The first-gen Renault Twingo's innovative design gave class-leading space and timeless looks. It still enjoys an enthusiastic UK following. Here's how to get a good one
How much to pay
• Project £200-1000 • Good £2000-3500 • Concours £4500-6500
Most expensive at auction: £7000 (ultra-low-mileage 2007 1.2-litre 16v)
Running costs ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
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Introduced to European markets in 1993, the bare-bones Renault Twingo was designed to replace the long-lived and very successful R5. With its unique monobox design, the newcomer looked more like a shrunken Espace rather than any other contemporary supermini. Its versatile design gave it the best interior space in its class, too.
Features such as an adjustable rear bench and seats that folded flat to create a small bed underlined the innovative monobox design and set the Twingo apart from its competitors. The first cars were fitted with the trusty old 1.2-litre inline-four from the R5, and could initially be had in only one trim level and a handful of exterior colours. A canvas folding roof was one of the few options available.
It was not until a few years into production that customers could choose from a broader range of colours and trim levels, and by the time European production ended in 2007 the Twingo had gone through countless special editions, two major restyles and a brace of new engine and transmission options. Luxuries included leather seats and electric windows. The later cars are undoubtedly better resolved and a bit easier to live with, especially if you intend to use it on a regular basis.
With more than 2600,000 units sold over a 19-year production run, there are still a fair amount of Twingos out there. Renault specialists and enthusiast clubs are good starting points if you want to find one of the few imported cars residing in the UK. For a larger variety you may want to extend your search into Europe, where France in particular still has a thriving if somewhat battered community of first-gen Twingos plying its roads.
Your AutoClassics inspection checklist
The first Twingos came fitted with the 55bhp 1.2-litre engine developed from the R5. It is a robust unit and features an eight-valve head and single-point fuel injection. From 1996-on a new multi-point injection 60bhp 1.15-litre engine replaced the old motor. This stayed in production until the very end, and was joined in 2000 by a sporty 75bhp 1.2-litre 16-valve power unit.
Timing belts, tensioners and water pumps tend to need regular attention, so get them inspected every three years. Aside from regular servicing there is not much that goes wrong with these little engines. Many will have high mileages by now, so look out for the usual issues such as mayonnaise under the oil-filler cap, excessive smoking and leaks around the head gasket. Most service items are interchangeable with contemporary Renault 5s or Clios.
Three transmission options could be had with the Twingo. The standard five-speed manual came first, followed by an optional semi-automatic clutchless manual in the 1994 Twingo Easy. A new semi-automatic ’box was introduced in the new millenium.
The transmissions tend to last reasonably well, and aside from the occasional clutch replacement, indicated by a particularly hard pedal, they should not need much maintenance.
The manual is the most common and will most likely be the easiest of the three to maintain and repair, thanks to its simpler design and shared componentry with other Renaults.
Suspension and brakes
All Twingos came equipped with discs up front and drum brakes at the rear. The discs were upgraded to vented units with the introduction of the 60bhp engine, with certain later models also getting ABS.
The rubber suspension mounts and shock absorbers tend to last a long time, but they should be checked for wear and tear as even the last European-built models are now more than a decade old. Creaky front springs and wayward handling under braking warrant a further look under the car; watch out for corroded springs and leaky shocks.
Rust can be an issue on cars that have spent the majority of their lives in the UK. Check the usual areas for signs of corrosion, and on cars equipped with the optional sunroof be sure to check the drainage channels for blockages.
It is quite likely that the car will have had some panels resprayed over the years, especially ones that have spent their lives in major European cities, so watch out for poorly repaired bodywork and badly fitted panels.
The cabin went through some fairly major updates over the years. Pre-1998 cars had a simple interior with hard-wearing plastics, no airbags (these were optional from 1995-on) and a parcel shelf instead of a dedicated glovebox.
Cars built from 1998-on rectified those airbag and glovebox shortcomings, but the basic layout remained the same. Subsequent updates introduced new interior trim and a few updated switches. Check that the centrally mounted digital readouts are all functioning correctly, and that the fan and heater dials work as they should.
The seat coverings and plastics used may be budget oriented, but they are hard wearing and even the oldest models should have held up well over the years. Replacement trim can be sourced through specialists, but you may have to import some components so it’s best to look for a car that is not missing any vital pieces of trim.
- 1993: Renault Twingo launched in LHD for European markets with 55bhp 1.2-litre inline-four and five-speed manual transmission. Available in green, yellow, blue or red, and in one trim level.
- 1994: Additional colours offered and five-speed clutchless manual introduced on Twingo Easy.
- 1995: Airbags are added to options list.
- 1996: Clio-sourced 60bhp 1.2-litre engine replaces old unit. Electro Hydraulic power-steering system becomes available, and third brake light added. Twingo Benetton special edition launched.
- 1998: Facelift carried out with redesigned dashboard, lights and front bumper. Limited-edition Elite and range-topping Initiale Paris introduced.
- 2000: Second facelift sees increased wheel sizes and updated interior components. 75bhp 1.2-litre 16-valve engine option added.
- 2001: Quickshift semi-automatic transmission introduced.
- 2002: Minor revisions continue with refreshed interior trim and new-style wheel covers.
- 2004: Final set of updates carried out with the addition of some new colours and side rubbing strips.
- 2007: European Twingo production ends.
- 2012: Final Twingo built in Colombia, total global production estimated at over 2,600,000 units.
Cheap to buy and affordable to run, the original Twingo still offers budget motoring with a dash of quirky French style. Calling it a modern classic may be stretching things a bit far, but find one of the very first pre-facelift Twingos in perfect condition and it may well be appreciate in value in the future. Facelifted 1998-on models offered some extra occupant protection and a broader range of options, while the later 75bhp 16-valve models added a bit of zip to the package.
UK buyers should focus on the overall condition and completeness of the bodywork and interior trim as these are the bits that can be harder to source. Mechanical similarities with other UK-sold Reanults mean that servicing items should be much easier to find locally. Remember that all were LHD, so overtaking manoeuvres may take some patience.
The latest Twingo, as woith most modern cars, has grown in size and complexity with each successive generation, so the original’s diminutive dimensions and refreshingly simple design stand out even more than they did back in 1993. You are unlikely to go wrong with one of these reliable, practical, reasonably priced and characterful 1990s superminis.
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1.2-litre 8-valve inline-four