Aston Martin city car gets first UK showing

Aston Martin has been displaying its luxury city car, the Cygnet, in the UK for the first time.

The company's new baby was revealed last night to journalists, existing Aston Martin owners and selected opinion formers in the suitably flashy surroundings of Meza in London's Wardour Street. The car is based on Toyota's ingenious iQ, which packs a four-seater cabin and a front-wheel drive power-train into an exterior package that isn't much bigger than that of Smart's two-seat Fortwo.

Wisely, Aston hasn't messed about with the iQ's mechanicals and clever basic architecture too much; the Cygnet has the same 1.33-litre engine as the top versions of the donor car, paired with a manual transmission or continuously variable automatic. Top speed is 106mph and the Cygnet can accelerate to 100km/h (62mph) in a not very Aston-ish 11.8 seconds in manual form, although that performance should be more than adequate for the new car's intended habitat, the clogged streets of the fashionable great cities inhabited by the world wealthiest car buyers. As Aston Martin's boss, Dr Ulrich Bez, put it at the unveiling "you don't need five hundred horsepower to drive in London". The Cygnet instead has a more modest 97; the big pluses are official combined cycle fuel consumption of 56.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 116g/km (in both cases, for the manual).

Aston has mainly concentrated on giving the Cygnet the sort of sumptuous, well-equipped, leather-stuffed interior that buyers would expect to find in one of the company's larger models. Among the highlights are an Alcantara roof lining and machined aluminium trim components. The instrument dials have a traditional Aston metallic finish, although the starter button appears to be the original Toyota item rather than the crystal type found in the company's bigger cars.

Externally, the iQ's basic shape has been retained but the side doors and tail receive detailed modifications; the Astonisation work has been most extensive around the Cygnet's nose. Remarkably, the car's designers have been able to graft a very convincing version of the instantly recognisable Aston Martin “face”, and in particular, the company's distinctive grille design, on to the new model, a big achievement given that the Cygnet has a very short stubby front that's only a few feet long, whereas the Aston look traditionally features a long, low bonnet.

The new car will initially be available in two special editions, the Cygnet Launch Edition Black and the Cygnet Special Edition White (the clue is in the names) but a wider range of colour choices and other personalisation options will be available later on. Production begins in April this year and prices will start at £30,995 – that's rather expensive for a worked over Toyota iQ but very cheap for a new Aston.

The link between Aston Martin and Toyota was forged when senior managers from the two companies got talking at a race meeting at the Nurburgring in Germany. The relationship is apparently harmonious but does not necessarily foreshadow a broader long-term tie-up.

Ten years ago, a project such as the Cygnet would have been unthinkable, except perhaps as an April Fool spoof in a car magazine. But the need to improve economy and meet tough new emissions rules made it inevitable that Aston would have to bring in smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Certainly the reception accorded to the new model by those who saw it yesterday was positive. Either the Cygnet represents an idea whose time has come, or it is evidence that Aston Martin's brand, which carries more magic than just about any other in the world of cars, is so strong that almost any product, however unlikely, that bears the company's famous winged badge will find ready buyers.