The original Volkswagen Golf GTI was a legend – a front-drive go-kart that became an icon for Euro kids who wanted a sports car, but couldn’t afford one.
This was first published in MOTOR's March 2009 issue.
But let’s not forget the French are past masters of the hot-hatch genre, too. While the GTI eventually lost its teen spirit and became an aspirational lifestyle choice for the iPhone brigade, Renault persisted with the basic formula, resulting in its latest contender for a paper crown – the Renaultsport Twingo 133.
But with the Twingo facing a new breed of hot-hatch heavy hitters, including Fiat’s turbocharged 500 Abarth, the Renault needs to pack one almighty wallop. Given the economic crises and an ever-present green threat, the hot Twingo’s arrival couldn’t be more timely.
Right now, this is just about the only fun car much of the population can afford, and soon it might be the most fun we’re allowed to have. The hot-hatch isn’t just for the kids anymore. Get ready for a neccessity-born renaissance.
As its 1.6-litre engine screams its intent, and as its chassis skips through bends, teetering on the verge of lift-off oversteer, the Renaultsport Twingo proves that may not be a bad thing. Feisty hot-hatches deliver fun for all ages and this is one of the purest around – complete with fully switchable ESP and the deletion of emergency brake assist to allow for total driver control.
A mangled version of Twist, Swing and Tango, the Twingo started its lowly life as a cheaper version of the mass-market Clio – Euro white goods for those without the luxury of choice. And this Renaultsport version could be considered a bad joke, as it offers just 98kW (which is 133ps, hence the name) from a naturally aspirated 1.6, and may struggle to out-power an asthmatic’s cough.
But in this micro-hatchback of the oversized-rollerskate variety, it’s plenty powerful enough. The Renaultsport Twingo certainly looks the part. A deep, fang-like front bumper with contrasting vents and some blatant wheelarch flares give the dinky Frog a roughed-up look.
They might be plasticky, and the overall effect about as intimidating as a fluffy pillow, but they suit it to a tee. Inside, there’s orange-stitched sports seats, a pod-mounted tacho, orange LCD displays from an ’80s video game, and you can even specify pedal covers with Pause, Stop and Play.
It isn’t as cool as the Fiat – the edges are too rough for that – but it’s certainly trying. Despite its modest 98kW, the Twingo will hit 100km/h in 8.7sec and can top 201km/h given enough clear road. But it does it in such a riotous, raucous fashion that these low speeds become part of the fun.
It’s one of those cars that employs all of its power, all of the time, although what this does for real-world fuel economy is a fact best brushed under the carpet. Storming off the line in first gear with the wheels scrambling for grip and the engine screaming, the Twingo feels as fast as cars twice as quick, costing twice as much.
That’s the X-factor in a baby hot-hatch like this – it’s fun squeezing every last one of its 7000rpm out of it, driving it like it’s been stolen. Then a corner arrives and the fun Twingo 133 turns downright hilarious. It tips the scales at just 1049kg, which is a weight that time forgot in today’s cars.
That, combined with an aggressive suspension set-up, is what makes the Renaultsport Twingo dynamic magic. The springs and dampers are 30-percent stiffer than a Twingo GT’s and drop the ride height by 10mm. The front and rear tracks are 59mm and 60mm wider, the front wishbones are aluminium and there’s a thicker rear anti-roll bar.
There’s an even more hardcore Cup set-up, too, that is 10-percent stiffer again, drops the ride height a further 4mm and wears anthracite 17s with 195/40R17 rubber. This is the front-drive go-kart of yesteryear. Throw it into a bend and the understeer dialled-in to most new cars as a safety net is barely detectable.
The front pulls wide with too much power on the way in, but lift-off sharply and the back-end tucks the nose in while lifting a wheel playfully. The Twingo has inherited its chassis from the last-gen’ Clio, which spawned some of the greatest hot-hatches of all time, and that pedigree shines through.
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It’s a fantastic drive and it always puts a smile on your face, which is a rare quality at any price. Unfortunately, Renault told us the uncompromising Twingo 133 won’t be coming to Oz. But we can’t help thinking that’s an opportunity missed. Mini-rivalling dynamics and Euro chic for an affordable price?
Makes sense to us.
2009 RenaultSport Twingo 133 Specs:
Engine: 1598cc 4cyl, DOHC, 16V
Power: 98kW @ 6750rpm
Torque: 160Nm @ 4400rpm
Top Speed: 201km/h (claimed)
0-100km/h: 8.7sec (claimed)
Price: $25,000 (estimated)