Renaultsport Twingo

A drive in the Renaultsport Twingo will send you into a nostalgic reverie for the hot hatchbacks of yesteryear
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Indy Lifestyle Online

This small, sparky car sounds the perfect antidote to financial gloom and environmental angst. Modern cars are too big and heavy, which is bad for energy efficiency, traffic congestion and driving fun. It has happened because buyers expect gadgets and five-star safety equipment without which we used to manage quite well. So when a new car bucks the trend, we should rejoice.

The sophisticated approach to trend-bucking is to make cars of exotic lightweight materials and power them with very clever engines. But this is expensive. Or you do it the way Renault has done it with this Renaultsport Twingo 133, which is simply to keep it small.

The Slovenia-built Twingo is, in today's terms, a very small car. But it's the size a regular supermini was not so long ago, not least because it is based on the underpinnings of the previous-generation Clio. A regular Twingo is a cheap and cheerful mini-car which has suffered through being launched at the same time as Fiat's deeply cute 500, being unable to compete with the Italian car's charisma. But this new Renaultsport version is another matter, because Renault currently makes better hot hatchbacks, from the viewpoint of driver entertainment, than anyone else.

It looks the part of the feisty raceabout, with its pumped-out wheelarches, its hungry-looking front air intake, a rear valance meant to look like an aerodynamic racing car's and a big spoiler above the rear window. It is priced at £11,550 with another £650 on top if you go for the Cup version. With that you get 17in wheels instead of 16in, plus suspension lower and firmer again than that of the non-Cup Renaultsport Twingo, itself lower, firmer and wider in the wheel track than a regular Twingo. And 133? That's the horsepower figure of the 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, a unit found in various other Renaults but tuned up here with camshafts able to open the 16 valves more widely and a freer flow for both intake and exhaust systems.

This all sounds like a reincarnation of the hot hatchback as it used to be, light, frisky and agile rather than brutally potent. Think Peugeot 205 GTI, think Renault 5 GT Turbo, and be helped in your reverie by the fact that the Twingo interior is a temple to hard, grey plastic and functional cheapness. The liquid-crystal instrument display in the centre of the dashboard is ultra-modern, though, even if the digital speedometer's location on the left is hardly ideal in a right-hand drive car. Not to worry; there's a rev-counter in a pod dead ahead of you, an instrument you will be reading a lot because the 133's engine likes – indeed needs – to be worked hard. The engine sounds characterless much of the time and is far from punchy at low speeds, but it becomes crisper both in sound and response when taken to the upper end of the rev-counter's scale, at which point an unsophisticated boominess amplifies its vocal efforts.

Think of the engine as a tool to help you enjoy the really good part of the Twingo's dynamic repertoire, which is the way it scoots around corners while telling you, through both its precise and progressive steering and the forces acting on your body, exactly what is happening between the tyres and the road. This transparency of communication is what used to make old-school hot hatchbacks such fun – that and the way they and this front-wheel-driveTwingo can be steered through curves as much with the accelerator pedal as the steering wheel.

Some carmakers try to neutralise this trait lest drivers fear getting into a skid. But as designed into the Twingo it's actually a safety feature, because if the bend unexpectedly tightens you decelerate, feel the nose tuck in and the tail edge out, and then accelerate again, all without electronic help. There is an ESP system but you can turn it off for extra fun without fear.

One snag: the price of the precision and tautness is a ride which can get tiresomely choppy on bumpy roads. If that troubles you, don't tick the Cup option box. That way you'll get even closer to the 1980s hot-hatch experience, because cars were more supple back then. Either way, the Renaultsport Twingo 133 is the ideal fun car for modern times.

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