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Renaultsport-fettled Twingo represents the return of the old-school hot hatch. Hello old friend, we've missed you...

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In hard times, so it’s no bad thing to be reminded that the low-carbon future that is imposing itself upon us it not without upsides. Cars will surely become smaller and lighter, but far from this removing fun, it seems likely that we’ll end up enjoying ourselves rather more. If it turns out that this Twingo Renaultsport 133 is in the vanguard of a new breed of small performance cars,  you’ll not hear us complaining.

Bloated kerb weights mean much of the magic conjured by, say, Peugeot’s 205 GTi is a dim and distant memory when you drive today’s hot hatches.

Renault has a good track record in building fast, fun and small hatchbacks

But Renault is convinced that the Twingo is the car to bring it back, and given that it’s the progeny of the same minds that created the Clio 197 and Megane R26R, two of our favourite sporting cars of any description, there’s no questioning its pedigree.

What seems more open to doubt is whether even the shining talents of Renaultsport can create a convincing makeover of a car, which is based on the underpinnings of the Mk2 Clio.

The RS Twingo is also available with a Cup chassis option that has 10 percent stiffer damping and springing, and an additional 4mm taken off its ride height.

Slightly confusingly, there’s also a version called Cup, which is an even more Spartan version of the standard car, trimming weight and increasing performance, thus gaining the 'Cup' tag that has been screwed on to Clios of a similar ethos. Naturally, this gets the usually optional Cup chassis as standard.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Renault Twingo RS 133 rear lights

Down at this price point, you won’t be expecting any techno-wizardry, which is just as well, because the Twingo Renaultsport 133 doesn’t have any; despite those pumped-up looks, its mechanical architecture is as conventional as can be, all the way from the strut suspension at the front to the torsion beam at the rear. Such magic must stem solely from the fine tuning of individual components.

By fitting a deep front spoiler, big rear wing, side skirts and huge alloys, Renault ran the risk of creating a car that looked like it had fallen victim to the worst excesses of a crazed aftermarket accessory shop owner. In fact the Twingo 133 looks like a pugnacious little street brawler capable of packing one hell of a punch. In short, it looks right.

Cup wheels stand slightly proud of the tyre sidewalls and are easy to damage

Wing mirrors are colour-coded to the wheels and rear spoiler, and are electrically adjustable. Grey 17in alloys are part of Cup chassis specification, a bargain given what it includes, but you have to not mind a car with almost no suspension.

The body kit includes flared wheelarches front and rear (they’re necessary to accommodate wider wheel track) and substantial side skirts. Macho posturing begins at the front with deep front chin spoiler and huge air intake. It’s probably not necessary for such a small normally aspirated engine, but it certainly looks the part.

Chromed tail pipe is a small touch but a nice one; it completes the sporty rear aspect of the car. The huge rear wing is probably next to valueless aerodynamically but it really lifts the Twingo’s appearance from the rear and is colour-coded to match the wing mirrors and wheels.

INTERIOR

Renault Twingo RS133 dashboard

Much work has been done in brightening up the Twingo’s cabin to make the Renaultsport 133, but the effect is more that of a plain Jane who has run amok through Accessorise, rather than an effortlessly natural beauty.

There are the obligatory chunky sports seats, vivid orange seatbelts, a rev-counter mounted as a pod on top of the steering column, aluminium pedal facings and the ubiquitous Renaultsport logo.

The chunky sports seats hold your body well during cornering

Ergonomically it’s something of a mess, too.

The speedo (sited left of centre in the middle of the dash) falls far from your natural sight line, the small number of switches are scattered around the cabin and if you can find the switch that deactivates the ESP without first referring to the handbook, you’re one up on us.

Then there’s the driving position, which echoes that of the old Clio; there’s not enough rearward travel on the seat, you sit curiously high in the car and the steering column, which adjusts for rake only, will prove too far away for tall drivers.

There’s not much stowage space on board, you’ll need to pay extra if you want to connect your iPod. The single-slot CD stereo system provides distinctly mediocre sound reproduction.

A total disaster, then? By no means. The Twingo does rather well in the one area you’d expect it to fall flat on its face: it’s really quite spacious. Access to the rear is not easy and often confounded by those orange belts, but the front seats roll a long way forward and then remember their way back to the original positions.

There’s more than adequate headroom for even very tall passengers and even sufficient legroom for short journeys. Moreover, the individual rear seats don’t just fold, they recline and slide forward too, doing wonders for the boot capacity. 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

1.6-litre Renault Twingo Renaultsport engine

Given the Twingo’s fairly trim 1120kg kerb weight, we’d hoped Renaultsport would make 131bhp stretch just a little further than it has. It’s not that the car is slow, more that you’re made to work hard for a merely competitive level of performance.

We scrabbled to 60mph on a cold but dry track in 8.7sec, which is commensurate with Renault’s claims, but with that level of power and its short, close gear ratios we’d hoped it would go a smidgen faster.

