X MARKS THE SPORT
The latest Toyota Aygo looks set to reassert itself in a rejuvenated city car sector. Andy Enright reports
Ten Second ReviewIn one audacious move, the Toyota Aygo has been transformed from ageing also-ran into bold contender for class honours. The oily bits aren't radically different, but the look and feel is a lot classier, there's a neat connected touch screen system and the ability to personalise the car will attract younger buyers. The minuscule running costs have been left largely alone.
BackgroundParochial bunch that we Brits are, we tend to think of Toyota's Aygo as the car that most people overlooked in favour of a Citroen C1 or a Peugeot 107. While it's true that these three sister vehicles that all rolled out of the same factory in the Czech Republic did enjoy quite marked differences in sales here, with the Peugeot taking the top step of the podium and the Aygo the bronze medal/wooden spoon, it's been a very different story in terms of worldwide sales where Peugeot and Citroen represent mere blips and the Aygo has racked up a monster number of satisfied customers. Toyota is at pains to point out to us that the Aygo has the highest individual market share of any of their current vehicles and acts as a gateway model, attracting legions of new buyers to the Toyota brand and keeping them there with strong reliability, low running costs and strong dealer backup.
The first generation Aygo model did, however, rather out-stay its welcome, first introduced in 2005, with only minor tweaks throughout a nine year existence that only ended with this MK2 model was introduced in the Summer of 2014. This much improved car's main task is to put up a better fight against the Volkswagen Group's single citycar design, variously marketed as the Volkswagen up!, the Skoda Citigo and the SEAT Mii and dominating the European sales charts in this segment since its introduction in 2011. So, can Toyota turn the tables with this fresh-faced all-new Aygo? Let's see.
Driving ExperienceYou might well be experiencing a worrying sense of deja vu when we mention the fact that the latest Aygo is powered by a 998cc three-cylinder petrol engine, but Toyota assures us that it's not just a carry-over from the old car. The unit has been re-engineered to run with a higher, 11.5:1 compression ratio and has an improved combustion chamber design for better efficiency. Friction losses have also been reduced, notably by using a new low-friction timing chain. And although it's still one of the lightest engines on the market, more weight has been saved by introducing a cylinder head with an ingenious built-in exhaust manifold.
Power is up over the old car, but given that the improvement is only from 67 to 68bhp, we won't get too excited, either about that or a torque (pulling power) increase from 92 to 95Nm. In an effort to improve flexibility, some 85Nm of that is available from as low as 2,000rpm, so you won't need to rev the car to death in order to get it moving. As before, there are no pokier petrol engines and no diesel option. You can get a self-shifting gearbox though as an option (we hesitate to call it an 'automatic'). Actually, it's what the engineers call an 'automated manual' gearbox that can be used in fully automatic mode, or with manual gear selection using paddle shifts or the shift lever itself.
Design and BuildThe cutesy, inoffensive look of the previous car has been replaced by something with a whole lot more attitude. A distinctive and characterful design - dubbed 'J-Playful' in reference to Japan's hip youth culture - sees the designers use the concept of a soft object breaking through the hard shell of the design, creating break lines and giving Aygo its distinctive frontal 'X-graphic'. This spreads outwards across the surface of the bodywork and takes in all the vehicle's main external features, including upper and lower grilles, headlamps, foglamps, and even mirrors and side glazing. It's incredibly bold and makes the Aygo look bigger and more assertive, despite the fact that it measures 25mm longer than before at 3,455mm. Front headroom has been increased by 7mm, despite overall vehicle height being lowered by 5mm to 1,460mm.
Inside, there's a trapezoidal-shaped centre console, with this design theme reflected in details such as the air vents, door trims and gear shift surround. The console supports a wide dashboard with a matt, anti-glare finish, set between slim A-pillars. The new instrumentation features a meter made of up concentric rings which are permanently lit. It incorporates an easy-to-read central multi-information display. The wheelbase is unchanged at 2,340mm, but the cabin is longer by 9mm and there's an extra 29-litres of luggage space available.
Market and ModelToyota makes much of the latest Aygo's scope for personalisation. This is one area where the last car dropped the ball. Buyers in this sector want to be able to quickly, cheaply and effectively differentiate their cars so they don't look like everybody else's. MINI was the first company to get on board this trend and Citroen quickly followed. Now the Japanese are playing catch-up, with Nissan's Juke offering clip-on interior panels that can be swapped at will. This Aygo follows this concept, with instrument panel, centre console, air vent, shift knob and gear lever surround sections that can easily be changed. Even the X-shaped front grille, rear bumper insert, front bumper and alloy wheels can all be specified to suit. To try to keep things easier for the customer and to offer better value, Toyota has also created a range of exterior and interior styling packs, rather than forcing people to select piece-by-piece customisation.
Another area where the previous Aygo was showing its age, especially against its bigger brother the Yaris, was in the provision of multimedia systems. Consider that rectified at last. This Aygo is offered with Toyota's x-touch multimedia system - a fully integrated seven-inch touch screen. It incorporates a rear view camera as standard and uses a five-function main menu, giving easy control of audio, phone, connectivity, vehicle and journey information functions. Customers will also be able to access a wide choice of navigation and social media applications. You'll need to make sure your smartphone has a generous data plan if you're going to get the best of it.
Cost of OwnershipThe Aygo's bodywork is a good deal more aerodynamic than the old car's, helping to reduce its drag coefficient from Cd 0.30 to 0.29. Together with reducing internal friction in the engine and transmission, these have helped lift the Aygo's combined cycle fuel economy from 64.2 to 68.8mpg, while bringing carbon dioxide emissions down to 95g/km, comfortably below the 100g/km threshold for annual road tax exemption. Should you choose the x-shift gearbox, the Aygo's numbers are barely dented, with 67.3mpg combined cycle fuel consumption and 97g/km CO2 emissions.
The little Toyota has always enjoyed strong residual values; certainly better than its Peugeot 107 and Citroen C1 development siblings. This second generation Aygo of course, has to reprise that battle with its design stablemates, this time with the second generation Citroen C1 and Peugeot's 108. The used market is usually an accurate arbiter on relative vehicle worth and we would be extremely surprised if the stronger residuals of the Aygo didn't make it the cheapest car to run of the three.
SummaryYou certainly couldn't accuse Toyota of a rapid response with the Aygo. This car was probably overdue three years ago, but better late than never. While its predecessor had gradually been demoted from a best-in-class car to a worthy budget option, this latest Aygo punts Toyota right back into contention for class honours. Yes, we'd have liked to have seen a bit more ingenuity under the bonnet, but citycars are all about keeping a cap on costs, looking good and differentiating themselves with smart interior features. The Aygo scores on all of those counts.
The ability to personalise the car and access connected services such as social networking have transformed the Aygo from a runabout primarily appealing to the elderly to one with a more youthful appeal. Tapping into a market of people who may never have considered a Toyota before is vital and the Aygo is Toyota's lure for Gen Y-ers reluctantly forced to own a car. They may have unknowingly lucked in.