By on December 16, 2013


The Twingo is celebrating its 20th birthday and many people the world over are celebrating and reminiscing of times gone by in what was a car that dared to stand out in a staid market accustomed to treating A-segment buyers as second class. Renault came along and actualized Patrick Le Quément’s vision, and in the process, created a legend.

The biggest reason the first generation Twingo was so popular and successful was that basically Renault took a minivan layout and used it on a very small platform. As such, the car had some of the solutions found in minivans, such as their space efficiency, and flexible seating, and put it all into a very small car. At a time when French people travelled and oftentimes slept in their car, the front seats could be laid all the way back and make two pretty comfy beds as it fit perfectly into the back seats.

The engines, especially the 1.2, was quite refined for the time and could move the car with a semblance of gusto all the while returning good mileage In much of the world, this is important, as gas guzzling is never a virtue and is often a major deal breaker. Getting wider tyres also solved some off its dynamic limitations, specially at high speeds. Add to the mix Renault’s traditional competence of making soft yet competent suspension systems and a veritable myth was born.

Although we regard the Twingo as something of a milestone for automotive design now, the initial reaction was highly polarizing – months ago, I likened it to the Cherokee’s design in an article about it for TTAC. It was a polarizing design that at first shocked then delighted most consumers. Positively refreshing for the times. The cars being available in all sorts of internal and external colors only helped its cause.

It might be hard to understand the Twingo from a North American perspective, but it was an almost ideal solution for a particular point in time, in a country and a continent where it made all sorts of sense. What’s more, it was successfully exported and built in many other places, proving once again that the world at large prefers, needs and wants this kind of car over any kind of superlative automotive contrivance. As the rest of the world continues rising, one can only hope that other car companies can come up with such a beautifully executed product.

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19 Comments on “Dispatches Do Brasil: In Defense Of The Renault Twingo...”

  • avatar

    I know I’ll be attending the big Twingo birthday bash in my village.

  • avatar

    Posting appreciative Twingo articles on TTAC proves that Derek is not a car snob and I love that. It also shows he has guts and integrity.

    • 0 avatar

      It also gives us the chance to poke fun at cars we know nothing about and more then likely will never experience. For that I am appreciative

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Kenmore! I’m 100% sure Derek would appreciate the Twingo. Even though he didn’t write this piece (I did), he approved it and published it. Plus, his writing is indicative he appreciates a broad spectrum of cars, probably broader than I do.

      That being said, I have a feeling the Twingo would be your kind of car. I bit taller and wider than most of its competitors of the time, it had a comfortable ride, comfortable wide seats, was quite quiet and offered a well-mannered and relaxing ride. For example, the Ford Ka that was developed to compete with the Twingo is a much more sporty ride, and as such, had higher limits than the Twingo, but was not as comfortable. It was afterall a van, nothing more, nothing less, but very well executed.

      • 0 avatar

        Hey, Marcelo! Hah.. my instincts were good… when I first saw this article I expected to see your name in the byline.

        Yep, you know my preferences well… tall, boxy and with boucoup visibility.

        • 0 avatar

          Oh yeah, I remembered tall and boxy and comfortable, but I had forgotten sight lines. This car had them! Look at the tall greenhouse and thin pillars, beaucoup visibility for sure.

          • 0 avatar

            Heh… thanks for the spelling lesson. French has never been a language that tempted me to learn it.

            Wonder why WordPress’ spell checker didn’t flag it?

          • 0 avatar

            The WP spell checker must be programmed to detect French words and accept all possible spelling variations. The French don’t always pronounce all the letters anyway.

    • 0 avatar


      For the record, I like the Twingo. I like the Dacia Duster too. I like mainstream cars more than high-end stuff. But Marcelo wrote this. I just posted it and forgot to change the byline.

  • avatar

    While I do think the Twingo was a automotive milestone, it was far from perfect at start. First of all, while the 1.2 might have been quite refined, it was only offered from the end of 1996. The previous OHV engine was a carry over from previous Renault, up to the venerable Renault 8, and was far from refined.

    Also, I remember the front suspension to be quite weak, up to the loss of one of the front wheels.

