Welcome to the Cheap Seats

Or to put it another way, a week with an Aygo. How did we get on?

All images (c) Driven to Write

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.

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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?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

22 thoughts on “Welcome to the Cheap Seats”

  1. Ypsilon of course.
    But both its five-door and Dolce Far Niente gearbox (v like the Aygo’s) versions were thoroughly panned by DTW!

    Give it more luggage space and you have a Musa, but for beefier engines you’ll have to make do with Fiat’s Idea — neither, sadly, still made.

  2. Eóin, your final paragraph is, to me, a potential future direction for the design of cars that are actually owned by their drivers to follow.

    I have serious doubts of the ability of the autonomous car to follow anything other than a modern city grid or inter-city highway. I know that 1001 geeks will now put me right on this point..

    Whether they are capable or not, do we want them to? The devices necessary to self-drive are not small to package. Or the design of the vehicle becomes secondary to its on-board devices.

    Big or ugly.

    I am a staunch defender of the car and the individual freedoms it affords us, I am not blind to the problems associated with too many of the damned things on the road.
    Given that I want to stay in my car and enjoy my freedom as long as possible, it stands to reason that smaller vehicles with less agressive personality traits will annoy others less.

    This will only happen if enough people choose to drive them.

    Change must be made to allow this to happen. It is nigh-on impossible to make money on a small car and small is seen as cheap when it comes to cars.

    I look at a Range Rover in the same way as I look at a Purdey shotgun. Each is the ultimate expession of what they are. A weapon of any kind in the wrong place is a threat. Shotguns are for hunting, a Range Rover exists (existed) to get its tyres dirty ferrying the chaps with the Purdeys to where the grouse live. While this was the case when the SUV was in its place.

    Despite having a loathing of people making choices for me, surely it is time we legislated the SUV out of the hands of those that have no NEED for them? Many people drive them simply because it has become impossible to see the road ahead because everybody else has one. Or something equally tall and oppressive.

    Less of them would make a less agressive alternative more attractive to those who today feel they have no choice. Thus a smaller car of similar price may be considered.

    A 1965 Lancia Fulvia saloon was possibly the ultimate expression of a discreet car that was big enough to be useful. A modern interpretation of the excellence distilled in this vehicle would be a satisfying companion on the road.

    And a profit could be made by the manufacturer.

  3. Whatever its technical merits and dynamic qualities, I simply can’t get on with its appearance. I would no more choose an Aygo to drive than I would choose these to wear:

    I guess I’m just not in the target demographic for this car.

  4. The original Aygo was a rather endearing looking thing. This one is a bit much.

    I think I would prefer the Citroen C1 version, as it looks a little cheekier, and is available with cheerier cabin fabrics and a roll back roof.

  5. “… 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? ”

    The Ypsilon is a class above in size, I think, but it’s a good shout, but the 500 was clearly meant by FIAT to be exactly the car you describe (albeit one can clearly accuse its styling as being contrived) as could BMW’s original version of its ‘new’ MINI (and ditto). Very strangely, in a way the car you are describing sounds – in concept – like the last iteration of BL’s Metro, the Rover 100 (it’s the sophisticated, interconnected, Moulton-inspired Hydrogas suspension, coupled with Rover’s warmer-feel interiors that made me think that way). That, or a posh Visa (like the Platinum special edition which slipped through my grasp as a child).

    Moreover, your general point is really well made. Bombing around town in the 500 reminds me that, when the time is right, either a ‘city car’ or supermini sized car will be all I/ we’ll need. The problem is that if it is comfort – or even a whiff of luxury – one is after, the choices in terms of new metal are limited. Ford has clearly pitched its Vignale sub-brand into this space, but it’s just wrong. It makes me wonder whether this is where my Venga obsession is rooted, as a well equipped version seems rather soothing and sophisticated.

    1. The Ypsilon is very much in the same size bracket as the Aygo being based on the Pandas platform . When it was first launched in the UK,the pricing was somewhat optimistic so they quickly offered them with the VAT discounted. The damage was done however as the automotive media was already comparing it to cars from the class above and damming it as a result.

    2. Mark, that’s interesting, it must be a trick of the eye and the styling but my impression of the Ypsilon is that it was from the supermini class – I guess it must say something about the visual presence that the Lancia emits.

  6. Interesting that it has a tiptronic that works the proper way around like a touring racing car. Backwards towards you for changing up. Forwards for lower gears. Thrashing a 3 cylinder is great fun. I loved doing that in my Audi A2.

    1. Very jealous of your A2 – perhaps you could provide us with a bit of a long term test review?

    2. Sadly the A2 is long gone. Got replaced by a Škoda Yeti in 2010 and as per my signature photo, I now have a VW Touareg. So sadly I can’t do a long term A2 report. But suffice to say a low powered three cylinder car is one of life’s best ways to enjoy a nice winding road. You can thrash it to 9/10ths everywhere and never get too deep into trouble with the plods. If I was to drive my 262 hp Touareg at 9/10ths on a winding road I’d be over the edge around a corner in no time or behind bars!

  7. But could you tell us about the Yeti?
    In fact the “boxes” are the only interesting cars left. I’m bored with the general run of today’s cars. Their electronic interfaces also make them hard to drive.

    1. Vic to vaguely keep my reply OT I’d say I loved the Yeti very much – it is an extremely lovely car to throw around some bendy roads for which the all wheel drive was perfect. But the on topic bit: I missed the three cylinder thrum of my A2 immensely. As Eoin said above too, yes it was noisy when pushed but the Porsche flat six like noise it made was intoxicating. A three has oodles of character as a result – one reason why I’d love the base spec Volvo XC40 with the new three cylinder engine. The Yeti’s four was quiet, anodyne, had no exhaust note and was utterly forgettable even if its 140 DSG horses propelled me MUCH faster than the 75 horses in my A2 could ever do.

