Renault Twingo GT

After a 15 year wait, Britons can enjoy the power and pizzazz of Renault's cut-price workhorse
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Specifications

Would suit: Residents of 3rd and 16th
Price: £8,375-£9,995
Performance: 117 mph, 0-60 in 9.8 secs
Fuel economy: 48.7 mpg
Further information: 0800 525150

There is a big problem with the new Renault Twingo but I am not going to tell you what it is until the end of my column. And no skipping.

"New?" I hear you ask, with a puzzled, yet indulgent frown. " That implies there was an old Twingo, and yet I do not recall such a nomenclature being affixed to a UK market vehicle. What, pray, do you mean?"

Let me explain. The original Twingo was a groundbreaking, bargain, monobox shopping car popular with French peasants to transport various home-made spirits, quails and apricots, and Parisians who used them as parking space battering rams. Renault teased us Brits with their little marvel for years, but with a characteristic disdain for profit, and perhaps a soupçon of bitterness about all those Johnny Hallyday jokes, they never got round to producing it in right-hand drive.

Well, ignore the Twingo no more, as this one, which is based on the last generation Clio and built in Slovenia, is coming this side of La Manche with right-hand drive. I tried the 100bhp GT version. We'll also be able to buy it with 75hp but we won't be getting the diesel as, like Bresse chickens and the top Chateauneufs, the French always insist on keeping the best for themselves. I tried it in Paris, where its supple, springy suspension smoothed out the cobbles on the Champs Elysees but was still firm enough to keep things under control during a couple of hair-whitening laps of the Arc de Triomph.

What I liked about the Twingo was that its power was primed for action the moment you dabbed the throttle, making the whole thing feel light and eager. Even though it only has a 1.2 litre engine, it feels larger thanks to a clever turbo which gives it plenty of torque at low revs and making it almost as fun to drive as, say, a Ford Ka.

It's very user friendly too, with sliding rear seats and, best of all, front seats that return to their original position after folding fully flat to let back-seat passengers in (you wouldn't believe how many companies forget this). It doesn't have the cavernous feel of the original, but there is still room for four adults. The stereo looks like it was designed by someone who was really mad with the stylist of the rest of the interior, but otherwise the trim, though rubbery and cheap, feels like it will stand up to a deal of peasant/Parisian abuse.

Outside, things are not so rosy. Aren't we all a bit bored with big swoopy headlamps? The Twingo's belong on another car, as does its sawn-off backside. The new one has none of the original's kookiness either; Renault seems to have tried to bolt on personality with spoilers and silver bits.

But as for rivals, there aren't really any I'd rush to put a deposit on, at least not a financial deposit. There's a bunch of Koreans and Japanese, of which only the Suzuki Swift has any spunk, although the Mazda 2 should be good. The Twingo's real problem, I fear, will be the Fiat 500, which, though a few hundred quid more expensive, is cuter than an orphan cuddling a fluffy kitten dressed as a milkmaid (I mean the kitten is dressed as the milkmaid, not the orphan – that would just be pervy). And, post-BMW Mini, cute is all that counts. *

It's a classic: Original Renault Twingo

Few cars have created a stir as great as the original Renault Twingo when it was unveiled at the 1992 Paris Motor Show, prior to a launch everywhere, it seemed, apart from the UK a year later. The reasons given for no right-hand drive flavour ranged from: "It's a niche car, and it would cost too much to engineer it for rhd" to: "We 'ate you, Ingleesh peegz" , but most agree it was, in retrospect, a commercial blunder for Renault. It sold more than 2.4 million, and is still on sale in some countries today. According to Wikipedia, the name is derived from the words "Twist" , "Swing" and "Tango", but, elsewhere, it also claims that 'Wuthering Heights' was written by Floella Benjamin, which I don't think is true either. What I do know is that the Twingo was designed under Renault's crazy genius Patrick le Quement, keen at the time to stir things up. The Twingo did that and more, spawning dozens of imitators around the world.

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