Thursday, 28 August 2008

RenaultSport Twingo

How times change. The original iteration of the Twingo was never offered as a right-hand drive model because, according to Renault bigwigs, ‘the British market would not want a city car’. Missed a trick there – the number of irritating Smarts, G-Wizzes, Kas, Cinquecentos and cheap imported Suzuki Cappuccinos on the streets of London is testament to the extent of their Gallic boardroom wrongness. Still, can’t win ‘em all.

The Twingo was revolutionary in the domestic market, being a sort of design adventure into a quirky wilderness that, if not quite a last roll of the dice, certainly suggested an awareness that churning out such less-then-tantalising models as the 9 and the 11 didn’t seem to be doing Renault any favours. The monobox shape was clean and simple, but featured a number of quirky details that endeared it to a broad spectrum of consumers (although many of them had probably owned 2CVs in the past) – the little bug-eyes, the offset air vents on the bonnet, the colour-coded switchgear that gave the impression that the driver had dramatically burst a bag of boiled sweets… it was built to a budget, but the devil’s in the detail. Cheap, economical, easy to fix and low-spec enough that there wasn’t really much on it to go wrong, the Twingo enjoyed a production run of fifteen years before the last one rolled off the line in France in 2007.

But it wasn’t killed off… merely replaced. For, you see, there is a new young upstart that bears the Twingo name. You can’t really call it an evolution of its forebear because it shares very little with it in terms of a) styling cues or b) basic fundamental design principle, but nevertheless it remains the baby in the line-up. If it were to appear on a restaurant menu, it could be listed as ‘Piquant cheekiness in a Clio reduction’. On the face of it, it appears to be a small Clio-ette with a few more corners, but digging deeper reveals swirling depths of mischief and devilment…

You see, Renault is staffed largely by petrolheads. Always has been. The way they turn their mainstream models into fire-snorting tarmac terrorists is so far removed from what their accountants would perceive as being logical or sensible – they just do what the hell they like because they bloody love hot hatches and saucy saloons. The list reads as a roll call of heroic lightweights and hooligans your mother wouldn’t approve of: 5 Turbo & Turbo 2, 19 16v, Clio Williams, 5 GT Turbo, V6 Clio, Fuego GTA, Clio197 Cup, 8 Gordini… they seemingly love nothing more than stuffing spicy engines into diminutive bodyshells and watching people nailing them down country lanes and torque-steering into trees. The little French scamps.

So the fate of the new Twingo was sort of inevitable. It may have originally emerged from a corporate brainstorm in which words such as ‘city’, ‘sustainable’, ‘dynamic’, ‘urban’, ‘young’ and ‘no-frills’ were banded about, but the second generation means business. Just look at their new ad campaign: the slogan is simply ‘Twingo. Grrr.’ Oooh, scary.

The enthusiastically deranged brethren of the RenaultSport division have buggered about with it a little, as is their wont, and shoehorned in a nat-asp 1600cc four-pot that pokes out a respectable 133bhp – more than enough to be entertaining in a car that weighs as much as a pint of sea-snails and a garlic ├ęclair. The Cup chassis ensures a tight and entertaining ride (which is pretty much a gimme considering what a superb job the Clio Cup makes of both fast road use and sparkly-eyed track work) and, best of all, we see those garish RenaultSport graphics that first appeared on the Megane 230 making a colourful reappearance; they’re a delete option but you’d be an idiot not to keep them. They’re gloriously zany, and that neatly sums up the RS ethos.

Yes, it’s available in right-hand drive this time. Yes, it has a CD player and electric windows and all the other weighty luxuries that didn’t match the spirit of the original. And yes, you’ll have an absolute hoot hooning down your local b-roads in the comfort of that grippy and firmly bolstered seat. But no… it’s not cute or twee. Not any more. Any funny business and this little French tart will twist your bollocks off and staple them to your hat. Good thing too – it’s always been the RenaultSport way.

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