    Finally, I seem to recall that sales only rose after the first color lineup was changed – but I might be mistaken on that point.

    Anyway, if it weren’t for actual passive security goals, I know many who’d still prefer the Twingo to actual A-segment cars – me included.

    Oh, and let’s not forget the big, prominently placed hazard switch, misused for many ‘Twingo Bingo’ games…

    • 0 avatar

      Hey PCP, you are quite correct. I tend to forget that first engine as I had little exposure to it. People in Brazil didn’t really complain about it. Complaints of that engine centered on it being weak. On the other hand it was very, very economic. Initially, the suspension did get pretty roughed up by our bad roads, but by 95-96 I think that had been resolved too.

      I think more traditional colors were introduced as time went by, but the Twingo always sold well on the more out-there colors.

      And the interior, yes so funky, I remember that hazard switch well.

  • avatar

    When I was little I hated the design of the Twingo and I could never understand why this car was such a succes here in The Netherlands (140 000 and counting), but after the years went by, I started to appreciate the design and came to understand these people more and more. Now I think the Twingo is awesome!
    Its design is quirky, its spacious (thanks to the sliding rear seats), has excellent visibility, it drives nice and I love the crazy French details (like the door handles, claxon button on the left steering wheel stalk, digital instruments).
    I especially like the Initiale version, with its leather upholstery, alloy wheels, radio controls behind the steering wheel, gigantic sun roof and metallic paint. A lot of amenities for such a small car.
    The Twingo wil become a classic, if it isn’t already one!

  • avatar

    I drove one of these in France a few years ago. While it was made rather cheaply and the engine sounded rather agricultural it was fun to drive and handled well. Would never buy one though.

  • avatar

    Comparing different generations of this car I note with sadness that the latest iteration slavishly caves in to the trend of curving the roofline downward at the rear, thus diminishing rear visibility and volume of the hatch opening. This trend is hideous and denudes all current hatches, some to the point of being indistinguishable from sedan counterparts. Sucks. Hugely.

    Looks like they fattened the rear pillars as well.

  • avatar
    Bruce the K

    As someone who owned (and mostly loved) a Renault LeCar (R5), nobody will be surprised that I am also a huge fan of this car. I was able to get the buy and drive deal on a Twingo when my family and I were traveling in Europe back in 2002. That was the thing where you “bought” a brand new French car and then they “bought” it back from you after you were done with your travels. Something about French law made it better for the manufacturer than just selling fleet cars to rental agencies. (I didn’t ask why, since it was a great deal.)

    Anyway, we had two (small) adults and two (small) pre-teens, and all the baggage (a French word, now that I think about it) we had accumulated from living in Paris for 3 months. Everything fit (just barely)! The car was so elemental, so pure, so cheap and cheerful. We did some car-camping in it and I would just lie on the ground and stare at the underside of it, marveling at the simplicity. It just flat-out worked, aesthetically and mechanically. Awesome sight-lines, as others have mentioned, an airy cabin, supportive seats, and a safe, compliant ride (even as overloaded as ours was). Fast, it was not, but it wasn’t dangerously slow, again even as overloaded as ours was. Mileage was excellent. The thing just puts a smile on my face remembering our travels in it (Paris to Venice to Rome).

    Vive la France et vive la Twingo!

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The new rear engine model needs a Gordini version.

  • avatar

    i remember the first time i saw this thing. wasn’t the first minicar but none had that look before. not my taste but was so different from other cars.
    in the first months very few options were avalaible but then they improved it and became an instant succes.
    the boot was small compared to similar cars like the citroen ax, and fiat panda. but the twingo was spacious and youthfull.
    the twingo never had a real sporty version where in those days other models buildt theyr name between young boys. the popular 100hp peugeot 106, the terryfing rover 114, the 500 sporting, the spettacular polo g40. so the twingo remained a “stilish” car. years later i drove the initiale and even with 75 hp it was quite fun, so it’s a shame that the rs version only came with the 2nd series.

  • avatar

    I always notice how from the angle in the photo, it looks like some happy puppy, or child.

    I feel like it would say YAY CANDY if it could talk.

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