What is it?
When we drove the Renault Twingo GT on its international launch, we found it to be a city car that didn’t quite live up to its promise on paper. The thought of a rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive Renault Sport-fettled pocket rocket had expectations soaring, but the reality wasn’t quite so dramatic.
But let’s be clear: the Twingo GT is not technically a fully-fledged Renault Sport model. This is no successor to the riotous Renaultsport Twingo 133 but rather a top-spec variant of the Twingo city car. Don’t dismiss it as a limp new trim level though, because the revisions to it are significant.
Although it has the same turbocharged 898cc three-cylinder unit as the standard model, it’s had a power hike taking it from 89bhp to 109bhp, thanks to a remap and an air vent above the left rear wheel arch, from where it supplies more cold air into the engine’s intake.
The suspension has been worked on, too. Renault Sport has made it 40% stiffer, made the front anti-roll bar thicker and lowered the ride height by 20mm. It could cope with the smooth French asphalt we tested it on, but we’re driving the car in the UK to see how these suspension revisions cope with our roads.
What’s it like?
Those adjustments definitely make it feel quicker and there’s no doubt that this is the most entertaining version of the Twingo you can buy. In a straight line it will just about see off a Volkswagen Up 1.0 TSI, making it one of the quicker new city cars on sale, and around town its pace is very useable.
It’s not particularly gutsy but is fairly keen off the line, with a throaty three-cylinder engine and a slick, precise five-speed manual gearbox with shorter ratios than those of the standard Twingo. Its natural habitat is the city, and that is where it excels (especially with its ludicrously tight turning circle), but it’s certainly well powered enough to manage long motorway schleps.
There are some drawbacks, though. While it is quite sprightly, the engine’s delivery suffers from turbo lag, so there’s an awkward surge of power that appears at around 2000rpm. Even higher up the rev band there’s a noticeable delay before the power kicks in. The car’s pedal weights are very light, too.
While it has some useable city car pace you’re unlikely to notice the engine is in the back that and it’s a rear-wheel-drive layout, because the meddlesome ESP cuts in quite abruptly, which is a shame. It’s been made less intrusive compared with the standard model, but you still can’t turn it off.
The steering remains very light and vague, too. It isn’t so bad for tight manoeuvres in cities but it doesn’t give you a good indication of what the front wheels are doing at higher speeds on the open road, and its quick rack makes it feel twitchy at speed even with a variable-ratio set-up.
Still, when you’re in the mood, it’s an agile thing, and the suspension revisions help it feel keener and flatter through the corners. It’s also still a relatively comfortable car. The stiffer suspension offered a decent ride when we tested it in France, and our first drive in the UK shows it can put up with our rough roads even on its standard 17in alloys. Potholes do give the car a jolt, but over most surfaces it rides without complaint.
The interior is fairly pleasant. The tall body provides lots of head room for the front two, but adults won’t be especially comfy in the back. The 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system is responsive and easy to use and comes as part of the £600 Techno Pack R-Link that adds a reversing camera and DAB among other things, which is well worth a tick on the options list.
The seats don’t offer a great deal of support, and you can’t adjust the reach on the steering wheel, but it’s a relatively comfortable driving position. It does become noisy in the cabin though. Wind and road noise is a big problem at high speeds, so it can be quite tiresome to drive for long stints. The engine can handle the distance work, but the dynamics aren’t sharp enough to keep you interested.
Should I buy one?
This Twingo GT is a quirky and quick alternative in the city car class and a welcome addition to the segment – even if it does lean more towards harmless city car runaround rather than hardened enthusiast’s plaything.
Against the slower, less practical and extremely pricey Smart Brabus ForFour, the Twingo GT looks a bargain. Against the cheaper, slightly slower but better to drive Volkswagen Up, however, the Twingo GT is harder to recommend. If you want a warm city runaround then it would also be worth stretching your budget (for less than £1000 extra) to a Suzuki Swift Sport, or a little bit more to a Ford Fiesta ST-Line with a characterful 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine. Plus, the Up GTi which is slated for a 2018 promises a lot judging from our early prototype drive, so competition is set to get even tougher.
The bottom line is, while the Twingo GT is a likeable city car, it doesn’t offer the impressive warm hatch driving dynamics that many of its rivals do.
Renault Twingo GT
Location Gloucester; On sale Now; Price £13,755; Engine 3 cyls, 898cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 109bhp at 5750rpm; Torque 125lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 1001kg; 0-62mph 9.6sec; Top speed 113mph; Economy 54.3mpg (combined); CO2 rating/BIK tax band 115g/km, 20% Rivals Smart Brabus Forfour, Volkswagen Up 1.0 TSI
What is it?