A rare sighting on British roads, but could this French curiosity be the best city car we’ve ever had? We took the plunge with a suitably inexpensive, slightly rusty example
Hearty amounts of good things announce from our neighbors, the French. Haute cuisine, fine wines and even the invention of photography to name a few. He is a Frenchman who is credited with inventing rubber, and we all know how important it is to the automobile. For me, however, all of these Gallic innovations are insignificant compared to my Renault Twingo – an extravagant and utterly joyful form of personal transport.
The world got their first glimpse of the Twingo on October 5, 1992 at the Paris Motor Show, with customer cars hitting the road the following year. And took the roads they did. It was a practical four-seater sedan with that je ne sais quoi Renault is so good at – its success was almost guaranteed. Quickly, the streets of Paris were littered with Twingos, their small size making them perfect for strolling through the chaotic streets of the capital. It wasn’t long before Twingos in Europe were as common as sunburned British tourists.
My Twingo went out of line in 1999, finished in coriander green. It is equipped with a five-speed manual gearbox and a 1,149cc petrol engine producing an unbridled power of 75 hp. The curb weight of just 895kg allows it to achieve a 0-62 second time of 14 seconds, maybe 12 if you’re going down a steep hill. With a tail wind.
Get on board and the first thing you’ll notice is that the steering wheel isn’t where you left off, and neither are the pedals. Unfortunately, the Twingo never made it to our shores in an official capacity, so it’s left-hand drive or nothing. Skip this obstacle and the reward is a light-filled interior full of fun. Yellow switchgear, funky seats, and a huge power sunroof set it apart from anything I’ve driven.
The digital instrument panel is circled high in the center of the instrument panel, very similar to the first generation Toyota Yaris. The only information displayed directly in front of the steering wheel is a thin digital display just for the warning lights – more on those later.
On the road, the first thing that strikes me is the lightness of the steering. Spinning the wheel with your finger and thumb to get out of a tight spot is child’s play. The clutch is just as forgiving, and the whole car is eager to alleviate any worries I might have about driving on the “wrong” side. The only real problems I have are parking entrances, tolls and, of course, drive-ins. Thanks to Alex’s diligent investigative journalism, we all know what’s going on when you walk back to Mcdonalds.
Navigating a longer route reveals an unexpected side to this car, as it handles surprisingly well on a range of different roads. He is happy to both cut and mow the winding, undulating Yorkshire roads, and then settle into a comfortable muncher mile once on the motorway.
The Twingo’s curb weight means it has very low stress suspension components. Unexpected dents and dings are dealt with quickly and are barely felt inside the cabin. There is, however, a small price to pay for this comfort in the corners. While not excessive, the body roll is still enough to keep you from getting carried away, unless you’re making seasickness pills. A special thing about this Twingo is the variable power steering, but it was not a factory option. Thanks to some gremlin the power steering light will flash every now and then and the wheel suddenly gets heavy, really heavy. The conventional stop-and-start technique quickly rectifies the situation, however.
It is by bombing the city that the Twingo shines the most. Easily keep pace with modern traffic and able to squeeze through the tightest spaces with ease. The engine response is quick and greedy. Impressive, especially considering that the previous owner of this Twingo estimated the mileage to be north of 250 km. Many of those miles were also covered in Paris, with the scars of battle to prove it.
The bodywork tells the story of a busy life on the streets of the French capital, with scratches and dents galore here. I like to call it patina. Of course, it wouldn’t have a place in my shitbox fleet if it was rust-free. There are stains on the sills and an unpleasant area next to the fuel filler cap, but luckily nothing structural. The paint itself has aged quite gracefully, shining beautifully with some of Megiaur’s best.
Have you ever started eBay looking for a Twingo? Before doing so, let me go over some of the weaknesses. Although the seats look fantastic and are very comfortable, I have found that during extended periods of use I tend to have back pain. The distance between the side bolsters is quite narrow and was not designed with my Yorkshire ‘stout’ frame in mind. Parts sourcing can also be a pain. Most things seem to be still available, but it takes a bit longer than with UK right-hand drive specs. You may also feel some nervousness from your passenger – getting pushed into the middle of the road sometimes causes a scream or two.
Twingo ticks the boxes for your next car? Make sure to set saved searches and keep your eyes peeled on the owner forums. At the time of writing, there are two for sale; a very late 2007 model at £ 4,500 and another from 2002 priced at just £ 750. I know which one I would choose.
Now read about my £ 500, 430,000 mile Skoda Octavia
So the Twingo, a French fantasy or a dish like a pancake? I think the old one. Of course, there are downsides, but when you take a sunny country lane with the sunroof open and the heavy scent of summer hedges arousing your senses, they’ll be the last thing you think of.