South African motorists may be buying down, but small cars have never been a big hit here. In the local context, cars considered small are B-segment compacts like the VW Polo, Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris. But truly tiny tots like Peugeot’s 107 and the Suzuki Alto haven’t attracted nearly as much attention. So why has Toyota decided to launch the Aygo here – six years after its European launch? By DEON SCHOEMAN.
The year 2005 marked one of the more remarkable joint ventures in automotive history. That year, a trio of ultra-compact hatchbacks made their collective debut in Europe, produced in the same factory, but bearing three very different badges.
The Peugeot 107, Citroën C1 and the Toyota Aygo were the result of a joint venture between the French PSA Group (parent company of Citroën and Peugeot), and Japanese auto giant Toyota. They were even produced in the same, jointly owned factory in the Czech Republic.
While the underpinnings and dimensions of the three small hatchbacks were identical, the exterior styling was adapted to create a slightly different appearance for each model, in line with each marque’s corporate identity.
It didn’t take long for the 107 and the C1 to reach our shores. But the Aygo was notable only by its absence.
At the time, Toyota here cited a global shortage of stock as the reason for not launching the car in SA. But a more compelling reason was that the fully imported Aygo would have been too expensive, especially compared to the hugely popular, locally produced (but much less sophisticated) Tazz.
Seven years later, the Aygo has finally joined its Citroën and Peugeot brethren – a step suggesting Toyota believes demand for ultra-compacts is about to take off. In the wake of the recent petrol price increases, that may well turn out to be an inspired prediction.
The Aygo that made its local bow last month is the latest updated version. The front styling is reminiscent of the larger Yaris, but with sharper, edgier details. It’s certainly the most generic design of the three and even looks a little bland compared to the more boisterous 107, for instance.
But it shares the same short, chunky, stubby features as the Citroën and the Peugeot, with relatively large 14-inch alloys accommodated under equally generous wheel arches. The front windscreen is expansive and sharply raked, but the tailgate plunges down almost vertically, framed by spaceship-style tail light clusters on either side.
While the Aygo is perhaps the most conservative member of the threesome, it suits Toyota’s equally middle-of-the-road positioning. And because it’s almost toy-like in its demeanour, it still exudes a certain cute factor.
Adding to its poised, almost pugnacious demeanour is the positioning of the wheels at each corner of the car, which maximises the wheelbase (and the interior dimensions) without bloating the Aygo’s appearance. The roofline is comparatively high, also benefiting cabin space.
This particular version of the Aygo is the top model, dubbed Wild (although why anyone would want to call a 1-litre baby car Wild I don’t know). It gets alloy wheels and colour-coded door handles, as well as a split rear backrest and side airbags to augment the dual front versions.
One of the stars of the Aygo show is the engine. The 12-valve, three-cylinder powerplant features variable valve timing, fuel injection and dual overhead camshafts, and has capacity of only 970cc. Even so, the 50kW of maximum power, achieved at a buzzy 6,000rpm, always feels ample, and even the 93Nm torque peak provides sufficient twist.
Remember, the Aygo weighs only 830kg, which means the drivetrain achieves a power to weight ratio of 60kW/ton. Drive to the front wheels is via a five-speed manual gearbox with unusually tall ratios, and a sloppy shift action.
Tall? Well, yes: You can expect to use first gear in tight uphill corners, where second gear would be sufficient. And fifth gear becomes an overdrive ratio that only really comes into play when cruising on the highway. However, it’s an idiosyncrasy one soon gets used to.
One more thing about the engine: it sounds fantastic. There’s a husky gruffness to the exhaust note that is completely out of kilter with the notion of a small, almost lawnmower-sized engine.
The Aygo employs a MacPherson strut-type independent front suspension, linked to a torsion beam rear configuration. The ride is another pleasant surprise, given the short wheelbase. It smoothes out bumps and ruts with ease and never feels choppy or unsettled.
Of course, those large-diameter wheels and tyres (by small car standards) assist in this regard, and also add welcome grip when cornering. Indeed, this is an agile little mite when pressing on, even though the electric power steering goes about its business to zealously and provides little feedback.
Turn-in is crisp and immediate, and as one would expect, the turning circle is tiny, making parking manoeuvres a breeze. In that respect, the excellent all-round view from the driver’s seat makes squeezing the Aygo into the tightest parking space a cinch.
The cabin is another pleasant surprise. Given the pocket-sized exterior, the accommodation feels almost impossibly spacious. It’s a bright and airy place, with plenty of head- and legroom for front occupants, although larger folk will end up rubbing shoulders.
