It is always tempting with a half price hot hatch to seek out the maximum performance per pound, but seeing as our last guide to the Suzuki Swift Sport went down so well we’ve instead directed our attention towards another minnow in the hot hatch gene pool.
That car is the Renaultsport Twingo 133, and to read the stats you might well wonder if it isn’t a Swift Sport by another name. Both, for example, weigh in at around 1050kg and are powered by 1.6-litre engines that produce 118lb ft of torque at an identical 4,400rpm. The Suzuki has three extra horsepower but the Renault edges it in top speed by 4mph. In the 0-62mph sprint there’s nothing in it at 8.7 seconds apiece.
However, all that is pure coincidence (or if not then pure competitiveness) because the two cars use completely different engines, with the Twingo’s being borrowed from a Clio of the same era. What the two cars do share is the same sense of being the cheeky upstart, with all the aggressive bodystyling of a fully fledged hot hatch but delivered with less power and at a significantly lower cost. On that front to buy new back in 2008 the Renaultsport Twingo 133 cost from just £11,550 for the standard model, or £12,200 for the more extreme Cup version, and these days both fall well within our self-imposed half price restriction, with listings on the CarGurus website kicking off at just under £3000.
As for the differences between the two, the Cup featured a ride height lowered by 4mm, 17-inch wheels in place of the standard 16-inch rims, and springs and dampers that were 10 per cent stiffer. The two-piece sliding and folding rear seats were also replaced with a one-piece bench to save weight, and the standard car’s air-conditioning and automatic lights and wipers were ditched. If that equipment cull sounds too hardcore but you like the idea of the stiffer suspension it’s worth knowing it was possible when the car was new to specify a standard model with the Cup chassis.
Both standard and Cup receive thicker anti-roll bars and a wider front and rear track than a standard Twingo, while the engine’s four-into-one manifold give these little cars a distinctively hard-edged growl.
Climb inside the Twingo 133 and although the seating position is lower than the standard car’s and the seats feature thicker side bolsters to hold you in place, it’s still hard to escape the feeling you are perched up high rather hunkered down in the cabin. The steering could do with a wider range of adjustment too, but you’ll forgive it these foibles the moment the first corner arrives. Boy does this car handle well.
That’s particularly the case if you’ve got the Cup chassis underneath, which all but eliminates any body lean and gives unbelievable levels of grip for what is basically still a city car underneath. What we have here is one of those rare cars in which it feels like you can turn in at virtually any speed, or plant the throttle at any point in the corner, and it’ll just go wherever the steering is pointing.
The trade-off is that the Cup chassis makes the Twingo ride with all the give of a concrete slab. Along a typical British B-road it’s firm and then some, which will no doubt put a lot of people off. If that’s the case the standard Twingo 133 on its smaller wheels and more compliant suspension breathes more easily over bumps and still corners better than most other small cars on the road.
In either instance the engine is solidly good rather than spectacularly great. It starts to move with intent beyond about 3000rpm, and then gives a little kick again at 4500rpm to take it through to its 7000rpm redline. Given that peak power is reached only just before that point it’s clear you need to work the engine to get the best from this car, and it’s hard not to think that it’d have benefitted from a gearbox with six speeds rather than the five it’s got, not to mention a sweeter shifter action. However, at the kind of budget we are looking at such faults should be easy to overlook.
If you’ve got your heart set on a car with the Cup chassis (be it the full Cup model or the more sensibly equipped standard 133 with Cup suspension) do a decent test drive to be sure you can live with the hard ride. In the process listen for any knocks from the front of the car. If it occurs when you accelerate it’s likely to be worn engine mounts, whereas if the knocking is a result of turning a corner suspect worn ball joints in the lower suspension arms. In either instance you’re looking at a couple of hundred pounds to put things right. An engine that isn’t willing to rev could just be in need of a new coil pack, which is a simple DIY job and shouldn’t cost much more than £20 for the part.
Inside the car check the carpets are dry and that the LCD speedo display that sits atop the dash is good and bright.
As far as paperwork goes you’re looking for as much history as possible, with evidence of servicing every year or 12,000 miles. The engine needs a new cambelt at five years or 72,000 miles, but many Twingo owners prefer to do it sooner as a precaution.
If you’re after a slightly rarer model look for a car in Gordini or Silverstone trim, which added things like leather trim or numbered plaques, or track down a facelifted Twingo 133 from 2012 onwards – these are easy to identify on account of their distinctive (or should that be divisive?) headlight arrangement.
Whatever Twingo 133 you choose you can rest assured you’ll own a proper Renaultsport product from an era when the French company was building some of the best hot hatches around – and all for less than half its original price.
Renaultsport Twingo 133
Power: 131bhp @ 6,750rpm/118lb ft @ 4,400rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds
Top speed: 125mph
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