The Toyota Aygo promises Japanese reliability and French charm, but does it deliver?
First DriveThis last hurrah for the current generation of Aygo adds lasting appeal, but fails to bring much modern useability
First DriveLatest round of changes can’t mask Aygo’s age next to ever-stronger city car rivals
Who is the typical Toyota buyer? The Corolla’s popularity among those who favour lily of the valley as a room fragrance formed Toyota’s reputation as the senior citizen’s choice. Sensible, reliable, but hardly pulse-quickening. Now the world’s second biggest car maker is making its most concerted effort yet to woo younger buyers with the Aygo.Pronounced ‘I-go’, this sub-Yaris city car won’t be getting a conventional launch. You won’t find ads for it in newspapers, but in music magazines and on fly posters. It will be marketed using viral e-mails and music festivals, accompanied by its own ‘Aygo by Toyota’ merchandising. If its makers get their way, T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Aygo all the way/like a rabbit/all night long’ will soon be a familiar sight in student unions. Toyota is hoping your granny wouldn’t like it.Trouble is, your granny would probably love an Aygo. As Ford learned a decade ago with the Ka, just because you design a car for younger buyers, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll buy it. But if anyone can do it, Toyota can – this is a company that managed to launch Lexus, now America’s favourite luxury brand, from scratch 16 years ago. And if it gets it right, by 2006 there will be 13,000 Aygos sold in the UK every year and 100,000 worldwide. Prices are expected to start at around £6750, but Toyota reckons most buyers will spend £7000-8000, with the five-door mid-range Aygo+ manual tested here expected to be the biggest seller.Technical detailsAlthough it shares 92 per cent of its parts with the joint-engineered Peugeot 107 and Citroën C1, the Toyota looks different to the French cars thanks to a pronounced Toyota grille and sharp head- and tail light treatments.The tiny overhangs and cheeky face work well, and Toyota has a plan to stop it from dating too quickly. From launch all cars will come in Chilli Red, only the pricier Aygo+ and Sport getting the option (at extra cost) of Carbon Quartz and Ice Blue metallics – the latter best showing off the curvy shape. To keep things fresh, there will be another colour launched with the normally aspirated PSA-sourced 1.4 diesel early next year, followed by special colour/trim combinations every six months after that.The Aygo might be Toyota’s smallest European offering, but the company has drawn on its extensive experience in building tiny city runabouts for the Japanese market to engineer the new car. Power comes from a 998cc three-cylinder petrol engine with variable valve timing; all-aluminium construction and slim cylinder walls keep the powerplant’s weight down to 67kg. Despite the low weight, Toyota says the car is durable and reliable; history (and JD Power surveys) suggest it’s probably right.There’s a typically lumpy three-cylinder tickover, but when worked it’s less harsh than the Mitsubishi Colt/Smart Forfour three-pot. The slick five-speed gearbox’s widely spaced ratios make the most of the engine’s willingness to hover around the 6500rpm red line, although the rev counter, which comes mounted on a Deely Bopper-style spring on the side of the speedo, is an option.We also had the opportunity to try the MMT (Multi-mode Manual Transmission) version, which shows Smart that it is possible to make an automated manual city car that works well, with rapid upchanges, neat double-declutches on the downchanges and a generally smooth automatic mode. If you live in town, the two-pedal version is likely to be well worth the extra cash.On the roadThe Aygo manages a relatively unfussed 70mph cruise at just over 3000rpm, though its light weight means it can be diverted by crosswinds. Over larger bumps the ride feels supple, but small sharp interruptions in the blacktop cause a skittishness that could be a problem on UK roads. The brakes are excellent though, with good pedal feel and EBD as standard.Toyota chose Rome to launch the Aygo. It’s a city besotted with the Smart car and judging by the attention the Aygo received it could be next to win the Romans’ favour. It works well in town, the light steering and 9.5m turning circle, together with the tiny dimensions and zesty engine, making it feel nippy through traffic.From behind the wheel the Aygo feels like a car from the class above – more Nissan Micra than Kia Picanto – with roomy front seats, a curvy dash (unique to the Aygo) finished with good quality plastics and brightened up by body-coloured door panels and some funky touches such as a translucent, backlit heater control panel. It feels amazingly solid for such a little car.Daihatsu’s Sirion and Volkswagen’s Fox have shown that small cars needn’t be cramped in the back, and though the Aygo can’t quite match their packaging it will still seat a quartet of adults in relative comfort, though knee-room on the shapeless rear bench is far from generous for taller passengers. The boot isn’t ideal either, with a 139-litre capacity and a small glass hatch that opens to reveal a high load sill – only very small, very athletic dogs need apply.But Toyota’s target buyers aren’t after boot space, they just want cheap, cool wheels. The styling is certainly cool enough, and 61.4mpg, group one insurance (complemented by a young-driver oriented insurance package) and just £75 for a year’s road fund licence should make for student-friendly running costs.The Aygo won’t start a revolution in the small-car world, but it does what it sets out to do very effectively. There’s a lot to be said for Toyota quality and reliability in a funky four-seater for under £7000. Just don’t let granny find out.Alastair Clements