The Rush and the Rush and the Stop

This pleasantly painted Twingo caught my eye in Flensburg.

1993 Renault Twingo exterior

I had a longer look at the interior which had very playful use of colour. The door handles and window winders were highlighted in yellow. Buttons on the dashboard used the same plastic. The doors had body-coloured paint visible with the door cards inset and made of robust plastic. They made the most of economy, it seems. The design is very contemporary for 1993, the year of the launch. This kind of modernism is in short supply today.

1993 Renault Twingo interior

In contrast the replacement car went for a much less distinctive style and is eminently forgettable, as disappointing as the Mk2 Ford Ka. I won’t bother to show images. For the Mk3 Twingo Renault returned to a more strongly styled character. However, instead of something contemporary and innovative they decided to apply a classic product design form language.

2017 Renault Twingo interior: Renault UK

The current car is certainly quite a decent bit of work. Yet at the same time it’s quite conventional and not quite as well-organised or disciplined as the 1993 car. Note the rather forced placement of the HVAC controls – I think they should be grouped in the same frame as the IP – and Renault decided not to do much with colour coding. It lacks, in short, the playfulness of the

1993 Renault Twingo interior: source

original. That in part might be a response to the kind of knee-jerk criticism that such design engenders: “Fisher Price” the journos tend to say when confronted by anything less than Benz-serious (old Benz, I probably mean).

The above photo shows another colour for the moving parts- which means a second set of moulds and that means expense. The current car is more expensive – more parts but cheaper in a way too.

1993 Renault Twingo theme sketch: source

The Twingo was the outcome of two strands of research at Renault. One emerged from participation in the 1981-1984 Mono-Box Eco project, carried out with sponsorship by the French government. Citroen and Peugeot also took part. The products of this are not very well documented. The other strand is related to Renault’s wish to have a new Renault 4.

The Twingo is thus a simple, spartan car that is a three-door rather than five-door vehicle and also a bit smaller. That makes it more of a spiritual successor than an actual one. The Kangoo is closer to the 4 in size and utility. Interestingly, neither Renault nor Peugeot attempted a similarly imaginative vehicle as a production car which makes one think that the French government did not get such value for money.

Citroen Cactus interior: Citroen UK

In general, industrial design is in a classic phase. The Twing of 1993 and the Ford Ka too show an alternative, which is strongly modern while also having a considerable rigour. The current Twingo is certainly plusher and more complex, doing so with less of the formal seriousness the playful Mk1 demonstrates. If designers wish to indicate something like seriousness they are usually reaching for the Jonathan Ives/Dieter Rams book of style and even then, not doing much more than slapping a few radii on some geometric details (see: Cactus, Citroen). Strip out the white plastic parts on the new Twingo and what is left is rather bland.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

24 thoughts on “The Rush and the Rush and the Stop”

  1. The 93 Twingo speaks of the confidence of early 90s Europe. Germany was reunited, Southern Europe had been rescued from dictatorship and was feeling more prosperous, what could be better than popping a few baguettes and a bottle of wine into the colourful, playful Twingo and going for a picnic?

    How depressing now that our roads are dominated by SUVs and almost every new car has to look ‘more aggressive’ than its predecessor. To be fair, the current Twingo is still appealingly different. But we seem to have lost our innocence and pleasure in the simpler things in life.

    Richard is very good at analysing the details of design. But the semantics of car design seem now to be about projection and protection – asserting our strength while we hide behind our dark-tinted, narrow windows.

    1. That´s true. The state of design reflects the society we live in and want to live in. While the 50s-70s burst of colour reflected optimism, the hard-edged society we have now is revealed in the aggressive shapes people are opting for. So, yes, I have focused more on the form itself and less on the broader meaning of the form. The Twingo and Multipla were exactly about cheeriness and confidence. Just look at those door handles.

    2. This first generation Twingo makes an interesting contrast to the Peugeot 1007 featured yesterday. Only a decade separates them. The Twingo now appears as a high water mark from a design perspective, yet at the time I recall wishing they could have been a little braver. It proved a durable little car, judging from the numbers on French roads still, yet I don’t sense any real affection for the car, which is odd, as it’s quite a lovable thing.

      I recall reading Patrick le Quement saying he had to fight Renault management tooth and nail to get this execution through – bosses wanting something along more conventional lines.

      I suspect the 1007 will probably be the car more people remember – for the wrong reasons, but still…

    3. Unlikely – most people probably haven’t realised the 1007 ever existed, whereas most would have come across a Twingo and noticed it. Well on the continent at least…

    4. You may be correct Laurent, but I don’t get the sense there’s much real regard for the Twingo. It’s more often the failures that get the attention – hence my comment. Look at the original R5. A hugely significant car, but no real following I’m aware of.

    5. Eoin: you make a good point about the R5 and RTwingo: good as they were they aren’t lionised much. A hundred thousand Corsas, Fiestas and Polos have been fettled, slammed, customised and driven badly by baseball caps; has anyone done this for R5s and Clios? The Twingo ought to be adopting the place of 2CVs and R4s as the jolly, hippy vehicle of choice (as the Panda has, slightly). Why hasn’t it?

