Substance over style: the new Twingo may be a good small car, but it lacks the touches that made the original so chic, says David Wilkins

Renault has decided at last to sell the Twingo in the UK. If, after seeing examples of a car of that name abroad, you have a picture of the Twingo in your mind, what I'm about to say is probably going to come as a disappointment; it's not that one. It's not that irresistibly cute little French car with the cheeky face, the one with those distinctive half-moon headlamps for eyes. It's not the one that charmed you with its uplifting, colourful interior when you hired it the last time you were somewhere sunny.

Model: Renault Twingo 1.2 60 Extreme
Price: £7,500
Engine: 1.2-litre, four-cylinder petrol
Performance: 96mph, 0-62mph in 15.0 seconds, 50.4mpg, CO2: 132g/km
Power: 59bhp at 5,250rpm
Worth considering: Fiat Grande Punto, Toyota Aygo, Volkswagen Fox

That was the old one, and Renault never built it with right-hand drive, although some found their way into the UK unofficially, their proud owners happy to put up with the hassle of having the steering wheel on the wrong side in return for the privilege of being seen in the most chic small French car for decades.

How do you replace a car like that? The answer is that you can't, although Renault has now introduced a new small model that carries the same name; this one has made it to the UK and it's the car that our readers put through its paces this week.

Put the old Twingo out of your mind, and you have to admit that the new car has a lot going for it; there's keen pricing, cheap insurance, a willing manner and comprehensive equipment levels for a start.

But this car is a much more sober, orthodox affair than the last. Only one or two details recall the original, such as the small levers for opening the doors and the complicated crank arrangement on one of the wiper arms. On the whole, though, the impression is of, say, a shrunken Clio, rather than something really special.

One area where it does disappoint in practical terms is that unlike the first Twingo, which cleverly maximised interior space, this one has a rather pokey rear passenger compartment.

Renault probably had no alternative to striking out in a new direction with the new Twingo, but this car seems set to spend the early part of its life, at least, in the shadow of the great original.

The Verdict

David Morgan, 58
Chartered surveyor, Oakridge Lynch
Usual cars: Mercedes 420 SEC, Mercedes SL 320

I think Renault have missed a trick with the new Twingo, because when the original came out about 12 years ago, it was stylistically funky, but it's now been superseded by the Smart and the Fiat 500. If they'd done something more imaginative, it would have stormed away. Utilitarian is the way I'd describe the interior. The original Twingo had interesting bits of colour – I remember seeing one with a green dashboard – while this one's unremittingly grey. On the other hand, there's plenty of room for a six-footer, it has a good sound system and the central-locking button right next to the hazard switch is exactly the thing that somebody renting a car in a strange city would appreciate. The old Twingo was special; this one's a bit ordinary.

Peter Dennehy, 35
Artist agent, Hitchin
Usual Cars: Ford Puma, Mazda MX5

My first impressions of the Renault Twingo were of a compact, and attractively designed car. The interior was stylish and minimalist with plenty of room in the front, although, as expected, there was limited room for rear passengers. The Twingo appears to be aimed at the youth market, but I expect it could be a real hit with the older market as it ticks all the boxes for the more seasoned driver. It was a comfortable ride and economic on fuel. The performance was solid, with responsive steering, but it will never make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The Twingo will be a good car for short commutes, and town driving. In fact, I'm going to advise my mum to test drive a Twingo, as she is looking for a new car.

Jonathan Brookes, 30
Urban designer, Cambridge
Usual Car: Skoda Octavia VRS

Remember the Fiat 126? Now that was a small car, and one which the Brookes family would pack into to go on holiday every year. Looking at the Twingo reminded me that small cars really aren't that small any more. Despite a slightly utilitarian feel, the Twingo is well-equipped and proudly wears the new corporate nose of its larger Renault stablemates. It is reasonably quiet too, even at motorway speeds, but the engine needs to be worked hard to make any real progress. However, the rural roads and motorway sprint on the test route were perhaps a little unfair for what is more of a city runabout. The Twingo may be iPod compatible but it isn't compatible with me! It is well packaged, but lacks power. Perhaps the Twingo GT will provide more va-va-voom...

If you would like to take part in The Verdict, email or write to The Verdict, Save & Spend, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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