As affairs go, it was short-lived. We bid adieu to the Twingo – from these shores at least.
Barely pausing for breath following the announcement of a mid-life revision to their entry-level Twingo, Renault subsequently announced that the refreshed model will henceforth be withdrawn from these islands. Citing the intention to simplify their offer, a Renault spokesperson told Autocar this week that the carmaker will refocus upon a new range of models and drivetrains over the coming year as part of Renault’s Drive The Future plan, which will include a new iteration of the top-selling Clio model.
But for all of its unquestionable sales success, it’s probably fair to say that the B-sector Clio has not truly entered the emotional consciousness of the buying public. A thoroughly competent and attractive proposition by all accounts, but a car which has evolved in such a manner that it is neither as compact, nimble, nor sufficiently easy to place to truly succeed as a city car.
When the Twingo, a car which was initially conceived as something of a spiritual successor to the Quatrelle, entered the marketplace in 1992, it instead appropriated the emotional landscape vacated by the 5, despite the latter remaining in limited-production Campus form alongside until 1996. The original Twingo was one of those rare designs which immediately felt both modern and timeless. Indeed, much like the seminal Boué 5, there is very little about it which appears dated, some twenty seven years on.
Renault never offered the first generation Twingo in right-hand drive form, meaning that UK (and Irish) motorists were denied one of the few truly original and characterful cars of the 1990s, one which was made until 2007 and remains a daily sight right across mainland Europe. Renault’s rationale at the time was that the likely volumes didn’t justify the expense of re-engineering the model – a matter which appeared to have escaped their notice when the considerably more conventional and visually underwhelming second-generation model arrived to these shores in 2008.
Initially intended to be a clear evolution of the original model, retaining its monospace layout, but issues of cost and undoubted management conservatism ensured the production car was reduced to being another anonymous euro-hatch. Despite the expected sales lift the revised model entailed, it never quite approached the volumes of its predecessor. Lasting a comparatively short six years, it was replaced by the current generation model in 2014 – a jointly developed programme with Daimler/Smart.
The current era Twingo is unusual in employing a rear-engine layout and rear wheel drive, shared with its near-identical beneath the skin Smart For Four. This ought to have brought benefits, if not in packaging, at least in dynamic terms. Its unorthodox layout might also have led one to imagine it providing Renault designers an opportunity to imbue it with at least a soupçon of the original car’s timeless charm – or at the very least that of its more distant relative, the eternal Cinq.
Not so it would appear, the Twingo instead arriving as an unhappy confluence of a number of styling themes which simply didn’t gel. But its appearance was only one side of the coin. It also seems that the Twingo failed to live up to expectations on the road – Autocar having the following to say when they tested one shortly after its UK launch.
“Truth is the Twingo’s rear-engined configuration brings more apparent compromises than gains – as the sanitised handling, disappointing refinement and flawed cabin packaging attest.” Economy, performance and value for money was also questioned, with VW’s UP-based triplets and Fiat’s Panda getting the nod in its stead. Now having said this, our own DTW correspondent lent a more sympathetic verdict in 2014, so draw your own conclusions.
What impact these demerits had on sales is a matter of conjecture (to the likes of us at least), but what can be said is that the current car has been a modest if fairly consistent sales success across Europe. Not so in the UK however, where according to Autocar’s report, less than 900 examples were sold last year.
While sales for these sub-B-segment cars are in decline across the board, this suggests that not only is there little appetite amongst UK buyers for Renault’s entry-level offering, it is also likely that Renault dealers in the UK (and Ireland) are probably incentivised to push more profitable Clios and Capturs to potential Twingo buyers. A further factor resides in Renault’s Dacia offshoot, where a lot more car can be financed for similar outlay for those on a budget.
As cities move to discourage combustion engines from their centres, cars such as these are only going to come under further pressure. Already the economics of producing them are such that virtually nobody is making any money doing so. Add in the upcoming necessity for full or partial electrification and it’s increasingly difficult to see what form of meaningful future for city cars there is likely to be without wholesale collaboration on platforms and powertrains.
In the meantime however, we on these trembling isles bid ambivalent farewell to a model line we never quite saw at its peak. Given that our abrupt affair was, in the words of Scott Engel, such a small love, perhaps the best we can do is to part with a sigh.