Patrick le Quément. If his name isn’t immediately familiar, then you need to know the highlights of the Frenchman’s biography are that he designed the jelly mould Ford Sierra and led the styling renaissance that was Renault’s 1990s model range. And his crowning glory amongst all that shiny new metal? The seminal 1992 Twingo.
Whilst the French giant had the small car market covered with its then still relatively fresh original Clio, the entry-level Renault 4 was now so old that arthritis was setting into the suspension joints. Enter the Twingo. A new small car designed to be fun, practical, classless, appealing equally to either gender and, inexplicably, not designed to be built with right hand drive.
Such was the success of the first one that Britain had to wait until 2007 until Twingo Mk II arrived, this time productionised to fit the steering wheel on either side of the dashboard. But this remixed model had lost the original’s mojo. It had become just an ordinary small hatchback, albeit with a smattering of interesting detailing.
Renault seems to have grasped that the new model is lacking the character and appeal of the first incarnation with the result that the Twingo has entered 2012 with quite a significant facelift. Albeit, not a terribly successful one.
Immediately you’ll spot the Twingo’s reworked nose, which has become a particular busy festival of light, with additional spot lamps and low-set separate indicator units. It smacks a little of Nissan’s Juke but without the styling cohesion at play to make it a success. Linking the two main headlamp units is a gloss black band gracing the Twingo’s face as convincingly as a waxed moustache would embellish the face of a dapper man about town. Does it make the Twingo’s prow more distinctive? Yes, but it’s been uglified in the process.
Side on, the smallest Renault is much the same as before, save for showcasing a couple of new paint hues (of which this Fuchsia tone is one). Also new are the wheel trim and alloy designs; the 15” ‘Air’ design featured here are a £200 option. Shame they hint at motor factor specials rather than Parisian chic.
At the rear, the Twingo legend is applied across the centre of the tailgate, fashioned from stickers and now flanked by an additional set of ancillary tail lights set apart from the reshaped main ones set into the rear panel work.
It just feels like a facelift for the sake of changing the car in order to inject some more interest into it, rather than to improve it. Whilst it might generate a few column inches due to the relative newness, the inherent ordinariness of the second generation Twingo remains.
Inside, the Twingo remains much the same as before, sharing much of its interior mouldings with the now discontinued (in the UK) Modus range. Hard plastics abound, all injection moulded in dark grey plastics. For a car that’s supposed to have a youthful vibe, it’s a drab place in which to spend time. At least there’s a little flair with the central instrument pod, its digital graphics glowing a warm orange and offering a fleeting dose of interest.
Less successful is the rev counter that’s attached as a separate protrusion from the top of the steering column. For MINI drivers with rev-happy engines, the tachometer in that location might prove useful but in the Twingo it merely serves as a reminder that the 1.2-litre petrol engine is somewhat insipid.
Despite working the Twingo through its five ratios, those 75 horses available from the naturally aspirated engine, seem lame. Initial take-off is fine, so you quickly get up to speed for urban traffic but beyond that pressing on with enthusiasm is not reciprocated from the car or its drive train.
Perhaps this is a good thing for it suits that ride and handling compromise that the 2012 Twingo has been blessed with. Suspension compliance around town and at sub-30mph speeds delivers a mature, comfortable ride which absorbs tremors without transmitting them through the chassis. The negative aspect is that as speed (eventually) increases, it all gets a bit rolly-poly through the twisties, failing to offer the level of confidence you require to press on with vigour.
Does this matter too much on a small, 1149cc hatch that doesn’t really hint at having sporty ambitions? No, not as a stand alone it doesn’t but it does highlight the additional work that’s required on the Twingo if the revised RenaultSport 133 version, released in a couple of months, is going to hold its head high against the competition as the sportier flagship.
As it is, in Dynamique trim, with the 75bhp engine, the Twingo is a rather ordinary small car, doing nothing badly but neither does it do anything especially well either. Underneath the heavy handed glitz of the facelift, the latest Twingo still lacks the original’s désir.
Thumbs Up: Fine urban ride, relatively inexpensive, it’s certainly distinctive…
Thumbs Down: Lacking in charm, dull interior, engine not forthcoming with power.
Model Tested: Renault Twingo Dynamique 1.2 16V 75
Top Speed: 105mph
Combined cycle fuel consumption: 55.4mpg
CO2 emissions: 119g/km
Engine size: 4/1149cc fuel injection petrol
Boot space: 230-951l
Kerb weight: 950kg
Price: £10,350 (February 2012)
All photographs © Keith WR Jones 2012