This week DTW has the new Toyota Aygo on test. Launched at the 2014 Geneva motor show, it´s only just arrived on the market. So, how did the car fare during a punishing three day investigation involving child-seats, sand and small pebbles?
The engine is the 59 HP 1.0 VVTi in-line three pot. The “VVT” part stands for variable valve timing which has been around since 1996. The bore and stroke are 71 mm and 84 mm respectively. The Aygo comes with stop-start technology and this functioned well enough for me to learn to trust it. It can start the car faster than I could and this eliminated a lot of useless idling while waiting at lights. Simply stop the car, take your foot off the clutch and the engine cuts. When you stand on the clutch again the engine fires up…and off you go. The rest of the engineering details are at the automatic washer-drier level and I will scoot past them. But it has rear drum brakes, I note.
We´re in the era of cars as marketing and the Aygo, as a value-led proposition, is all about customisation and personalisation … just like a 1960s Mustang, but with a very much smaller engine. Toyota make a big deal of the number of variations available and there are lots and lots and lots of them. The rental firm who provided this car served up a black on white version, which reminded me of the 1986 Alfa Romeo 75 which also had a thick slather of plastic stretching from nose to tail. I don´t find the possibility of personalisation all that appealing. I want useful choice, thanks. What matters to me is the car underneath: is it any good or not? I hope one can walk into a Toyota showroom and pay someone to tick the boxes so as to speed one’s exit from the premises without having to assess 3938497 possible combinations. Choosing between three colours of plastic exterior trim alone would give me a nose bleed.
The car´s styling is striking but also very post-modern. This not a minimal car in the VW Up mould. Form and function have parted company at Toyota. Most of the black graphics at the front are decorative (see the photo below). The rear is more convincing and I rather like it. If some people find the severity of the Up! family more appealing I could well understand.
Which version, sir?
Today´s car is the x-play version; base models don´t get the split-folding seats and rev-counter. The rental firm had added some options such as the reversing camera and alloy wheels. That made this car somewhat different from the UK models, being somewhere between the second and third of five trim levels (from £9800 to £11,000). Compared to a larger car, I missed nothing except a decent ashtray. Maybe one-hit electric window controls might have been nice for the driver´s side. The rear windows are of the push-out type, a solution I remember from someone´s Corolla in the 70s. So Toyota do respect tradition after all.
Comfort and space?
It´s been at least fifteen years since I drove something so small: that was a Smart car which had no back seats at all. And no boot. Since then I have been living it up in in mid-size cars and bigger. So, there was a little acclimatisation to do but not much. The rear seats
of the Aygo are quite acceptable for children in terms of space. But they may dislike the consequences of the high, rising waistline (see the photo below). They don´t have a good view out sideways and see nothing in front but the gap between the front seats and a lot of grey upholstery. I sat in the back and found the side-glass so small as to be reminiscent of the window of a jet airplane. The next thing to note is the very tiny boot. Toyota UK quote the volume with luggage packed up to the roof as being 198 litres. I think few will like driving with the rear window obscured. If you pack to the level of the top of the rear seat there´s 168 litres, enough to hold one medium sized wheelie suitcase and some small squashy things jammed around it. With the rear seats down, two adults could, however, pack enough for a driving holiday and even take back some souvenirs.
The front seats are comfortable though I am dead average in size and weight, note. The height and tilt-angle of the base adjust in a combined movement (shades of the Peugeot 604?) while the speedo and steering column can be tilted up and down thought not so very much – was it really worth it to engineer eight degrees of motion? Ergonomically nothing stood out, barring the juvenile graphics of the dash-mounted screen. The clock graphic has the image of reflections and looks to be angled to the driver. If this could be changed I didn´t find out how. The HVAC controls, while not exactly butter-smooth, made sense and I liked the fact they were mechanical. If you turn up the air flow to full-blast the air-vent can be made to whistle at tremendous volume. It was very confusing but a quick twiddle of the eye-ball-style vent made the noise go away.
The car is nimble with a decent ride. I was impressed at the car´s grip and willingness to be chucked around tight corners. The vehicle´s construction is such that it feels tightly screwed together but the absence of sound-proofing somewhere under the body work means you hear the thumps of the road and the engine roars loudly when you accelerate from stand-still. It should be borne in mind that the engine actually sounds alright. It has a bit of a growl and reminded me in a vague way of the Citroen 2CV’s twin-pot air-cooled motor. At 100 km per hour the Aygo´s interior is quiet enough to have a relaxed conversation. As it is, the car is actually fun and practical enough; oddly, driving around town was where I didn´t feel as if the car was as small as it really is. The fact you can´t see the frontal extremities doesn´t help.The parking camera is a dangerous device. It makes you forget to look at the side mirrors unless you concentrate.
The steering is direct and the turn-in is as good as I could expect of such a car; better than that, I think it had no slop at all and is quite direct. The car seemed to do what I wanted as soon I asked it. Less pleasant, the gearchange had a notchy quality, especially in the upper speeds (five in all). I also found it harder than I expected to anticipate the recommended upshifts and downshifts.
Economy and numbers and calculations
DTW´s test covered 268 km of varied driving. The car needed 14.77 litres, or 3.2 gallons of petrol. That means it consumed petrol at the rate of 52 miles per gallon with two adults, two children and a boot full of luggage. However, Toyota claim 68.9 miles per gallon on the combined cycle. The fuel tank holds 35 litres or 7.7 gallons. At our observed rate of fuel consumption one can travel 404 miles between refills. That means that if you drive from Calais to Cap Ferrat, you may only need to refuel at the half way stage, six hours into the trip, between Dijon and Lyon. You won´t need to refuel again before reaching your destination.
What I learned from this experience is that there might very well be a space in the market for an Aygo with 390 litre boot. I liked the low price, the fuel-efficiency and the features but not the tiny boot. The kids are too small to complain about the roominess or lack of it. As a driver, I could imagine being able to take this car a long way in one day. Stopping this from being a viable proposition is the tiny boot which is “a squash and a squeeze” (as Julia Donaldson might say). But if you do want a bigger boot you generally get a car with a longer wheelbase as well: you go up a class. Yet there must be a lot of families with one or two kids under eight who don´t need the rear passenger space so much as boot space. Cars with these characteristics exist in other markets: the Honda Brio or the new saloon version of the Ka, for example. I think that whatever other motoring writers say about small saloons (they often are not pretty), they are very useful for parents and their small children on the move. If you want a car this small with a big boot, you´ll have to go and get a ’94 VW Polo saloon.
The Aygo offered fun driving, decent refinement, very acceptable fuel consumption and useful performance. The downsides are almost unavoidable corollaries of the car´s advantages: the small boot, noisy suspension and absent luxuries. Where I would suggest some euros could be spent on the car is in better interior lighting. Both the boot and the rear passenger area lack lights and for parents fiddling with seat-buckles or trying to find lost toys this can be a pain. But that´s about it.
Verdict: fun motoring and practicality at a reasonable price.
The Aygo in numbers (source: Toyota UK)
Exterior length (mm) 3455
Exterior width (mm) 1615
Exterior height (mm) 1460
Front tread (mm) 1425
Rear tread (mm) 1420
Front overhang (mm) 675
Rear overhang (mm) 440
Turning radius (m) (x grade/ all other grades) 4.8/5.1
Interior length (mm) 1630
Interior width (mm) (5dr/3dr)1300/1250
Interior height (mm) 1205
Gross vehicle weight (kg) 1240
Kerb weight (kg) 840-910
VDA luggage capacity, up to tonneau cover, rear seat up (litres) 168 Luggage capacity, up to roof, rear seat up (litres)198