What does ten thousand US dollars buy an automobilist these days? How about ceramic brakes for your Porsche 911 and a bit of pocket change. Or a more-or-less acceptable used car. If you want a new set of wheels, ten large buys you a generic-Asian small car with wooden-feeling controls, a depressing interior, lousy ride, asthmatic engine and poor dynamics. No image, no resale, no fun. You might as well take the bus. Alternatively, if you live in Europe, you could buy a Toyota Aygo. But should you?
The Aygo’s makers pronounce their car’s name the "I-go,” evoking the idea of, wait for it, mobility. From the outside, the little city car shares a noticeable similarity with its automotive antonym, the Yugo. Like Ye Olde Zastava Koral, the Czech-built Aygo is teeny-weeny. In fact, at 134”, the Aygo’s the shortest five-door vehicle on sale in Europe, and the second-shortest car overall (after the Smart). And that’s where the similarities end.
Whereas the Yugo was a two-box Golf clone pummeled with an ugly stick, the Aygo is a one-box mini-minivan (complete with severely raked windscreen) that fits within the Japanese car-as-Pokemon design theme. The Aygo sports short overhangs, inoffensive proportions and nice details, such as artfully sculpted headlights and semi-concealed rear doors. It’s an aesthetically convincing answer to a difficult question: how the Hell do you fit four adults into a shoebox-on-wheels?
Answer: you don’t. The Aygo’s front seat occupants enjoy plenty of headroom, legroom and knee room. The Aygo is narrow enough to swipe through a credit card machine. So unless you’re broad of beam, you won't think you're sitting in a tiny car– until rear seat passengers ask you to scoot forward before they lose all feeling in their legs. No wonder Toyota didn’t call it the Wego.
By the same token, a four-up Aygo’s MINIscule boot (139 liters) won’t accommodate anything larger than a couple of loafs of bread (provided they’re not extra long baguettes). Combined with a complete lack of lockable storage space, it’s a major drawback for practically-minded and/or financially challenged buyers.
As Sciontologists will tell you, the cheap seats give you the best view of modern automotive design. The Aygo’s dash design looks fresh and funky without once over-reaching. There are chunky-funky backlit polycarbonate climate controls, plenty of small bins, a large iPodable audio system– and that's all. The cockpit makes drivers feel youngish and stylish, and not financially challenged.
The Aygo’s designers followed Colin Chapman’s dictate: to make a better-driving car, add lightness. The Aygo’s three cylinder 1.0-liter mill is the lightest engine on the market today, weighing just 67kg (the Lexus LS460’s transmission weighs 95kg). The tiny Toyota’s powerplant cranks out 68hp, pushing the automotive microlite from zero to sixty in 14 seconds and all the way to [a very brave] 100mph. (To achieve this performance, Colin and I recommend removing passengers.)
More to the point, the Aygo’s powerplant is a smooth, willing beastie, with a pleasant, thrummy sound up and down the rev range. Even better, no matter how hard you work the five-speed gearbox, you’ll still get at least 48 mpg.
I know: caning a car of this size and power is a bit like drag racing golf carts. But within the realm of “slow,” the Aygo is still a remarkably chuckable, consistent and maneuverable vehicle. Its suspension is an evolution of the Yaris’ torsion beam set-up, which is plenty damn stiff. Since the Aygo has no electronic handling nanny and 14” wheels, it’s a good thing that the car’s at and over-the-limit oversteer is controllable and linear.
Refinement is great, provided you’re OK with an unfair amount of road roar. The aforementioned suspension makes the car feel solid, but the penalty comes with a ride that’s hard and bouncy.
After 600 miles in the Aygo, it’s hard not to make a piercing glimpse into the obvious: the Aygo is an urban, or sub-urban, vehicle. And a damn fine one it is too. The Aygo’s tiny turning circle makes U-turns quick and stress-free, and there’s pleasure to be had in a spirited screeching-tire jounce up a parking garage's ramp. The Aygo may be cheap, but it's spry.
The Aygo has plenty of competition: the FIAT Panda, Ford Ka, Suzuki Alto, Kia Picanto, Getz (a.k.a. Hyundai) Aica, and the Aygo’s badge-engineered brethren (the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 107). Other than its stylishness, the Aygo’s trump card is money. The car that puts the toy back in Toyota has been designed to be cheap to buy and run (e.g. the engine has a timing chain). Toyota predicts service and repair costs of about $600 for the first 60K miles.
The Aygo could well be the least expensive car to own in Europe. Unexpectedly, it also has a lot of character.