Or to put it another way, a week with an Aygo. How did we get on?
It began with a bump. Somebody reversed into the Jag, while it was innocently minding its own business. The damage while not great, will likely be expensive, given the manner in which cars such as the XF are constructed these days. Still, with the guilty party’s insurers footing the bill, such matters are perhaps somewhat academic. The upshot being that while the Jaguar is in for a course of rhinoplasty, we’ve been slumming it in a courtesy car.
I must dutifully point out that Toyota’s smallest offering is not exactly a stranger to DTW’s pages, our resident Mr. Herriott having already written at some length upon his experience with a conventional manual version, but the example we are considering today has been fitted with Toyota’s X-Shift automated manual transmission.
Employing a manual gearbox with an electronically automated clutch, it allows the driver to choose between driving modes; fully automatic or self-shifting, where gears are manually selected either from steering-mounted paddle shifters or using the sequential gear selector.
Somewhat confusing at first sight, the curiously convoluted looking gate offers little to familiarise the user (there was no handbook). The selector hieroglyphics doing little to clarify matters, showing R, N, E, M+, and M-, so for my initial foray, I stayed in auto-mode (E). Driven in this manner the Aygo was slothlike; the gearbox changing up rapidly, making acceleration a rather tepid (and jerky) affair. Rather too much so to be frank, because while it lent the Aygo a somewhat relaxed gait, it did render it something of a mobile chicane.
However, by moving the selector across to the right-hand gate, the driver wrests control over matters, utterly transforming the Toyota’s character. Now the characterful little three cylinder unit can be utilised to the full. Fortunately, it’s an engine which encourages forays into the upper reaches of the rev range, with a very pleasing hard edged induction growl to fire the imagination. Has 68 bhp ever seemed so abundantly euphoric?
With shorter first and second gears than the conventional manual version, the X-Shift Aygo becomes an absolute hoot to punt about, the three cylinder singing its little heart out, zinging through the sequential upshifts (simply pull the selector lever towards you) while pointedly ignoring the spoilsport indicator on the instrument panel which flashes a portentous ‘Shift’ message.
Downshifts are enacted by stabbing forwards on the lever, the system helpfully blipping the throttle as it does so. It’s seamless, quick, easy, and tremendously enjoyable to use – why anyone would bother with paddle shifters is beyond me. (I never use them on the Jag either, to be honest). Driven in this mode, automatic downshifts will still occur, which is an area where the system lacks refinement, sending a disconcerting jerk through the driveline.
But it’s a perfect size for the city, forward visibility is good, with thin pillars and generously sized door mirrors. It’s shorter than you imagine, so it’s simple to place and unlike the Clio of recent memory, the driver has ample rearward and three-quarter vision. Its compact dimensions, willing nature and surprisingly keen acceleration (in manual mode) make it the ideal urban slingshot.
In fact, such is the Aygo’s willing nature, one finds oneself driving the absolute pants off the thing, the upshot being that one is usually travelling faster than advisable. (Which probably does nothing for the fuel economy, or one fears, one’s licence).
Dynamically too the little Toyota impresses. The steering is light, quick, direct and offers no unpleasant surprises, with a decent turning circle and good weighting. Grip and cornering are secure and vice-free within the limitations of the tyre specification, and the ride, while unsettled over bigger undulations and prone to the sort of brittleness one associates with an inexpensive, short-wheelbase economy hatch, is for the most part, pleasantly compliant – certainly the XF’s urban ride quality isn’t noticeably superior. (In fact, it’s frequently worse).
Otherwise, the Toyota is much as previously reported. The interior is well laid out and simple enough to navigate. The switchgear has good push feeling, the stalk controls in particular having a very satisfying action. Although as pointed out by our Danish correspondent, some of the control positioning is less than ideal. Having said that, nothing stands out here as particularly egregious.
While the previous reviewer found the car’s multimedia screen a glaring distraction, this (clearly entry-level) model has no such issues, illustrating that the cheap-seats are very often where the smart money is spent. And while the interior plastics are horrid to the touch, there is a sense of robustness, of cheerful, honest economy to the car without the feeling as though one was being short-changed.
Stylistically, it’s nothing of note. Apart from a couple of pleasing details, (lamps/shutline management) it’s all rather generic, even taking account of the car’s distinctive front-end graphics, which lend it a somewhat Pokemon character I could frankly live without.
But it did lead me to wonder if such a vehicle, styled with less contrivance yet more genuine flair, with an interior which offered a more cheerful ambiance combined with finer materials would not be perhaps all the car I could ever really need?
Sorry, did someone say Lancia?