I was getting ahead of myself. At the time of the Cygnet’s creation, Aston boss Ulrich Bez provided us with three reasons for its existence, and it is fair to say that the first –
Aston’s need for a sustainable product line-up – has not gone according to plan. No manufacturer launches a car intending it to spend fewer than three years in the marketplace.
The second was the desire to satisfy demand and, in this regard, the Cygnet has clearly succeeded insofar as anyone who wanted one could have one, at least once Aston abandoned its highly courageous original position of offering them to existing Aston customers only. Unfortunately, there just weren’t very many of them.
The third reason quoted was the need to reduce the average emissions of the Aston fleet ahead of ever more punitive environmental legislation being introduced around the world, which it undoubtedly would have done had it hung around long enough to finish the job. Now that the Cygnet has gone, I suspect more than ever that the recently announced ‘technical partnership’ with AMG is a mere harbinger of a much closer association with or even acquisition by Mercedes-Benz.
I digress. In every mechanical detail that matters, the Cygnet is a 1.3-litre iQ available with either six manual gears or a CVT transmission. To justify more than doubling its price to that of a Range Rover Evoque, Aston painted the car and trimmed the interior in Alcantara honeycomb and the same hide used for the DB9.
It also provided its own grille, badging and slightly redundant bonnet vents and refaced the instruments to make them like all Aston dials – as beautiful to look at as they are tricky to read.
The marriage of aristocratic Aston Martin to an artisan Toyota in this way is one of the more unlikely back-of-the-bike-shed liaisons of recent times, but it almost works. In fact, if one of the intended draws of the Cygnet was to get its owner noticed around town and in a positive way, it succeeds beyond all expectation.
Every time we parked, there were appreciative stares. Every time we needed to squeeze into a flow of traffic, Londoners – even taxi drivers – fell over themselves to make space for us. Forget a turning circle that’s tighter than a Smart Fortwo’s; the ability to charm those with whom you share the street is an incalculably more valuable weapon to wield.
But so, too, are there problems, not least that the Cygnet is not and never was exempt from London’s congestion charge despite the existence of iQs that were, at least until the exemption limit was reduced this summer. I think Aston assumed its customers would just want the more powerful 1.3-litre motor, despite the 1.0-litre’s double-digit CO2 figure. They would, after all, be rich enough to pay. To me, that is hardly the point. I know a wealthy man who gets up early just to avoid the charge. It’s not that he’s mean. He simply objects to paying it.
The next issue is that the Cygnet is not good enough to drive, a forgivable facet of a £10k Toyota but not a £30k Aston. I don’t seek to criticise the Cygnet for an inability to do 200mph or execute 100-yard powerslides. More relevant is the fact that the engine is characterless and lacks the low-down torque that you need to squirt into traffic.
The six-speed manual gearbox in Duncan’s car is quite notchy, too. However, most prejudicial to your cross-town progress is the Cygnet’s width – it’s 2mm short of a Volkswagen Polo, in fact – so you can forget about darting through gaps that only those on motorbikes would normally consider.