Renault has just unleashed the Twingo Renaultsport. It's the £11,500 little brother to the Clio 197, so it's a bargain, but is it any good? A new-to-the-range 1.6-litre engine provides decent grunt, but the base car is boring to drive - let's find out if Renaultsport has worked a miracle.
Forget the Mini Cooper, I want one of those Twingo Renaultsports!
We’ve criticised the Twingo for looking bland before but it’s really come into its own in Renaultsport guise. A bold and thoroughly modern riposte to the cuteness of the Abarth 500, the hot Twingo’s deep front bumper, side skirts and purposeful stance lend it real impact. You can choose lairy graphics as an option and maybe it’s just the latent boy racer in us, but they actually look great.
Inside, the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment disappoints and the A-pillars ruin forward visibility but there are soft but supportive buckets, a pod-mounted rev counter ahead of you and standard air conditioning. And that’s before you start with the options.
In fact there are all manner of ways to personalise your Twingo including the amusing ‘Power Pads’ in the footwell which cover the three pedals, displaying the pause, stop and play symbols you get on a DVD player on the clutch, brake and accelerator respectively.
Presumably it’s based on the warm 1.2 Turbo but has the wick turned up a bit?
No, there’s not a turbo in sight. Renault is committed to using naturally aspirated engines where possible for its performance cars, believing that the easy power of a turbo engine often doesn’t give the right character. So the hot Twingo uses a tweaked 1.6 with variable valve timing on the inlet cam that revs to 7000rpm and delivers 132bhp at 6750rpm together with 118lb ft of torque at 4400rpm.
Click 'Next' below to read more of our Renault Twingo Renaultsport 133 first drive
Hmmm, 132bhp. Impressive stuff - for a hot hatch in the 1980s.
Well it’s all relative; this is a baby performance car remember, aimed at young drivers with rich parents, hence the impressively low Group 8 insurance rating. So while 132bhp might not sound like much in an era of 200bhp Clios, it fares more favourably compared with the 99bhp of cars like the Panda 100hp, and the circa 120bhp of the Citroen C2 VTS and Suzuki Swift Sport. And of course the Twingo weighs just 1049kg.
So it should be a hoot but in fact it just never feels quite fast enough. It’s not that the engine is too peaky; in fact if it was a bit peakier it might feel faster. The 1.6 does do its best work after 4000rpm, but there’s enough torque (118lb ft at 440rpm) to chug around in fifth at low speeds. In the past Renault’s hot naturally aspirated engines were notorious for their tightness when new and it seems likely that this one will loosen up as the miles accumulate. Let’s hope so anyway. But you can’t help thinking how much more fun it would be with the 2.0 from the Clio 197 under the bonnet. Apparently it won’t fit and neither will a six-speed gearbox which is why the Twingo makes do with five forward gears.
It could do with the extra cog though because that would allow Renault to spread the ratios. As it is, you’re always dropping to second for overtaking, while a taller sixth would make motorway trips less frenetic. Currently 80mph means well over 4000rpm. But at least the gearchange is great and the engine sounds suitably gruff when you wind on the revs. And although the economy and emissions figures aren’t as great as they probably could be if Renault had used a smaller turbocharged engine, the Twingo still manages a respectable 40mpg.
But is it still fun to drive?
Absolutely. The steering isn’t perfect – the weighting is good and it doesn’t feel as pendulous as Renault’s first attempts at electric steering – but it’s just not that believable. You just know that Ford would have done a better job. Or at least you would if you hadn’t heard about the disappointing system on the new Fiesta. No surprise to find that both use electric assistance.
But it is accurate and responsive and the rest of the chassis is brilliant. The springs and dampers are 30 percent stiffer than standard, dropping the ride height by 10mm, the front and rear track 59mm and 60mm wider, the front wishbones are alloy and there’s a thicker rear anti roll bar. Most surprising is how civilised the ride is for a sporting car which can fool you into thinking that this little car doesn’t want to entertain. But in fact it’s great fun to drive hard, showing an almost Mini-like turn in and absolute composure over mid corner bumps.
Click 'Next' below to read about the Twingo Renaultsport's Cup chassis
Is there a Cup chassis option?
There is, and the Twingo gets even better if you tick the box and pay an extra £650. The Cup suspension package stiffens the springs and dampers up by a further 10 percent, drops the car by another 4mm and adds a tasty set of 17-inch alloys. The differences aren’t gigantic, both cars are fun but the Cup’s tighter body control and greater resistance to understeer – all achieved with no real impact on ride comfort – means it’s the better steer.
So should I buy it over a Clio 197 and pocket the difference? Though clearly sharing some of the same spirit they’re two quite different cars. Both are entertaining but the Clio is still by a margin the more exciting car.
The Twingo RS is really likeable though, and a bargain alternative to a Mini Cooper. It looks good, feels well made and drives well and, although it’s probably less hardcore than some of you were hoping, at £11,500 there’s nothing to really rival its performance. But it might be worth letting someone else take the depreciation hit and loosen the engine up first.
Would you buy a Twingo Renaultsport over a Mini Cooper? Click 'Add your comment' below and have your say