Renault's trim Twingo combines clever packaging with engineering gusto
If we accept that people will probably use cars in cities for several decades to come, it bears looking at the genre with a bit more scrutiny. So what is a city car? In years gone by, it was shorthand for a smaller, more agile automobile that you could happily sacrifice to the bump, grind and shunt of commuter traffic.
Renault's new Twingo has all the makings of a machine for the modern metropolis. The best small cars have always combined clever packaging with engineering gusto. Alec Issigonis was able to squash the original Mini into its tiny footprint thanks to the transversely mounted engine that gave the car its seminal two-box shape, while the original brief for the Citroen 2CV was to bring cheap transportation to rural France (legendarily or apocryphally tasked with carrying a basket of eggs across a ploughed field). Fiat's seminal 500 achieved its snub-nosed silhouette thanks to a rasping rear-mounted engine - Dante Giacosa reasoned that most urbane Italians would be unlikely to need all that much luggage space.
The Twingo also puts its power plant in the rear, resulting in a trim silhouette with ample interior space (and a slighter smaller boot). The result is a characterful, elegant and competitive city car that escapes the rather babyish tropes of the genre. Of course you can still 'enhance' your Twingo with all manner of colours and stickers, referencing the 1970s era of car design when the Renault 5 reigned supreme (sold as the 'Le Car' in the USA) and cutesy limited editions were all the rage, but the Twingo looks best in simple bold colours.
There's also the option of docking your own smartphone with the dash to provide navigation and streaming or using the own-brand 'R-Link' multi-media system, which distinguishes itself by being simple, intuitive and fast. In fact, almost everything about the Twingo is dependably appealing. Most refreshingly of all, Renault isn't trying too hard to impress by imposing a self-conscious 'character' on the car.
The Twingo's big secret is that under the skin it was co-developed with Smart, so whether you chose the chic French outfit or the multi-coloured German kit (sold as the larger Forfour model) is very much down to personal taste. Utilitarian car design is very much a thing of the past, but the Twingo makes a fine job of delivering the bare minimum required by a demanding world.
Even so, our perception of car size has changed - the Twingo might look appealingly small in isolation but set it alongside any of its urban antecedents and it looks tall and chunky. But as a tastefully appointed everyday car for everyday life, the Twingo is very near perfect.