    6. The Twingo was hugely popular in France, and probably still is. But things have changed a lot since the 1970’s (sorry old boys) and there probably isn’t much scope nowadays for this kind of car to reach the iconic status of its forebears.

    7. I can’t vouch for the original 5, but the Supercinq was a firm favourite of the Max Power generation throughout the last two decades – perhaps less so now, although being more street-level than I, (it would appear), our feathered friend may be better equipped to comment on that.

      The Twingo, from a very unscientific viewing of today’s TDF coverage does seem to be a car that remains in daily use across rural France, which may explain why it isn’t more lionised. These remain working cars. As to the notion that things have changed since the ’70s, well I suppose they have, yet that doesn’t really explain the relative lack of regard, even in its home country for cars that while they might not be icons, were (in the original 5’s case) a genuine benchmark in the evolution of the car as we know it and one of three important post-war Renaults.

  2. The original Twingo is one of THE great small cars, plain and simple. It’s arguably one of the defining cars of the ’90s, as well. What a pleasurable, fine decade that turned out to be, in hindsight…

    There’s been a minor conflict regarding the Twingo’s authorship, with Le Quément claiming that he was responsible for lending the car its character, whereas Jean-Pierre Ploué was merely in charge of the rudimentary design. This may be the Miura/DB9 of small car design history!

    1. LeQuement and Ploue ended their careers fighting at the Reichenbach Falls, each claiming authorship. Nobody know how the struggle ended due to the spray from the roaring cataract, the fog and the clouds that shrouded the last moments of the combat.

  3. I loved the original Twingo at the time. The most interesting thing about the current one is that it has the engine in the back. Evidently to no discernible benefit, but bravo Renault for doing something different!

    1. Or perhaps in this case expedient, since it shares much of its architecture and mechanical specification with the current Smart ForFour.

    2. Indeed: you’d think they’d make something of that fact. DTW has even road-tested this car and determined, if memory serves, that it’s not going to be subject of poems.

    3. I drove a rented Twingo for a week while on holidays in September and was very disappointed as it felt nowhere near as nimble as it ought to be. The engine is good but the steering is too long and too vague, so it wasn’t much fun.
      The Yaris I drove 2 weeks ago was a lot more pleasant, even though it was well under-powered.

  4. Yes, sorry, somehow I missed your review. I had no idea the Twingo and ForFour were siblings, but it’s kind of obvious now I think about it.

    1. The relation is quite well hidden. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen many of the Smart version but Twingos are two-dimes-a-dozen.

  5. I’ve owned 3 mk1 Twingos and I love them. Always great to read an article about them. I’ve had a test drive in a mk3 and whilst they are a little quirky, they do not have the internal space of the mk3.

    What I also enjoyed is that you didn’t even mention the mk2 which lets face it, will never be a twingo! So drab and boring in comparison to the mk1 or mk3.

  6. Along with the Peugeot 309 GTi16, it is regrettable the original mk1 Renault Twingo never appeared in the UK and also a pity the latter was not able to receive larger engines of around 1.4-1.6-litres (or at least an earlier version of the 100 hp 1.2-litre D-Type turbo).

    Heard the automatic versions of the mk1 Renault Twingo have a bit of a bad reputation though, yet appears to have very good visibility which stands in contrast to today’s City Cars whose visibility has become increasingly poor amongst many other issues.

  7. As for the products of Citroen and Peugeot’s participation in the 1981-1984 Mono-Box Eco project via the Citroen ECO 2000, it was likely carried over to what eventually became the Citroen AX.

    A shame nothing became of the the final Citroen SL 10 prototype as a PSA analogue of the Renault Twingo, though despite being much lighter with a length of 3.47m it was not much smaller then the Citroen AX. Interesting that it was powered by a 35 hp 750cc 3-cylinder version of the Fiat FIRE engine (with some links claiming the engine was a diesel for some reason), the only remnant of the FIRE engine originally being a collaboration between Fiat and PSA in order for the latter to replace the X engine prior to the later developing the TU.

    1. I can only agree. The Citroen concept car has a lot of interesting and viable details while also looking very Citroen indeed. I like the “shoe” shape. Maybe the C-pillar area is not quite right to achieve proper air separation. Current cars tend to have a sharp trailing edge (usually in black plastic). The Citroen has a radius where you´d expect a sharp break.

    2. They could have carried over aspects of the AX’s styling to a production version of the Citroen SL 10 prototype, not sure how a related Peugeot version would work however.

      Also wonder whether the TU engine was capable of spinning off a 715-1190cc 3-cylinder version in both petrol and diesel forms for a production Citroen SL 10, the existing 1.0-1.1-litre 4-cylinder TU engines are nothing to write home about (along with arguably the TUD diesels) compared to the 1.2-litre 4-cylinder FIRE (albeit in MPI/16v form) yet unsure whether the FIRE was capable of being dieselized let alone further enlarged from 1468cc / 1.4-litres to 1.6-litres (or in 3-cylinder terms from 1026cc to almost 1200cc).

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