DOES AYGO REDEFINE compact living? Well it does and it doesn’t, because the glory is shared with the Peugeot 107 and Citroën C1 which share the platform and dinky three-cylinder engine. And it didn’t take these cars five years after their international release to get here either. So, as attractive as the Aygo is after its 2009 facelift, there’s no denying the fact that it arrives to its own party terribly late. Relevance? How about the fact that since the demise of Tazz, the A- and entry-level B-segments have been wholly uncontended by a Toyota, and overrun by decontented old B-seg cars, Chevy Sparks, Hyundai i10s and a slew of Chinese clones. Now Toyota is playing fast catch-up, and still gamely banks on moving 300 of these fully imported units a month. For at least two years before a budget Etios starts making its mark…
The little Toyota’s design is contentious. Some feel it doesn’t look enough like the rest of the Toyota range but, especially from the front, family links to the larger Yaris are undeniable. Testers likened it to everything from an alien robot to a mutant from the insect world. It certainly provides more of an aesthetic talking point than any other Toyota from the last decade, proof that Toyota is making good on its promise to bring out some interesting cars in 2011.
Cellphone-camera toting Toyota fans mobbed the car, and strangely enough the rear got the most nods of approval despite being painfully similar to the French efforts. Overhangs are almost non-existent because there is quite literally a wheel in each corner, which makes for very easy parking but does raise concerns about passenger safety in the case of a collision. However, extensive use of high-tensile materials, collapsible crash boxes and a reinforced centre tunnel help ease those worries, and there’s always the additional safety net of airbags, or crash avoidance enhancers like ABS and EBD.
Slip into the cabin of the Aygo and, like Doctor Who entering a Tardis telephone booth, you’ll be amazed at the amount of space. Aygo is primed to seat four adults. I easily stow two, plus a trio of kids in comfort. The benefit of having little in front of the front wheels and even less behind the rear wheels means that everything in between is converted into living space. Some of the plastics feel cheap, even breakable like the unusual aircon controls, but on par with items found in similar machinery. The styling is youthful, hence ideal for students, though likely to alienate those on the pension run. Ergonomics are not exactly Toyota competent, leaning instead towards a zanier French take on button placement and layout – with those aircon controls leaning towards abysmal. Even the speedo readout displays in 70, 90 and 110kph intervals as per the French cars, instead of even digits as used in the rest of the world. Still, the steering wheel is height adjustable and the slim front seats able to shift fore and aft to the tune of 240mm, potentially giving occupants on the rear bench (50:50 split in ‘Wild’ trim) legroom on par with much larger vehicles.
Tuck yourself behind the familiar three-spoke Toyota steering wheel, shift the five-speed manual into first and you’re ready to get to grips with the award winning 1KR-FE engine that does duty under the Aygo’s cute crimson bonnet. Toyota has wrestled 50kW and 93Nm from a three-cylinder, 1-litre engine equipped with double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and variable timing. Rev it up and it sounds like a throwback from two decades ago. That’s not a complaint; it’s a charming, fizzy sound that goads you into action. Don’t be fooled though, performance is more ‘Ay’ than ‘Go’ with a 0-100kph walk completed in 12.74 seconds and the quarter mile crossed in 18.75 seconds. What is commendable however is its 4.6ℓ/100km fuel sipping ability and tiny carbon footprint of 105g/km. Too bad that the gearbox is piggishly stubborn, refusing inputs at times. Test driver Peter summed it up best with his ‘feels like mushy peas’ jibe.
You don’t need to escape civilization and seek out a mountain pass to enjoy the go-kart charms of the Aygo. Just chucking it around city roads and parking lot off-ramps is sure to bring a smile to your face. The ride is compliant over most surfaces, smooth even, but its puny 830kg kerb weight and four-square stance makes it an absolute entertainer when asked to perform quick directional changes. A perceived low centre of gravity means you’re not lolloping about, instead remaining fairly level and composed. Handling is confident, sporty and fairly precise – reminiscent of a shrunken Ford Figo with its similar MacPherson (front) and torsion beam (rear) suspension set-up.
There’s magic in the Toyota and Volkswagen badges. They have similarly devout followers among South African motorists after cultivating years of trust and passion through good products. Toyotas were not always dismissed as reliable appliances; they’ve been heralded as humble cars that people can enjoy. The Aygo is arguably a return to this philosophy. Yes, it is flawed, but it is also fun and affordable. Add in aspects of ownership such as dependability, servicing and peace of mind, and the Agyo seems poised to win over hearts and open wallets. The entry-level ‘Fresh’ spec is a competitive R109 900 but lacks the alloy wheels, MP3/CD player and front electric windows that appeal on the R120 100 ‘Wild’ version. Both are fighting fit and ready to stake their claim on your driveway. Well, at least a tiny portion of it.