DSC_0346_editedBoth Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1 have received the lions share of early publicity, states Iain P W Robertson, which makes the impactful Toyota no less relevant, thanks to its major frontal impact. 

Do not regard the latest Toyota Aygo as being the Japanese-badged variant of Europe’s biggest small car story. You do it and yourself a disfavour. Apart from some very minor trim details, the Aygo is the same as the 108, which is the same as the C1. Yet, that is not point, because the Toyota junior-leaguer manages to introduce a fresh face to its new city-car standard, as built in Kolin, Czech Republic.

As a young fellow, seeking to buy a runabout during the heyday of consummate British badge-engineering, it was the line-up of Issigonis designed 1100/1300 models that were in huge demand. Confronted with a choice of the, then, best-selling models in Great Britain, I could have picked from Austin, Morris, Wolseley, Riley, MG and even Van den Plas versions of the A-Series powered, stretched Mini. You might recall them. They were certainly ubiquitous. However, they also appealed to a quite different series of buyers, from staid to sporty and old-style to ‘new skool’.

Customers still buy on badge value and Toyota has an indomitable image to carry off in the city car arena, its previous version of the Aygo busting preconceptions that ‘only people over the age of 50 years buy new city cars’. Targeting the younger generation may have been determined as short-sighted but it proved to be eminently fruitful for the Japanese and world giant, as the Aygo cut across both age and class barriers, probably more so than its near-identical Peugeot and Citroen sister models.

While Toyota, as a brand and with an immense mix of current models aimed at all sectors of the new car scene, is still worryingly free of a proper, stand-out design direction, the new Aygo boosts its corporate ‘ego’ with the newcomer. Yet, looking at the latest variant, with its ‘X-Factor’ nose, if it is not offered as an obvious prize to viewers tuning into another tedious series of Simon Cowell’s ‘Syco Productions’ talent show on ITV, then someone in the marketing department at both firms (Toyota and Syco) deserves to be sacked! It is notable that the latest version of the next-up Yaris is also using the Aygo’s frontal inspiration. It makes you wonder if the next generation Auris (built at Derby) and even the larger Avensis might follow suit. At least it is better than brand anonymity.

Bold is the only appropriate word to describe it. The ‘X’ delineates both the lower front bumper and grille areas, while carrying the contrasting band of colour (in the test car’s case, silver) up to the A-pillars and even reappears in trailing form on the lower rear bumper. It is an exceptionally clever device and demonstrates that a sense of fun and even cheek exists within its styling department, which is novel, based on the experiences of recent times. After all, it is style that sells in this sector and the PSA-Toyota combine needed to adopt a different stance to the Bauhaus approach used by VW Group on its rival tiddlers, the Up!-Mii-Citigo trio (if you will pardon the expression). As a result, each of the models is now markedly different to its forebears and its immediate rivals.

Avoiding the obvious ‘yada-yada’ replication of either of the PSA models, the interior is marginally different in the Toyota, almost as though the Japanese ‘triplet’ decided to let his little ‘Froggie’ chums have the colouring pencils. Almost determinedly ‘grey’ throughout, with less than inspiring seat design and fabric choice, even though the front seats and the driving position are now quite excellent, regardless of driver stature, the Toyota is hardly going to win any interior design awards.

The dashboard, inevitably, as a major moulding, is virtually identical to those in the French twin alternatives. Yet, without Toyota’s input, none of the cars would present the stunning clarity of displays and the rather useful centre-of-main-dial digital information cylinder. It is pure Toyota and has been used on various of its models since the last generation Corolla, which means for quite some time now. The main switchgear is also Toyota-centric and, for that, all owners need to be exceedingly grateful, as the various switching blocks are indomitably dependable and very durable, which is not a compliment levelled at French carmakers very often. The rest of the design has been carried virtually unaltered across the entire range of Kolin models.

It is only by this volume consideration that each of them is able to start precariously close to an £8,000 base price pegging. Of course, very few people will opt for the bargain basement variant, because they want some joy in their lives and, for many of the buyers, dropping ‘down’ to an Aygo (or the other pair) should not mean losing out on the creature comforts front. Well, despite the hard plastic mouldings and overall greyness, the Toyota Aygo is the most expensive of all the versions I have now driven, at a far from cost-effective £12,190, in ‘x-clusive’, 5-door form, in which only metallic paint (+£495) appears to be the lone extra-cost item. Still, Toyota has a tendency to ‘over-price’ of late, so I am unsurprised.

Beneath the bonnet is the ‘yada-yada’, same engine as the 108 and C1, in 1.0-litre, 69bhp form, hooked up to a 5-speed, slick-shifting, manual transmission. It feels and sounds exactly the same as its far-from-identical twin sisters, which also comes as no surprise. Thanks to the weight reduction programme undergone by these superminis, the performance is lively and engaging enough, without setting the heather alight. However, closing the rear doors reveals that they feel both light and flimsy and it might be interesting to see how long they survive in resisting car park dings. Personally, and I think that the difference lies in the lower overall gearing, the VW family of small models feels a lot livelier and none of them bogs down in town, the way that the Kolin 1.0-litre does, while still returning decent fuel figures.

Its 0-60mph benchmark time of 14.0 seconds is acceptable but you need to rev-off its nuts to deliver that time consistently. Most of the time, the car will feel interminably slow, even in the city traffic Grand Prix. However, that is no reason to slate the Aygo, because it remains competitive with its rivals, as reflected by its top speed of just 99mph. I can tell you that, given a tail-wind and a generous downhill gradient, if not quite Beachy Head, the ‘Go Fun Yourself’ Aygo will top its conservative claim quite readily!

It is an endearingly charming little engine, with its slightly off-beat triple wail accompanying every accelerative spurt, and the mid-range pull is not bad at all thanks to a moderate amount of torque, or pulling power. However, where it gains is in its reported frugality and low operating costs. Its Official Combined fuel return is given as 68.9mpg and it is feasible to run that figure quite close, without trying too hard. I obtained 64.5mpg in a mix of town and country punting that was immense fun.

A VED band of ‘A’ means a zero-cost tax disc, thanks to the engine’s lowly 95g/km CO2 rating, while 7E insurance rating (interestingly, not as cheap as my Skoda Citigo’s 2E quotation) ensures that most overheads will fall into the cost-effective classification. It is worth noting that the previous generation models from Kolin were among the most reliable of any European production cars and I cannot see that situation changing at all. Were you to opt for an Aygo as a company car, then the BIK is a mere 11%, which also reinforces its overall message.

While trying to avoid the competitor references, everything else about Aygo is identical to 108 and C1, so I have little else to offer, except to suggest that the Kolin-produced range of city cars has placed a marker in the sand to any potential rivals and that, in terms of driveability, space utilisation, practicality, frugality, comfort and styling, it takes some beating.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).