The original smiley-face Twingo wasn’t junior hot hatch material. Twingo 2, however, turned out to be extremely receptive to the Renault Sport treatment. Launched in 2008, the Twingo 133 was aimed at a younger market than most RS offerings, which meant it had to be cheap to buy, run and – crucially – insure.
So, its naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four made a modest-sounding 131bhp at 6750rpm. However, with just 1050kg to pull, that was enough to propel the RS Twingo to 62mph in a decently brisk 8.7sec. It loved to rev, too, and had a properly sporty exhaust note. With sweet steering, good traction, and a playfully adjustable handling balance, the Twingo 133 really was made of the Right Stuff.
On the outside were wheelarch and sill extensions to cover the 40mm-wider track; inside you got sports seats and neat details like a green change-up light on the rev-counter.
Which Renault Twingo RS 133 to buy?
At launch there were three variations. The regular 133 Sport had 16in alloys, tinted rear glass, split-folding rear seats and manual air con. You could have the same car with the Cup chassis option, featuring lower and stiffer suspension and 17in alloys, for £650 over the basic £11,550 list price. Or you could have the 133 Cup, which had the Cup chassis but went further by ditching some of the kit – most obviously the air con and the split-fold rear seats – to save weight.
We had mixed feelings about the Cup chassis. On smooth roads at the launch, the Cup felt unequivocally the one to have. Back home, whereas the standard setup seemed nicely judged for a junior hot hatch, the Cup gave an unsettlingly bouncy ride on the sort of back-roads the Twingo should have been made for. Brilliant on trackdays, though, especially with the ESP disabled.
In 2012 the Twingo received a facelift to bring the looks into line with the rest of the RS range. It also gained a bigger rear spoiler, some interior tweaks and the addition of Liquid Yellow paint to the options list (at £1300!). Mechanically it was pretty much as before, and basic list was now £13,565.
Special editions include the Gordini – available pre and post facelift, with all the options plus leather and stripes – and the pre-facelift-only Silverstone, a run of just 50 cars with a silver/black colour scheme, Cup spec and a new stainless steel exhaust system.
The hot Twingo was never a big seller in the UK (2009 was its best year, with around 300 sold) but it’s starting to gain a following. With the rear-engine, rear-drive Twingo 3 so far proving rather less fun than that recipe suggests, this is still the best way to enjoy some RS magic in a bite-size package.
Performance and specs
||In-line four-cylinder, 1598cc
||131bhp @ 6750rpm
||118lb ft @ 4400rpm
||Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
|Price when new
Dimensions and weight
• The engine is based on the 109bhp 1.6 from various Clios and Méganes but with more aggressive cams, a higher compression ratio, and a revised intake and exhaust. Mike Mardlin at specialist Rentech says it’s proving generally very reliable, provided it’s serviced to schedule, which is every year or 12,000 miles, whichever’s sooner.
• The major service is at six years or 72,000 miles and includes the cambelt, water pump, filters, plugs, etc. It’s a labour-intensive job – Rentech charges around £750 – but the alternative is a potentially engine-wrecking failure.
• Induction kits and sports exhausts make the engine sound rortier, but, being naturally aspirated, there’s no shortcut to big power gains. RS specialist K-Tec developed a tuning package with a new exhaust system, including K-Tec’s own tubular manifold, a Cat Cams camshaft, and a remap. K-Tec claims 163bhp at 7050rpm and 142lb ft at 4250rpm, gains of 32bhp and 24lb ft. It certainly feels a chunk quicker than standard, if not quite that quick, but at £2600 it isn’t cheap.
• The engine should idle smoothly and pull cleanly, although, as Mike says, ‘You really have to rev the nuts off it!’ If it doesn’t, it’s probably an inexpensive coil pack that needs replacing.
• All Twingo RSs have an old-school five-speed manual gearbox. Some cars seem to suffer a slightly obstructive shift action from fourth to fifth, so that’s worth checking; otherwise, no particular issues.
• Lower-arm ball joints are probably the Twingo RS’s biggest weakness, says Mike, and you have to replace the whole front lower suspension arm. It’s not hugely expensive – reckon on around £250 for the parts and labour – but it is a recurring issue, so do listen for any untoward knocks and clonks on the test drive and bargain accordingly.
• As wheels are easily swapped between Twingos, it’s also worth ascertaining that you’re looking at a genuine Cup chassis – one way is to check for a purple code patch on the rear dampers and springs.
• Check the boot-release works – they can fail, often because of water ingress, but are cheap to replace. Another common fault is water ingress under the scuttle panel, so check the front footwells for any sign of dampness.
• Check that all the electrics work, including the air con. The Twingo is good here compared with some Renaults, but does have the odd glitch. And check the LCD displays are fully functioning – some fade and a replacement costs hundreds.
Slightly less hardcore than the Twingo, particularly when the Renault is in Cup form, the 134bhp Swift is still a great drive in its own right. £3000-4500 gives a wide choice.
There are plenty of Coopers, both first and second generation, for £3000-4000. They’re not quite as feisty as the Twingo, but they are still fun. Ubiquity puts some people off, though.
If you want a bigger hit from a Renault Sport hatch, then £3000-4000 also buys you the exuberant Clio 182 Cup (’04-’06) or the slightly more grown-up 197 Cup (’07-’09).
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Privately advertised early cars with higher mileages can be had for as little as £3000, with similar high-milers at traders from £3500, but in all cases you’re looking for evidence of meticulous upkeep. Also be aware of the major service due at six years or 72,000 miles. If that’s approaching, start haggling.
Buying privately, £3500-4000 should get you a nice 2009-2011 example with average miles and a solid history. Post-facelift cars are £5000-plus.
Words: Peter Tomalin