CC Capsule: 1997 Renault Twingo – Keep France Weird.


(Exterior pictures of the Twingo courtesy of Hannnes at the CC Cohort)

The French auto industry: Amazingly comfortable large cars that nobody wants, Amazing Hot Hatchbacks, Amazing van that seems to be made of roofing material. France has always done cars in their own way. In 1992 Renault decided that their normal city car was just too damn normal, something needed to be done about it.

The first generation Twingo was designed to be a replacement for the iconic Renault 4. (Obligatory: You know the Pope owns one of those) Already the poor unborn Twingo was facing an uphill battle by replacing one of the most loved vehicles France has ever produced. It also presented a bit of a Catch-22. Make it too close to the 4 and you’re going to end up with people calling “betrayal” on it for being bigger, more comfortable and slightly more complicated. It’s 1992, retro hasn’t become all the rage quite yet. Turn the page and design something completely new and you risk alienating the people that made the 4 a success.


Tasked with that choice, Renault’s Chief Designer at the time, Gaston Juchet, Decided it’d be for the best if they just broke all design ties with the Renault 4 and made a new design from the ground up. Taking inspiration from the W60 project launched in 1986. The resulting product can only be called ‘cute-chic’ with its huge eyes, small grille resembling a smiling face, asymmetrical hood scoops and one-box design. It was a rolling testament that being stylish does not need to come at a high price tag. Something the French carry as a theme with their cars if not with their designer labels. There were still some compromises in the name of an affordable price tag, like the single reverse light integrated in the left taillight, but it managed to carry them with some of that je ne sais quoi that made them easier to overlook. To look at the real cost-cutting, you have to take a look inside.


Holy mish-mash, le Batman! It looks as though the nineties came in, noticed like the dash looked like a normal dashboard that had melted for some reason and proceeded to vomit all over the seats. Renault couldn’t get enough of weird seat fabrics in the nineties days and the Twingo’s was the craziest, purpliest, saved-by-the-bell-iest of them all. Notice also the lack of full-door trim, which adds a nice touch of color to the interior and roasts your arm if you carelessly rest your arm on it. This particular model is probably resprayed as all of those puke-green buttons should match the exterior of the car. The digital dash is on the center of the dashboard like on a Yaris/Scion xB. But all the idiot lights are on the little pod in front of you aswell as the (Single) indicator light. Engine wise, you had an updated version of the 1.2L engine of the Renault 5 doing duty for the first few years at the rate of 55HP. Later models got more advanced 1.0 and  1.2 engines designed for itself and the bigger Renault Clio, which made numbers rise all the way to 75HP. Curb weight was 790kg.


The Twingo I was an exceptionally long-lived vehicle, lasting all the way to 2007 on minor exterior and interior tweaks. That is, of course, unless you lived in Colombia or the surrounding areas. In which case you could walk into a dealership and buy a new one as recently as 2012. Everywhere else in the world it was replaced by the Twingo II. The II was entirely devoid of the quirkiness of his predecessor, opting for a more traditional subcompact look and interior. Presumably they got a PSA memo telling them to focus on cheap and cheerful and let big bro Citroen handle all the quirks. Having said that, it did brought us that other thing the French auto industry do very well in the form of the Twingo 133 Hot Hatch.


However, quirkiness shall prevail, as we now have the Twingo III. A complete departure from the norm. It’s currently propelled by a turbocharged 990cc three-pot engine that’s mounted on the rear. Rear wheel drive, endless customization options. And the rumor mill tells us that there is a sport version in the works. Insert your Porsche 911 jokes here. If the PSA memo I suggested actually existed, I reckon we can be sure that it has already been filed in the same warehouse as the Ark of the Covenant.


Hmmm….I do fancy some Italian today.