The fascia still looks contemporary and distinctive, with a well thought-out layout that puts most of the controls where you’d expect them to be. However, the steering wheel feels too small, and too close to the instrument cluster, and adjustment scope is limited to tilt only, which doesn’t really help matters.
The instruments are limited to a single, large dial containing not only the speedometer, odometer and trip meter, but also the fuel gauge. The rest is handled by warning lights and there’s no rev counter. But functionally, there’s little to fault here.
I have to say that the high-backed front seats don’t look promising – more like flimsily upholstered deck chairs than car seats. But they provide decent comfort and support and life behind the wheel is unexpectedly pleasant.
Rear passengers may find it a little more cramped, but importantly, the Aygo is a five-door hatch (a three-door is on the cards for later), so access to the bench seat is convenient enough. Unless you have giants occupying the front, you can still fit two average adults in the rear – but I’m not sure I’d want to be cooped up back there on a trip from Jo’burg to Cape Town, say.
Reasonable rear seating means the boot is truly tiny: one duffle bag will fill it to the brim, so if you’re four up, you’ll be travelling very lightly indeed. However, singles and couples can simply fold down the rear backrest, which provides a more than ample cargo compartment.
The Aygo Wild is impressively equipped, with many of the bells and whistles usually associated with dearer cars. The standard kit includes remote central locking, electric front windows, air-con and an integrated CD receiver with an auxiliary input for MP3 players.
Even more impressive are the active and passive safety measures: front and side airbags, ABS brakes with EBD brake force distribution and emergency braking assistance. Who said small car’s couldn’t be safe?
On the move, the Aygo feels zippy and enthusiastic enough. The little three-pot engine is eager and willingly revs to the cut-off. But it’s quite a raucous unit. In fact, overall noise levels are high, suggesting only meagre sound dampening. There’s a lot of road noise to contend with, and at speed, a high-pitched whistle adds wind noise to the car-cophony.
The doors feel tinny, especially the rears, and there’s an overriding sense of flimsiness that is perhaps the only disappointment. No, I wouldn’t expect the solidity and refinement of a large, luxury car in the Aygo context, but fit and finish are not always up to the expected Toyota standards.
By comparison, a direct competitor such as Suzuki’s similarly sized and powered Alto ultra-compact has more substance, and feels more robust (but also weighs 65kg more). And Peugeot’s 107, although almost identical, is better executed too.
Perhaps Toyota’s quest to keep the weight down to maximise performance and economy is the real culprit here. And the Aygo certainly feels nippy enough.
The claimed 0-100km/h acceleration figure of 14.2sec doesn’t sound impressive, but in reality, the little hatch always feels quick and eager, as long as you’re prepared to use the gearbox with similar enthusiasm.
It’s great around town, and even does well in the inevitable traffic light Grand Prix, much to the chagrin of drivers in larger, more muscular machines. Highway cruising at the legal limit is entirely feasible, although steep hills will challenge its performance capabilities. Top speed is 157km/h.
For many would-be Aygo buyers, however, the promise of a frugal appetite for unleaded petrol will be the strongest drawcard. Toyota claims a combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of 4,6 litres/100km, and an open-road number of 4,0 litres/100km.
In reality, those figures are more likely to be in the 5,0 to 5,5 litres/100km bracket – but that’s still impressive and suggests a worst-case operating range of more than 600km from the 35-litre fuel tank.
The arrival of the Toyota Aygo is a case of better late than never. Its Gallic cousins have been around for much longer, but have had a tougher time convincing buyers that an ultra-compact hatchback is a viable mode of transport in the SA context.
The Aygo arrives at just the right time, with the spectre of spiralling fuel costs (and its impact on the overall cost of living) drawing much more attention to the compact, wieldy, well-packaged and frugal transport solution cars like this can provide.
Toyota’s emphasis with the Aygo is on the overall cost of ownership: the R120,100 asking price isn’t exactly dirt cheap. But the real competitive advantage here is the four-year/60,000km service plan, which at least provides some motoring cost predictability and peace of mind.
Add the car’s fun personality, its cheeky dynamics and surprisingly comfortable (if noisy) interior, and we’re expecting the Aygo to become a popular addition to the SA vehicle park. DM
Toyota Aygo 1.0 Wild
In-line three-cylinder, 998cc, DOHC
50kW @ 6,000rpm
93Nm @ 3,600rpm
4,6 litres/100km (combined cycle)
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