Toyota’s little car for big-city driving

The Aygo is a hip-looking budget car, but it could do with a more powerful engine – and VW Group’s more conservative, solid city cars have more buyer appeal

Make: Toyota

Model: Aygo

Year: 2014

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: August 22, 2014

Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 01:00

   

The city-car market can be divided into two camps: a Franco-Japanese alliance that faces off against a German-led Iberio-Czech union. Sounds like a right international ding-dong? Welcome to the globalised motor industry.

But, as with most big international battles, it’s largely based on a fallacy. In this particular conflict the target is control of the city-car market, which has long proved to be a busted flush. According to the “experts”, motorists are eager to downsize from large, spacious saloons into superminis, and from family hatchbacks into miniature budget fare. So far the figures fail to support the supposition.

That’s actually a blessed relief for the motor industry, as city cars are largely sold to people interested in only the most basic form of private transport. These buyers like the convenience of being able to control their own time of departure and route – and probably don’t want to have to sit beside the chatty nose-picker on the bus – but they have no interest in things like performance or handling dynamics. An engine, a roof and a cushioned seat: that’s largely the be all and end all of the city-car buyer’s criteria. Throw in a radio and a heater and they’re happy.

The battle for the hearts and minds of these cash-conscious buyers kicked off several years ago when Toyota sat down with the French group PSA Peugeot Citroën to agree to share the cost of producing a city car. From this came the first Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 107 and Citroën C1.

The Germans decided to enter the fray with the VW Up, followed by its siblings the Skoda Citigo and Seat Mii, both in effect re-dressed Ups.

Second wave Now come the second-wave models from the French and Japanese, all rolling out of the same plant in the Czech Republic. Different insignia and dress sense, same budget city car beneath.

Despite the commonalities in all camps, the brands are pitching their little cars as unique. So here we find ourselves in the snappily attired Toyota Aygo. Once more, the target market for the Japanese firm’s small cars is fashion-conscious youngsters looking for a trendy first vehicle. It’s the hip millennial-generation motorist, heading to college and trading in the skateboard for a funky car. You’ve seen the US college movies.

But the only people with the money for these cars are older and often more conservative in their ta- stes. Irish college kids living off grants and graduates eking out a living or on a JobBridge placement aren’t in a position to fork out €13,000 on a new car.

That doesn’t mean the Aygo is without hope: many of the older buyers are young at heart and increasingly tech savvy. They will appreciate the smart interface and connectivity offered in the midrange Aygo, with its seven-inch touch screen.

But even they may wonder about the decision to add a reversing camera to a car that measures in at 3.5m from front bumper to boot. As an average-sized Irishman, I can sit comfortably in the driver’s seat while reaching back and touching the rear-seat headrest. With a bit of a stretch I could probably wipe the back window from the driver’s seat. If you can’t reverse-park this car without the aid of electronics, perhaps you should be on the bus.

The short floorpan also has an impact on rear-seat legroom. While most will opt for five-door versions of the car, a tall front-seat occupant would leave little or no legroom in the back, so be sure to try out the back seat on city cars before you commit.

The Aygo looks smart, although the striking X across the front may not be to everyone’s taste. In keeping with the youthful focus, it comes in a kaleidoscope of colours.

Overall, it’s a welcome alternative to the more conservative styling from the French or the underwhelming looks from the VW Group trio.

Budget car For all the external sparkle, when you open the door you quickly see that this is a budget car, with swathes of hard plastic and the car’s metal in full view. The doors also lack a solid clunk.

The 68bhp three-cylinder, one-litre engine can be a noisy little companion on a trip, with a tendency to hit high notes. We love the enthusiasm of the engine, but even around town you can’t help wishing for a little more power under your right foot. Toyota should have – and clearly could have – pushed the engine closer to 80bhp or even 90bhp. It would have made a significant difference, albeit at the cost of fuel economy.

As it stands the fuel economy is impressive, as low as 4.1l/ 100km (57mpg), with emissions of just 95g/km. Toyota claims it is class-leading and has gone to a great deal of effort with this engine to maximise efficiency. The engineers delivered, as one would expect from Toyota, but they could have leaned a little more on the performance front.

Understandably, given its size, the Aygo nips through tight spots without a care. And it’s quite fun to drive when you ignore the engine noise. The steering is light and the overall impression is of a nimble little handler that could be a lot of fun with a more powerful engine.

The Toyota is more expensive than its Citroën sibling and probably more than the Peugeot, which has yet to release prices. You also only get three years’ warranty compared with five on the Peugeot. In the budget market that should be important. Prices for the Aygo start at €12,625 for an entry-level three-door (without the touch screen), rising to €15,380 for the five-door x-clusiv as tested.

The Volkswagen Up starts at €11,945 for a three-door 75bhp, rising to €15,365 for the five- door High version. That’s competitive for a badge that has as much credibility at the Toyota.

The Skoda and Seat undercut their rivals from France. The best of the lot, it would seem, is the Seat Mii, priced at €10,765 and rising to a maximum of €13,740 with all the styling and accoutrements one needs on a city car: a five-inch touch screen and air con.

The top-of-the-range Up comes with heated seats that seem an odd, rather opulent, feature in a value-based city car, but on a cold winter’s morning they seem a lot more practical than a reversing camera.

The Toyota carries a higher price in part because the badge has greater kudos, and that should mean stronger residual values when you trade it in. But the VW has a similar reputation, and, for all the funky looks of the Aygo, the more conservative, solid looks of the city cars from the German-led union win the day, particularly among the real-life buyers in this market, who are older than the marketing folks would like to think.

The Up or its Skoda and Seat variants would be our favoured choice. Then again, if you have €12,000 to spend, you might also just wander around the used-car lot at the dealership before you sign on the dotted line.

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