The special Renaultsport key is just the thing for building anticipation before the drive

But it makes up for it in the mid-range. Renault claims this engine has two distinct personalities, split at around 4500rpm, but our experience was of an almost entirely linear progression of power from around 3000rpm, which may not make the heart race, but does at least do wonders for real-world point-to-point speed. A 50-70mph time in top gear of 9.5sec is just 0.7sec slower than that posted by the Clio 197, with its very highly tuned 2.0-litre engine.

This is perhaps just as well, for changing gear in the Twingo is an act of necessity rather than choice. You may quibble about the absence of a sixth ratio in the Twingo’s box (and it would do wonders for fuel economy, CO2 emissions and refinement levels), but to real enthusiasts the fact that there’s no great pleasure to be had in changing gear will be just as important.

The gearbox is not terrible but it’s a little slow and can baulk if rushed, particularly from first to second (the main reason it could not better Renault’s acceleration claims).

Once up to speed, you’re never going to have a problem getting the Twingo stopped. The brakes may look rather pathetic through the huge spokes of the Cup wheels, but in fact they’re rather overspecified for the job.

RIDE & HANDLING

Reanult Twingo RS133 rear end

Drive the Twingo 133 any distance at all on a decent road and you’ll soon discover that the only point of the engine and transmission is to get the little Renault travelling at a sufficient velocity to give its chassis a proper work out. And with the Cup chassis, that’s almost indecently fast.

Journalists stopped using the words ‘roller skate’ to describe hatches years ago, partly because it had become hackneyed but also because it no longer applied to the new generation of fatter, softer models coming onto the market.

The Cup chassis is wonderful on smooth tarmac, but is disruptive on bumpy roads

But there is no other hatch currently more deserving of the phrase. This is a car that changes direction in a blink; it doesn’t roll, gently responding to your inputs like a friend doing a favour, it reacts instantaneously and with military precision. It flicks, it darts, the accuracy of each deflection determined entirely by the accuracy of your hands.

There is a price to pay, and the currency is ride quality. On Cup settings the Twingo is almost race-car stiff, and on less than smooth roads you’re likely to feel every bump. This does not bother us unduly – no one bought a car like this to be cosseted – but on certain very bumpy B-roads it can actually interfere with your driving enjoyment as you’re bounced around in your seat.

We know of no other front-drive car on sale whose on-the-limit handling characteristics are more influenced by throttle setting than this. Tread too hard and the understeer can build up to profound levels; lift off too suddenly and, left uncorrected, the car will spin in an instant. But drive it properly, bleeding the power in and easing it off, and the only risk you run is laughing yourself off the track.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Renault Twingo Renaultsport 133

Even if you eschew the Cup suspension kit on the standard 133 model, the Twingo Renaultsport still comes with enough standard kit. Air conditioning, alloy wheels, electric windows, remote central locking and a CD player are all included.

Opt for the entry-level Cup model, however, and you save £750 and unlock even more performance. Air conditioning, automatic headlamp and wiper operation and tinted rear windows have all been binned and a one-piece bench finds its way into the rear in place of the complex independent sliding back seats.

The 133 can get thirsty when the performance is unlocked

Let’s face it, the Cup isn’t quite ready for Group N status but the changes have to be worth a few kilos (the Clio 197 Cup lost 20kg with similar omissions) and add kudos to the lairy-looking baby Renault. The Cup chassis option being standard for the Cup model also more than compensates for any loss of comfort, given that you’re only likely to be choosing the Cup model if you’re not a regular at the chiropractors. 

Despite its diminutive size and relatively modest output, the Twingo 133 is not a frugal car. Official figures point to a 40mpg-plus ability but you’ll get nowhere near it if driving properly. Our test average was only 30.8mpg. CO2 is also nothing to write home about, standing at 155g/km.

As a long-term proposition the Twingo will prove invigorating and tiring in equal measure. Fun though it is, the strange driving position, short gearing and noisy tyres make long distance driving rather draining.

It’s also not the cheapest to insure – group 19 – but this is to be expected given the relative size and amount of performance. 

VERDICT

4 star Renault Twingo Renaultsport 133

The Twingo 133 might be the cheapest, slowest member of the Renaultsport family, but it is every bit as deserving of its place as a hot Clio or Megane.

Sure, the ride is occasionally disastrously stiff, but that is unlikely to much bother an 18-year-old who’s getting his or her first taste of performance motoring. A little hot hatch should be stiff and lively over the bumps

The Twingo is hard work, but agile and fantastic fun to drive

You can look at its other many faults — its dowdy interior and dodgy refinement , for instance — and tear it to pieces accordingly. But to us, there is but one measure of a car like this that eclipses all others: is it riotously fun to drive?

The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’. It’s not that quick and its engine is not that special, but thanks to that chassis you’ll still have more fun on a tight and twisting road than any number of faster, more expensive dedicated sports cars. 

For an enthusiast the Twingo 133 Cup is one of the most entertaining steers around, for any money. In short, the chaps at Renaultsport have done it again.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Renault Twingo Renaultsport 2008-2013 First drives