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We test Renault's baby RS

2009-08-12 08:28
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Renault
Engine 1.6l, four-cylinder
Power 98kW @ 6 750r/min
Torque 160Nm @ 4 400r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 8.7 sec
Top Speed 201mk/h
Fuel Tank 40l
Fuel Consumption 7l/100km
Weight 1 049kg
ABS Yes, with EBD
Airbags Dual front and side
Tyres Continental Sport 3 195/45 R16
Front Suspension MacPherson type with aluminium lower arm and anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension Programmed-deflection flexible beam with coil springs
Service Plan 3 year/45 000km
Price R195 000

Lance Branquinho

South Africans, due to the intricacies of politics and isolationism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, have a much distorted view of what constitutes a real hot hatch.

Gorged on a diet of Opel and VW duelling for supremacy, local hot hatch aficionados were never privy to the epic first generation Clio Williams.

As Renault shored up its F1 involvement in the early part of this decade, a steady flow of elaborately named and deftly tuned hot hatches have been rolling out of the gates of the company’s performance engineering wing at Dieppe.

Some have made these cars off as pure marketing spin. Well...

The Clio and Megane R26 and R27 models are legendary, uncompromisingly brilliant renditions of everything good about the hot hatch – pace, poise and parking convenience.

The Clio though, is technically no longer a small city car, which is precisely why Renault markets the Twingo. In stock form, the Twingo is hardly the first car in any enthusiast’s fantasy garage though.

Fortunately Renault does market it with an RS moniker too, and this Dieppe fettled version is a particularly naughty little car.

Question is though, is it simply a quick Twingo or a proper RS, true to the Renaultsport heritage? We tested one to find out…

Orange engraved handbrake girdle has a decidedly 1980s feel to it - traces a great French hot hatch heritage most South Africans are still woefully unaware of...

Subtle looking street racer

Many people take issue with the Twingo’s styling, misjudging the original proportions and rather flat-slapped rear end styling as unflattering.

I have always liked the Twingo’s oddball appearance – especially the first generation one – and with the requisite hot hatch paraphernalia added, it absolutely looks the business.

The RS kit adds wider fenders, a new front bumper with generous cut outs housing fog lights in metallic-finish surrounds and a cheeky rear hatch spoiler. Twingo RS rolls on 195/45 profile tyres on 16-inch alloys, which further distinguishes this RS from its lesser Twingo siblings. The RS wheels are characterised by their striking eight-blade design, featuring four-major and four-minor spokes.

Admittedly, some of the Renaultsport graphics can border on being tasteless (much the same as the R26 Megane and R27 Clio offerings) yet overall the Twingo RS has an undeniable kinetic tension about it, even when parked.

Technically you could call the steering wheel a four-spoke jobbie due to that split vertical spoke. Ergonomics only understandable after much introspection - in classic French trait...

Access the cabin, courtesy of those oversized doors, and it’s familiar Twingo fare.

Inside, the Twingo RS retains the standard range’s peculiar cabin layout, devoid of a dead ahead instrument binnacle, with only the tachometer occupying position - all alone - behind the steering wheel.

Furthering the boy racer theme is a shift light indicator, integrated into the dead-ahead engine speed dial, which is calibrated in a garish speed-demon font.

The speedometer is completely offset atop the centre console – which is the last place it should be in a hot hatch, as passengers can see how fast you’re travelling and the in-laws will invariably comment.

Standard cabin equipment includes climate control, electrically operated front windows and exterior mirrors, a MP3-compatible single-CD receiver with satellite controls and an auxiliary input all onboard.

A welcome addition at the helm is the Dieppe-sourced steering wheel, which is three-spoke in configuration and perfectly shaped for a ten-to-two hand position.

Small tweaks, big consequences

So it has cracking looks and comes with an impeccable hot hatch pedigree thanks to the Renault badge on the nose. Question is though, can a simple city car dressed in a hot hatch tracksuit deliver a real performance workout?

Those Dieppe technical magicians responsible for the Megane R26 and Clio R27 applied themselves with forbidding focus to the enfant terrible of the Renaultsport range.

The result is a Twingo which rides 10mm lower than its standard sibling, on a track spaced out by 59mm fore and 60mm aft. Renaultsport adds thicker anti-roll bars on the rear axle too, whilst steering is recalibrated to blend perfectly with the increases in track.

Although Twingo is not independently suspended at all four wheel corners, its H-beam rear axle benefits from balancing variable rate coil springs.

Renaultsport’s tuning expertise does not simply start and end with the taming of lateral forces thanks to some clever chassis and suspension tweaking. Declarative prowess is enhanced with Megane II sourced 280mm front discs (ventilated) actuated by 57mm Laguna calipers. At the rear 240mm discs are clamped by 34mm calipers. If you’re a numbers person, those stoppers are 21- and 37mm larger in diameter, respectively, compared with the stock brakes.

