Toyota's new Aygo is a typical product of today's motor industry. Japanese, you probably think. Well, up to a point, it is.
It's actually assembled in a new factory in the Czech Republic. And while that factory runs according to Toyota's production principles, it also churns out Peugeot's 107 and Citroën's C1, which are more or less identical, save for superficial differences in areas such as lights and bumpers - although when you drive the Aygo it does not occur to you that it could be anything other than a Toyota.
That apart, two main elements are uppermost in the Aygo's character; its cheapness and its lively nature. First, the cheapness. The Aygo is both cheap to buy and cheap to run; it is in group 1E for insurance, and its official combined-cycle fuel consumption is one of the best achieved by any petrol-engined car.
And the visible evidence of cost-saving is all around you in the form of components that are simpler than their equivalents in other cars. Take the tailgate; in most cars this would be made up of steel pressings and have a window set into it - in the Aygo, it is just a large sheet of glass. The rear side windows on the five-door model don't wind down but are hinged at the front so they can be opened at the rear, an arrangement normally found on two-door cars. There is only one windscreen wiper.
Inside, the front seats don't have separate head restraints - the seat backs are extended upwards instead. The upholstery is simple, with just a few panels of cloth covering the seats, which look thin and shapeless but turn out to be pretty comfortable when you sit on them.
The central area of the dashboard containing the heating controls is a single, lit, translucent panel, saving on individual bulbs for each switch. But most of this imaginative cost-cutting reflects cheapness of the cheerful, rather than the nasty variety, and everything works well.
And the lively character? This is almost entirely a product of the Aygo's agreeably throbby, free-revving 1.0 three-cylinder engine. Our test car was fitted with the Multi-mode Manual Transmission (MMT); this has an "automatic" mode, which does all of the gear-changing for you without blunting the Aygo's essential eagerness. I preferred this to the standard manual set-up, which has a rather spindly gear lever.
But the best thing about the Aygo is that, for all its liveliness, in outright terms it is actually rather slow. That means you can have some responsible driving fun without putting your licence, yourself or anybody else at risk.
Xander Welman, 28
Heavy haulier from Grimsby
Usual Car: Porsche Boxster
Overall I really liked the car. I was pleasantly surprised by the feeling of space inside. Although the interior fittings were rather flimsy, I thought the overall look was more cheerful than cheap, and I actually liked the exposed metalwork on the doors. Around town the engine felt quite nippy, although I wasn't sure about the gearbox. In automatic mode the changes were fairly agricultural and it felt unsure on uphill starts. Out of town and in manual mode I found the gearbox a lot smoother. It seemed quite happy to cruise at motorway speeds and felt stable. With a fuel economy of 60mpg+ this car would suit someone looking for a town car that occasionally needs to travel further afield.
Dave Ellis, 27
Civil & structural engineer from Sheffield
Usual Car: Nissan Primera GT
I like the look of the Aygo. It is well designed and is very spacious inside - four adults could easily fit in comfort. However, the boot is not big enough for my cricket bag, and my snowboard would have to go on a roof rack. The specification is good for the price, especially the MP3 socket on the CD player. The driving position is excellent and visibility is good, making it easy to drive and manoeuvre. The semi-automatic gearbox is easy to adapt to and generally works very well. If you normally drive in heavy traffic then it is well worth the extra £500. On the open road it picks up speed surprisingly well, but doesn't have the cornering ability of my usual car. Overall I was very impressed. Toyota have a winner!
Richard Hilditch, 56
Operations director from Hull
Usual Car: BMW 523i
The Toyota Aygo is a city car. This means I should not expect much in the way of performance, and I was right. It has a lively three-cylinder engine, which is fine in the city, but outside the 40 limit, I might just lose the will to live. It isn't helped by the fact that the gearbox, in auto mode, has extremely jerky upchanges. It can be smoothed out by changing gear manually, but doesn't that defeat the object? The interior is functional and reasonably comfortable, but there is evidence of penny-pinching. The silly boot will hold a briefcase and a laptop, or a small supermarket shop, but not at the same time. If you want to drive around in town for pennies, this may be the car for you. It's just not for me.
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