guaranteed. Quickly the streets of Paris became littered with Twingos, their diminutive stature making them perfect for hacking around the chaotic streets of the capital. It wasn’t long before Twingos in Europe were as commonplace as sunburnt British tourists.
My Twingo rolled off the line in 1999, finished in Coriander green. It’s fitted with a five-speed manual box and a 1149cc petrol motor producing a rampant 75bhp. The kerb weight of only 895kg helps it to a 0-62 time of 14 seconds, maybe 12 if you’re going down a steep hill. With a tailwind.
Climb aboard and the first thing you’ll notice is the steering wheel isn’t where you left it, nor the pedals. Sadly the Twingo never made it to our shores in an official capacity, so it’s left-hand drive or nothing. Leap that hurdle though, and the reward is an interior drenched in light and full of the fun factor. Yellow switchgear, funky seats and a huge electric sunroof distinguish it from anything else I’ve driven.
The digital dash is shrouded high in the centre of the dashboard, very akin to the first-generation Toyota Yaris. The only information you are shown directly in front of the wheel is a slimline digital screen solely for warning lights - more on those later.
On the road, the first thing to strike me is the lightness of the steering. Twirling the wheel with finger and thumb to extract yourself from a tight spot proves to be a doddle. The clutch is equally forgiving, and the whole car is eager to alleviate any worries I may have about piloting from the ‘wrong’ side. The only real problems I encounter are car park entries, toll booths and, of course, drive-throughs. Thanks to the diligent investigative journalism of Alex we all know what happens when you reverse through a Mcdonald’s.
Navigating a longer journey unearths an unexpected side to this car, as it performs astonishingly well across a spectrum of different roads. It’s happy both when cutting and scything across the twisting and undulating roads of Yorkshire and then settling into a comfortable mile muncher once on the motorway.
The Twingo’s pithy kerb weight means it has some very unstressed suspension components. Unexpected lumps and bumps are swiftly dealt with and are barely felt inside the cabin. There is a slight price to pay for that comfort in the corners, though. While not excessive the body roll is still enough to stop you from getting carried away, unless you’re packing seasickness tablets. A special feature of this Twingo is variable powering steering, but it wasn’t a factory option. Thanks to some gremlin it will occasionally flash up the power steering warning light and the wheel suddenly becomes heavy, really heavy. The classic off and on technique soon rectifies the situation, though.
Bombing around town is where the Twingo shines the brightest. Easily keeping pace with modern traffic and able to squeeze through the tightest of gaps with ease. Engine response is swift and eager. Impressive, especially considering the previous owner of this Twingo believes the mileage to be north of 250k. A lot of those miles were covered in Paris too, with the battle scars to prove it.
The bodywork tells a story of a busy life on the streets of the French capital, with scratches and dents aplenty here. I like to call it patina. Of course, it wouldn’t have a place in my shitbox fleet if it was devoid of rust. There are patches on the sills and a nasty area next to the fuel filler cap but nothing structural thankfully. The paint itself has aged rather gracefully, shining up beautifully with some of Megiaur’s finest.
Have you fired up eBay yet to search for a Twingo yet? Before you do, let me run through a few of the foibles. Although the seats look fantastic and are very comfortable, I’ve found that over prolonged periods of use I tend to get backache. The distance between the side bolsters is quite narrow and not designed with my ‘stout’ Yorkshire frame in mind. Sourcing parts can be a pain too. Most things appear to be available still, but it takes a little longer than with right-hand drive UK spec stuff. You may also experience some nervousness from your passenger - finding themselves thrust into the middle of the road sometimes elicits a scream or two.
Twingo ticking the boxes for your next car? Be sure to set some saved searches and keep your eyes peeled on owners forums. At the time of writing, there are two for sale; a very late 2007 model at £4,500 and another from 2002 priced at a mere £750. I know which I’d choose.
Now read about my £500, 430,000-mile Skoda Octavia
So the Twingo, a French fancy or flat as a crepe? I think the former. Of course, there are downsides, but when you’re sweeping down a sun-drenched country lane with the sunroof open and the heavy fragrance of summer hedgerows rousing your senses they’ll be the last thing on your mind.