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Tested: Renault Twingo

2010-03-23 07:57
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Renault
Power 56 @ 5 500 r/min
Torque 107 @ 4 250 r/min
Transmission five-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 12 seconds
Top Speed 170 km/h
Fuel Tank 40 l
Fuel Consumption 5.7 l/100 km
ABS with EBD and EBA
Airbags Driver, passenger and side
Tyres 14 inch steel wheels with full covers (15 inch alloys on 1.2 Dynamique Plus)
Front Suspension Mac Pherson strut with rectangular lower arm and anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension H-type torsion beam with programmed deflection and coil spring
Service Intervals 15 000 km
Service Plan three year/45 000 km
Warranty three year/100 000 km

Hailey Philander

The term “boutique hatch” is, in itself, a little blurry. What exactly is a “boutique hatchback”? We were stumped too, until we were told to have a look at the Renault Twingo. Confusion levels instantly increased.

You see, the Twingo’s positioning in Renault SA’s line-up is rather peculiar. The car is a little four-seater that is physically smaller than the Clio hatchback, which has traditionally been the entry-point for Renault customers in South Africa, but the Twingo carries a larger price tag. Hmm...

Twingo (or Twinkie around the Wheels24 offices, named after those bizarre little cream cakes that have been around forever but never carry expiry dates...) is diminutive with a wheelbase measuring just over 2.3 metres, while the overall length hovers at the 3.6 metre mark.

Odd proportions

As a result, Twingo’s exterior styling is quite astounding. Overhangs are virtually absent, and the resultant odd proportions give the car a slightly unbalanced look. Although the lack of overhangs promises tidy performance, any hint of athleticism is swiftly banished by the presence of Twingo’s large cartoon-bug sized headlamps, removing any serious notions you may have had of the car.

Twingo is powered by a 1.2-litre engine producing 56 kW and 107 Nm and mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, promising reasonable performance for a car of this size. While in practice it seemed almost lethargic, the little 16-valve responded well to coaxing. Prod it and watch the Twingo liven up.

Squeezing juice from the little mill was highly amusing and the levels of grip on offer even surprised a little. Suspension is the work at the front axle of McPherson struts using hydraulic dampers and an H-beam rear suspension arrangement. I expected the Twingo’s ride to be choppy, given its truncated platform, but I was pleasantly surprised by how pliable it was. 

By contrast, the Twingo’s cabin is entertaining, if not for the reasons you’d imagine.

The dashboard’s plastic has an interesting texture to it, but should wear well, while the instrument panel extends to the centre of the dashboard where the speedometer is perched. The rev counter is mounted to the steering column and its readouts consulted through the spokes of the steering wheel.

Loud and proud

I did not appreciate the loud, silver-looking dials and buttons controlling the ventilation system, nor did I value having to reach down to access the audio unit. Thankfully, the standard satellite audio controls meant this did not happen too often and the familiarity of some of the Renault switchgear was most reassuring. 

The Wheels team giggled for a week at the lipstick-shaped little mirror shoved into one of the cupholders before realising this was a stand-in for the more traditional vanity mirror stuck to the sun visor...

What made this realisation all the more astounding is how well equipped the Twingo actually is. The base Dynamique model comes with all the kit a girl could possibly need. An MP3-compatible audio system with steering wheel controls, a height adjustable steering column, power steering, air conditioning, central locking and power windows and mirrors.

The higher-specced Dynamique Plus, which we were also allowed to drive, adds 15-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, tinted windows and rain and light sensors.

Safety features include four airbags for the front occupants, ABS braking with EBD and EBA, and hazard lights that activate automatically under sudden or severe braking.

Tiny Twingo may be, but it is big on personalisation. The list of beautifying options for this youngster is staggering. Decorative trim for the door handles and pillar trim, bonnet and roof stripes, body decals, Twingo-branded door sills and satin-finished mirror housings, compete with interior lightboxes, grass-mat dashboard trim and make-up boxes for space on the options sheet.

Are you woman enough?

Renault specifically targets the youthful, urban female with its little Twingo.

As Renault suggests, it is perfect for the city where its tiny frame and zippy nature off the line make it ideal for dipping through gaps and darting into parking spaces. The compact turning circle also helps a treat.

However, the idea that it would be ideal for occasional longer jaunt to the countryside puzzles. The five speed gearbox’s shorter ratios make the Twingo feel rather unsettled at speed, even if just keeping pace with highway traffic.

Also, if you’re planning on driving with more than two-up on a journey requiring you spend more than one night away from your home, you could run into a spot of difficulty. The boot is minute (165 litres) with the only extra assistance coming from the two rear seats that fold forward to create a more respectable load area of 959 litres. Thankfully, a number of little stowage spaces are scattered about the cabin for those various odds and ends, but none big enough to hold a Louis Vuitton tote.


Oddball styling may appeal to some, but did not gel with me. Should tire easily.


In tune with the quirky exterior, but will probably not be to too many peoples taste. High level of standard equipment should ease some pain.


Look beyond the 1.2's lethargy and it becomes lots of fun. It requires a good deal of revving to break out if its lethargy, though.


I was largely unconvinced by the Twingo. I’d much rather trek about in a dowdy sedan or an ungainly bakkie than scoot about in one of these. Perhaps I miss the point, but for the money, I’d buy a cute hatchback that carries a degree of substance, such as the Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto or Daihatsu Sirion. Unless my colleagues at Women24 are better women than I am - they tested the car and absolutely loved it.

Different strokes, yes, but perhaps that in itself is the Twingo conundrum – you either love it completely, or it leaves you bitterly cold. Either way, this car certainly makes a statement as Renault suggests, but is the statement perhaps that the manufacturer is hoping to fleece young ladies bowled over by the Twingo’s cuteness?

The Twingo RS is possibly a more exciting proposition, although at a fraction under R200 000, it’s a choice I’d hesitate to consider even with the free driver training course thrown in.


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