  8. Nice mini-review of a car not sold here, and I think I got a pretty good idea of what it would be like, a bit of fun once you abandon Toyota’s automated sloth and go for it. 3 cylinder engines in my experience like to rev, goodness knows why. And speaking of rhinoplasty, in common with most Toyotas, this model could benefit from a bit of professional attention to its schnoz.

    I’m more interested in the ride aspect. Last year I replaced my second set of Hankook Evo-12 summer tyres (215/45-17) with Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3+ all seasons of the same speed rating. The difference in ride was quite remarkable – the Michelins are far worse, boing, pitch, at low speed on our permanently frost-heaved roads. And noisier. They certainly have much stiffer sidewalls, noticeable even to the casual finger prod. This provides pin-sharp low speed handling as some recompense, as well as less susceptibility due to the rubber compound to turning slippery at temps below 10C, allowing more leeway in the calendar for fitting winter tyres. But, I’d probably go back next time to the far-more forgiving Hankooks, which certainly have equal cornering prowess when pushed and are as good in rain. So, there’s my observation – I’d never have guessed there would have been such a difference in ride beforehand. Neither match the winter Toyos, however, for a stable pitch-free ride.

    Since the old beast, 2008 Subaru Legacy GT manufactured in May 2007, is getting on a bit ( it recently decided to dump its power steering fluid over the ground due to a rotted out hydraulic pipe), my search for a replacement has intensified. I’ve had AWD cars since 1988, but a test of the new Mazda6 turbo may end that reign. With 225/55-17 shoes, a newly reinforced body, extra sound insulation, softer springs helped out at extremes by helper coils in the dampers, I was astonished at the comfortable ride. It strode over our scabrous local road surfaces with aplomb and disdain, while providing a completely vibration-free arrow straight and quiet 80 mph cruise. Not sure I’ve driven any better overall in the comfort stakes, but decades have passed since I regularly piloted a 1987 Mercedes 300E of my friend’s on road trips ( it had 195/65 aspect ratio boots). Being a Mazda, it didn’t fall over in tight turns, but I would not call it sporty either. Nice relaxed car, serene even, and the turbo isn’t a roaring powerhouse, merely a source of more than adequate go. I’d just have to pack an extra snow shovel for winter. The lure of comfort and quiet has rather overtaken me, I must admit.

    In addition, it handily outdid the new Honda Accord in ride and especially tire noise, if not outight power. Plus it looks handsome and has a far nicer, less busy interior with not much hard plastic – there’s even a little cushion for the driver’s shin, mounted on the side of the console – now that’s looxury. However, it does dispense with ashtrays so cannot match vintage Lancias.

    Perhaps the non-sporty nature of the car is why the updated 2018 Mazda6 has received only lukewarm responses in the US and Australian press, the latter being a big Mazda market. It’s not growly or a track-day special disguised as a saloon. It does have paddle shifters as well as the floor-mounted + – lever. I’ve used the upshift paddle perhaps half a dozen times in my decade with the Subaru, but use the downshift paddle all the time. Very useful for slowing on steep hills without braking or just slowing down without braking in general, and for slowing enough without showing brake lights to the traffic gestapo ( along with a spot of handbrake if one is feeling really guilty – the AWD redistributes the braking torque from the rear). If I desire to go “manual”, however, I use the gear lever and the Mazda allows me to continue this habit. BTW, despite being a bit of a softy by today’s standards, the thing makes my brother’s CUV CX-5 seem like a wobbly barge. You don’t have to be LJKS to realize the benefits of a lower centre of gravity; however, were he still around to cast erudite opinion and as a dedicated Honda fanboy, no doubt he’d be aghast at my not recognizing Honda’s supremacy in all matters automotive.

    For that European connection, I drove a top-level Fusion/Mondeo. I have simply no idea which universe Ford inhabits, but it undoubtedly is one where the denizens are possessed of extremely short thighs. The seat cushion ended six inches behind my knee – my Subaru’s squab is a full four inches longer. On that basis alone, with a sore behind that began in less than ten minutes, I rejected the vehicle, despite its lovely 2.7l twin-turbo powertrain. Surely I cannot be the only one to notice the horrible seats? It’s no Welcome to the Cheap Seats in any way.

    Reviewing this lengthy epistle, I confess to being Driven to Write. If you are beset by the TL;DR syndrome, I do apologize for that and my non-British spelling!

  9. I very much like the Aygo’s graphics. In a sector where how the car looks either matters a lot (young drivers) or not at all (old drivers), the X motif is well judged.

    1. Ah, that explains my problem with it: I’m middle-aged…

    1. Yes, can we all have some years back – is there someone we can write to?

      Richard: The Aygo’s engine is noisy in absolute terms, yes – but given that the noises it makes are pleasing ones, in purely subjective terms, it isn’t. I find triples like this one rather endearing, to be honest. But context is everything, would you not agree? I’m not sure I would in a 3-Series or similar…

  10. Last year when we were in Ireland, we had an almost new Yaris as a hire car. I was shocked by how dismal it felt: noisy engine, rubbery gearbox, hard seats, cheap feeling interior and that really annoying indicator telling you to change up far too early. It felt far less refined than even the (well used and abused) last generation Polos we are given when we hire cars in Tenerife. I was surprised and disappointed.

    1. And surely Daniel, that is the nub of the matter: expectations. I came to the Aygo with very little, so the degree to which it exceeded them was quite broad. In your case, perhaps, the opposite was true. I have to say, I travelled in the rear of a similar Yaris not so long ago and was similarly underwhelmed.

      There’s a lot to said for character – not something one would readily associate with the products of Toyota city, but there you go. At the risk of stating the blinding obvious, in this case at least, less = more.

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