When thinking about French cars and comparing them to their British counterparts, it’s easy to assume that the green and pleasant lands upon which we reside will hold the greater motoring heritage. After all, any look down a list of early motoring manufacturers will show a vast array of recognisable names from Britain’s past. Rover, Triumph, Jenson and Wolseley, just a few examples of names that were once so populous but are now fading from view and memory, only kept alive by men in flat caps and a taste for warm beer.
That said, it may come as a surprise to some that France’s motoring heritage is just as strong, with a list of Manufacturer’s equal to those of Britain. Indeed, France was at the cutting edge of motoring technology when in late December 1898 the French Renault brothers, Louis, Marcel and Fernand, sold their first car, the four-wheeled, two-seater “Renault Voiturette 1CV”.
It was designed by Louis Renault and powered by a single cylinder De Dion-Bouton (French), 273 cc petrol fuelled engine and had a top speed of 32 kph (20 mph) whilst carrying two people.
Focusing on Renault, as one of France’s most iconic manufacturers, it was a major surprise to MotorMartin to find out that in 1906 a Renault AK 90CV car, similar to the one shown above, won the first ever motor car Grand Prix. Further milestones in the life of Renault are numerous, as well as varied and include such events as the 1925 40CV model being the first Renault car to be fitted with the diamond symbol logo. A logo that has since become recognisable all around the Globe. Rather more useful was Renault’s decision to join the majority of car manufacturers in fitting brakes to all four wheels. On Renault cars, this practice occured in 1925 and three short years on from then, in 1928, the company produced nearly 46,000 cars.
Certain Renaults have caught the eye over the years but perhaps one of the most significant was the 7,539 cc Primaquarte, designed by Louis Renault. It was produced from 1931 to 1939 and was to be the last type of car to leave the Renault production line before his death and yet it still looks as fresh and modern today as it must have looked when first designed. Renault continued with their forward thinking designs and production, despite occupation, during World War II. In fact, rather impressively, the 4CV, was secretly designed and developed during the War which allowed Renault to gain a head start on the opposition once the War was over as they were in a position to get production up and running fairly quickly. The 4CV was produced from 1946 to 1961 and significantly, was the first French car to sell over a million. Shown below is a 4CV from the 1950s.
This was then followed, In the early 1960s when the company introduced the top selling Renault 4, of which 8,126,200 were produced before production was stopped in 1992.
All of which is highlighted to show the long lineage and history behind the company and its vehicles. Renault UK is rightly proud of this history and displays some excellent heritage videos on its YouTube channel seen below. Subscribe for access to much, much more.
MotorMartin has previously looked at the French love of avant-garde motoring when testing the Citroën C4 Cactus https://motormartin.wordpress.com/2015/11/01/citroen-cactus-prickly-when-wet/ and it would appear that Renault also enjoy drinking from the same, extravagant cup. Mainstream (if that’s the right word) French car design has achieved somewhat of a renaissance in the last couple of years through Citroën and their DS programme whilst Renault have the Kadjar, Captur, Clio, Twizzy, Zoe and Twingo as well as the imminent arrival of the new Megane. Exciting to look at, different from your Fords and Vauxhalls, yet still instilling in the consumer a strong feeling of brand loyalty.
All of which brings us to today’s vehicle of choice for MotorMartin’s latest drive out, about and around the busy streets contained within the City of Bradford in West Yorkshire. With a typical mix of Dual Carriageway, A and B roads applenty as well as tight Victorian streets to navigate around, it really is the perfect environment in which to highlight the ‘real life’ credentials of a City Car.
Renault’s own literature starts by telling us how they have gone back to their roots when designing this new Twingo, going on to say how it encompasses a pinch of R5 Turbo, a hint of First Generation Twingo and a touch of Renault DNA. The Twingo resembles its predecessors and is the stuff of dreams. It is a car of its time: current, smart, modular and connected like the Renault family. They go on to say that by drawing on the marque’s emotional and sporting heritage, the designers have been able to re-interpret selected iconic Renault features such as the tailgate angle, sculpted sides, small round lights or rectangular headlights, all of which hint to the past. Crikey, they’ve certainly been busy.
MotorMartin admires the strength and boldness of the design. Renault have indeed successfully looked at their past to come up with their future. I particularly like the sculptured doors and how the stripe along the side follows the flow of the indents. The Twingo looks tall as the engine is rather cleverly situated at the rear of the car underneath the boot and is used to drive the rear wheels like a Porshe 911. Anyone expecting Porshe levels of grip and handling though will be slightly disappointed, however the extra weight over the rear wheels gives a driving experience slightly different from the more usual Corsa and Fiesta. Discussion of the driving and handling will follow in part 2 later.
Whether it’s the changing landscape of car buying or the higher expectations of the consumer, it’s clear that manufacturers are putting in as much, if not more, thought and effort into the design and execution of their ideas when it comes to City Cars. The Twingo has a high seating position and short bonnet due to the placement of the engine which allows for excellent viewing and a feeling of space within the cabin whilst the noise of the engine is now further away from the driver allowing for a more relaxed, quiet drive.
The overall look of the Renault is certainly distinctive and allows it to stand out from the crowd. As tested, the white is fresh and contrasts beautifully with the subtle pinstripes around the sides, a classy look I’m sure you’ll agree and one which should age well whilst not suffering from the vagaries of fashion.
Once inside, the driving position is commanding and gives a feeling of safety due to the excellent all round visibility and raised seating as previously discussed. It’s easy to get comfortable with the comfortable seat being adjustable for height and the steering wheel can be placed exactly where you want it. Looking around the dashboard your attention is immediately taken with the rather funky looking speedo directly in front of you, the semi-circular shape giving a neat, retro look and feel to the dials.
The white and black colours of the exterior are repeated throughout the interior which, for MotorMartin, gives the dashboard, door cards, seats and central column a much more cohesive look and one that I approve. Revisiting the previous comment about Manufacturers and their attention to detail on City Cars, it is inside the Twingo where we find Renault working at the top of their game and providing the consumer with that indefinable something that makes you chose one car over another.
A final point to make about the ‘real life’ ability of the Twingo is provided by Renault themselves as they talk about the practicality of the Twingo’s design and that by putting the engine in the back means there is no loading lip to the boot floor – so it’s easy to lift items in and out of the boot – and the split folding rear seats fold flat with
the boot, making the space practical. What’s more, the brochure continues to point out, the front passenger seat folds down, giving 2.3m of load length. In addition to the impressive boot space, there are also stowage spaces around the car for smaller items, such as rear door pockets, space under the rear seats and a storage space in front of the gear stick. It’s clear that someone who actually drives in town has had a hand in what the driver might actually need if the Twingo is to be without compromise around town.
First impressions then are excellent. I like the look and feel of the Twingo. Everything feels well put together, well thought out and yet the Renault looks fresh and exciting amongst its peers. If there is a downside it’s possibly that the rear leg room is not great when the driver’s seat is pushed fully back but that’s hardly a unique issue with cars of this size. Well done Renault.
Technology, roadholding, engine and feel will be looked at in Part 2 of Renault Twingo: French Fancy where MotorMartin will decide if it’s Twinstop or Twingo. So far it’s a MotorMartin well done to the team at Renault.
Where will you go?