The 2015 Renault Twingo, the product of a Renault- Mercedes joint venture, is well-armed to be a winner in its specific niche—a strictly urban runabout for short trips. With its little engine tucked beneath the floor ahead of the rear axle, the front wheels can assume extreme steering angles that make for a far tighter turning circle than typical front-wheel-drive compacts.

For the first day, we drove the almost top model, with an 898cc, turbocharged version of the three-cylinder Smart block shared with the forthcoming Smart Forfour. It was a disappointment. There’s plenty of power, but its delivery is annoyingly irregular. A constant throttle results in unpleasant surges, not linear acceleration. The variable-ratio electric power steering feels imprecise, and the car doesn’t seem to track steadily. Ride quality, on the optional 16-inch aluminum wheels, is mediocre at best. We remarked on this to Christian Steyer, the straight talking chief engineer for the Twingo project, and after confirming what we’d observed, he assured us that all would be well by the time deliveries began.

Seeing red: Available red accents and an excellent nav system are highlights of the Twingo interior.

An afternoon of highway driving in the 2015 Renault Twingo revealed some positives, such as the exceptionally comfortable seats; fine climate control; and an accurate, easy-to-understand (optional) navigation system. Interior trim fit and finish is very good—for a Renault, extraordinary. The overall impression was of a potentially outstanding but seriously underdeveloped product.

The second day’s drive was in the lower-powered, bigger-displacement, naturally aspirated 70-hp base model, which wears 15-inch steel wheels. It was a revelation. Power was more than adequate and delivery was smooth. Fixed-ratio steering, still electrically assisted, is a bit slower than the variable unit but far more agreeable in its sense of precise response. The entry-level navigation system, standard in all models equipped with a radio, is simply a Bluetooth connection to your smartphone, which can be plugged in for a constant recharge. It works beautifully.

Twingo unchained: The lovable first Renault Twingo debuted two decades ago. The latest version was co-developed with the new Smart Forfour.

On the labyrinthine route through the city of Nantes, France, the justification for the rear engine was clear. Not one four-seat city car, from the Fiat 500 to the Opel Agila, could have followed the new 2015 Renault Twingo; they are all constrained by the limitations of their steering angles due to to front-wheel drive.

The entry-level Twingo costs $13,960 in France, and a loaded-up SL Edition One tops out at $20,295, including France’s 20 percent value added tax. Quite a bargain.

The base model, which preceded the turbocharged variant in the development process, is a terrific vehicle, and its excellent behavior leads us to believe Monsieur Steyer’s assurance that all will be good with the turbo by time it debuts. Once people experience the agility and maneuverability of the 2015 Renault Twingo, we’d be surprised if others don’t take up rear engines. Again.

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