Quick Drive: Tango with the Renault Twingo 133 Cup

By James Wong

Sometimes too much power can be overwhelming. This sounds a bit impossible to those accustomed with the mantra ‘power is better’. Sit behind the wheel of some cars though, and a certain something in you cowers in fear, secretly hoping that you didn’t have the responsibility of driving it. You just wouldn’t make full use of the power, not on the public road, because the car just doesn’t inspire the confidence for all-out driving. Not so for the Twingo 133 Cup, which cleanly falls into the category of cars that you just want to wring out to within an inch of its life. You know the type – a revvy, naturally aspirated engine with just enough muscle to fling a lightweight body to the horizon. The Japanese Domestic Make (JDM) Civic Type-R captures this description to the highest degree, but the 133 Cup is a distilled version, although no less diluted.

The 133 Cup is the cheapest entry into Renaultsport ownership and it shows in some ways. Take the door panels, which are covered in hollow, hard plastics. There is nothing much soft to touch in the interior save for what’s important – the supple and supportive Recaro seats, the leather-wrapped steering wheel with the yellow centre indicator and the ergonomic short-shifting leather and metallic gear lever. The gearbox also features 5 gears which is a bit archaic in this day and age. The rear Twingo logo on the bootlid is also printed, unlike the metal badges that we’re so used to. But, for the money it is reasonable considering that the car retains Twingo practicalities, such as a ridiculously spacious interior with comfortable seating for 4 adults. Coupled with the fact that it is a full-blown Renaultsport product and the car does start to appear like a bargain.

The car appeared attractive from photos; seeing it in the metal confirmed that the anthracite wheels, hunkered stance, stealth rear wing and short wheelbase combination is subtle yet effective. Although the exhaust pipe is rather insubstantial, the engine ticks over cleanly and is as refined as any modern petrol four pot, reverberating with a fruity exhaust note. I considered a few moments the effective gearshifts and nicely-weighted clutch before I set off in first gear. Immediately the steering felt interactive and meaty, although I cannot say that it gave a go-kart feel like the steering in a Mini. Low to mid-end torque was reasonable although it was nothing to shout about. I entered the motorway to let the engine get to temperature.

The Cup model features additional tweaks to the suspension and promises sharper handling from the Twingo. Its chassis feels taut and stiff, making the rock hard suspension even more obvious when crossing over bumps and potholes. I could foresee this car feeling uncomfortable for passengers who can’t feel the benefits of the increased dampening resistance: this car handles like a true Renaultsport.

Having driven the Megane 250 Cup, I was eager to explore the capabilities of the 133 Cup. Although I stopped short of bringing the car to its limits, it didn’t disappoint. Turn-in was precise and calculated, the chassis moving in a single piece up and down the undulations of the road, showing its incredible stiffness which inspired confidence. The suspension was thumping along the broken road but it made up for it with minimal roll through the roundabouts. It felt as if the car was exploiting every bit of grip that the tyres could offer through the corners.

Now that the engine is warm, I blipped a few gears down to see what it could offer. The pedals were well-placed and throttle response was sharp – a surprise given what expectations 133bhp would first give to a keen driver. Heel-and-toe was a simple affair; it was as if a test driver was with the product development team telling them repeatedly how the pedals should be placed. It really felt that intuitive. From second, the engine spinning around 3,000 RPM, the car did not feel blistering fast but it was quick as it picked up speed from 30mph. The engine is eager and keen, trying its best to give all it has got even though it might not be much. The fact that it tries so hard is already satisfaction; you just want to rev this engine hard to keep the pace up, as it spins cleanly towards its redline. The close ratio gearbox also gave the illusion that the car is quicker than it really is – no bad thing as it meant it was really easy to get to the engine’s power band. Before I knew it, I was already hitting 85mph before I had to back off.

Returning back to normal motorway speeds of 60mph, the car’s 5th gear was still very short, letting the engine spin at a slightly uncomfortable 3,000rpm. The cabin remained quiet although the car felt much happier hitting the B-roads than to cruise on the motorway. If the 133 Cup had one Achilles heel this would be it.

Turning into the parking lot, I switched the engine off and sat cushioned in the body hugging seats. There is simply no denying that this is a quality product from the driver’s perspective. It is amazing how little things count for so much, like the size of the steering wheel, the contours of the seats and the short gear lever, and the Twingo has got those nailed. Yet the 133 Cup gets the big things right too – it handles superbly, the engine suitably energetic and the interior space cavernous. But you have that nagging feeling that the chassis could handle more power. It wouldn’t have hurt for Renaultsport to have added another 20-30bhp to the car. But wanting more power would be splitting hairs – the car does the basics superbly and it is a great driver’s car.  It’s definitely a Renaultsport product alright.

Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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