The final blend of the Twingo’s Renaultsport dynamic certification programme is, quite obviously, the engine. Twingo RS is powered by a mildly tweaked version of Renault’s K4M RS 1.6l four-cylinder engine.

No turbo. No supercharger. No 7 800r/min rev limit. Just 98 pretty-run-of-the-mill kW. Goes a long way when the car in question weighs just over 1t, though...

Featuring a stroke bias of only 1mm, the RS engine is nearly square in terms of architecture, and thanks to a new throttle valve unit, reprofiled camshafts operating increased valve lift duration and a 11,0:1 compression ratio, it’s a terribly keen little thing.

Renault quotes power figures of 98kW at 6 750r/min and peak rotational force of 160Nm at 4 400r/min, whilst the limiter staggers the fun at 7 000r/min. A four-into-one exhaust system ensures related acoustic appeal.

With the Twingo RS only exercising 1 049kg of mass onto the surface of our precious planet, I always knew it was going to be an intense little car through the gears. What came as a surprise though, is the immaculate driving appeal of the thing.

Simply junior of a proper hot hatch?

First impressions of the Twingo RS, on a tactile level (the only level which counts when you’ve actually bought one) are not good.

I detest those oversized Twingo doors, especially the lack of proper door lining rubber which ensures you’re sent off with a sickening clunk each time you close the door.

The ergonomics are deliberately mad in classic French tradition too, with the radio controls virtually impossible to operate by hand (thanks to an essentially horizontally angled head-unit face), practically forcing you to use the steering wheel satellite controls by default.

Those orange seatbelts and seat stitching, contrasted by the aluminium handbrake girdle, are hardly the last word in taste either. I’ll admit it willingly then, my first impressions, whilst adjusting mirrors and finding a place to stow my laptop before setting off home from work, did not really endear me to the Twingo RS.

When I finally started it, the migraine inducing performance exhaust note came into play too, hardly the melodic companion of choice for a traffic commute home.

Preparing to slot the stubby little five-speed 'box’s lever into first, I did notice the optional aluminium-trimmed pedals fitted to our test unit. Embossed with very fetching pause, stop and play motifs for the clutch, brake and accelerator respectively, I had an inkling that  this most diminutive RS in Renault’s range would be a disarmingly playful rogue. It's almost impossible not to like.

Optional pause-stop-play aluminium pedal set is a neat Gallic design touch and clear sign of the Renaultsport team's meticulous attention to detail.

On the move Twingo RS’s positive gear change, ride quality and the sheer verve of its 1.6l naturally aspirated engine overwhelms even the most cynical and sophisticated of hot hatch critics.

I have no idea what the Renaultsport technicians have with their croissants in the morning, but it must be some awfully special brain food, for their ability to build hot hatches with impeccable balance is unparalleled.

The sheer amount of momentum the Twingo RS can carry into corners without a hint of drama is astounding.

Understeer is simply not within its technical frame of reference.

Corner looming?

Get on the middle pedal, double-de-clutch, turn-in (bodyroll is not a French world, so the Twingo RS has none of it either) and marvel at the sheer poise, which, mid-corner, is as rewarding as cars costing four times as much.

Its chassis is so benign you find yourself doing silly things like braking mid-corner or lifting off as spitefully as possible to send its rear axle out wide on purpose, then straightening it out again effortlessly.

It might be considered sacrilege, but I would say the Twingo RS might be even better balanced than its bigger brother Clio R27.

Obviously the chassis could cope with vastly more power (which would raise fuel consumption too), yet third gear closes nearly any gap in traffic you’re likely to encounter, and the performance is well matched to current tyre specifications.


Doors still look a bit too big, but RS go-faster bodykit fills out the Twingo shape neatly. Optional graphics a (very) acquired taste.


Still too tinny, with nearly no boot. Seats are superb though. Portable vanity mirror missing (stock Twingos have these), which can invoke the ire of partners when they want to apply make-up whilst underway.


Epic. Naturally aspirated pace perfectly matched to a hugely benign (and well tuned) chassis, whilst significantly upgraded brakes keep the whole show under control.


A stupendously lovable little car.

Though the stock Twingo borders being simply silly for some, this Dieppe-certified RS version is simply one of the best hot hatches you can buy – at any price.

The styling is just offensive enough to appeal to youthful, counter-culture buyers, whilst the ride quality makes it a purposeful everyday commuter.

It could do with more power, yet as a dynamic package the way it displays an effortlessly unflappable depth of dynamic talent over challenging roads is well worth the retail price of admission.


Looks like a French twist pocket-rocket

Unflappable poise ensures hugely entertaining cornering speeds

The sheer verve of the thing

Renaultsport hot hatch heritage


Oddball cabin

Tiny boot



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