Pedestrian protection is also claimed to be much improved thanks to the amount of free deformation space allowed by the empty nose. Renault engineers have not had to raise the bonnet line to meet the pedestrian protection regulations, which – along with the very short nose – they say gives the Twingo driver the best forward view of any car in the A segment.
Perhaps the biggest advantage with the rear-engined layout is the ability to allow the Twingo’s front wheels to pivot by 45 degrees off the straight-ahead position (the previous Twingo managed only 30 degrees). This gives the Twingo a tiny turning circle of just 8.9m, only marginally larger than that of a London black cab.
At the rear is a re-engineered version of Renault’s familiar three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. The unit has been rotated by 49 degrees, so it is 15cm lower than its usual upright position, sitting under the boot floor. Renault says that this re-positioning of the engine means half of the components have had to be re-designed. The rear suspension is an unusual De Dion torsion beam design.
This turbocharged engine, like the 69bhp normally aspirated unit, drives a conventional five-speed manual gearbox. There will be the option of a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, but it won’t arrive for another 12 months. Interestingly, the engine block can be lowered by 150mm to aid with major servicing.
Inside, Renault’s designers say they have managed to carve out 52 litres of storage space, including space under the rear seat bench (like the original Mini). The boot offers a limited 188 litres, however. The seat backs can be locked in a more upright position to stretch that to 219 litres. Pushing the rear seat backs forward creates a completely level load bay.
What's it like?
Hardly anything like a rear-drive car. The new Twingo, by Renault’s own admission, has been tuned to be as similar to a typical front-drive city car as possible.
Even though the car’s weight distribution is balanced 55 per cent rear and 45 per cent front, there's hardly any sense that the Twingo is moderately tail heavy. It’s even hard to place the source of the engine’s prominent warbling note when you're hard on the gas.
The Twingo’s driving position is higher and more upright than normal and none the worse for it. The dash is flat and upright, as are the door panels and the overall effect makes the cockpit feel quite spacious and liveable for car this compact.
That effect is magnified when bowling along at 70mph on the motorway, where the Twingo is quite hushed and feels unusually capable of longer, high-speed, journeys than nearly any other A-segment car (save for the exemplary VW Up).
There was a reasonable amount of wind noise and whistle around the A-pillars and wing mirrors, but it is possible that this was more noticeable due to a lack of noise from under the bonnet. The Twingo also felt pretty well tied down at motorway speeds and straight running, perhaps another benefit of the rear-mounted engine.
On more winding roads, it was possible to get this car flowing quite nicely, once the engine was operating around its peak torque levels (frustratingly, the Twingo does not have a rev counter as standard). The shift action is little overlong, but then the linkage has to reach back into the rear of the car.