When Citroën’s updated C1 Airscape made its debut on the supermini market a while back, we said it was a huge pity it was so expensive. At R190K, the heavily specced, funky-roofed style mobile seemed a tad dear for a tot – even if said tot was a real hoot to drive and brilliantly packaged. We also said Citroën should get a move on and release a pared-down version. They didn’t, but as it’s turned out, someone else did. Confused? Don’t be. The C1 was but one of a trio of city cars that Toyota and partner PSA Peugeot Citroën jointly developed, the other two being the Peugeot 108 and the Toyota Aygo.
But, while Citroën went all Paul Smith-folding-roof with their South Africa-bound car, Toyota decided to stay sensible and catch the mass market. That means you can now pop out and buy the partnership’s nifty little buzzer for a cool 50K less than its French cousin (Peugeot has yet to bring its new 108 here).
So, that established, what do you get for your acceptably ruinous 140K? Has Toyota managed to keep the fun while cutting the funk – or has Japan done a naughty and ruined the formula? We’ll see.
The looks, the looks
The first thing they did was play wickedly with the looks. The C1 is a sophisticated puppy; the Aygo is the love child of a hot cross bun and a bumblebee. Lovely. It turns out the weirdly creative ‘X’ across its snout is deliberate, meant to reference Astro Boy, according to chief engineer David Terai – the cartoon lad’s defining ‘V’ fringe isthe inspiration for the double-chop. We’re not sure if that’s just so much concocted marketing fibbery, but there’s no denying the visage isn’t going to be forgotten anytime soon. Look in a rear-view mirror and you would think an angry XXX mint was about to rear-end you, especially in the top-specced X-Play Silver or X-Play Black, where a two-tone colour roof adds to the oddball looks.
Inside it’s altogether another story, as if Terai used up all of his creative power coming up with the Astro Boy guffery. It is a pared-down version of the C1, just as we suggested, and the architecture – the bones – are arguably all the better for the reductionist approach. The rather large infotainment screen is still there, as is the slightly odd-shaped steering wheel. It has some excellent connectivity options in the x-touch multimedia system, which makes Bluetooth and streaming media from there particularly cool. The giant speedometer ahead of the driver is also still there, as well as the very useful dual cupholders ahead of the gearstick. But materials are decidedly downmarket compared to the Citroën’s coachwork, and there are manual air-con dials where Citroën has a trendy touch-sensitive digital climate control set-up.
Never mind, it’s still young and fun. And, somehow, the Aygo feels roomier than
the C1, possibly due to the simpler and less bolstered seats. As it is, the spacious interior – at least in the front – is a nice place to be, with plenty of wiggle room. It’s a different matter in the back, where it’s very tight. This is a car for two at most and the designers definitely had the urban youth in mind when they were allocating centimetres. Certainly, there’s no golf club room in the boot, more like a pair of roller skates and a rucksack. The high lip of that boot is also a bit of a pain, making hefting those roller skates into it a bit trying.
Under the skin
Ignore the lack of goodies inside. Rather concentrate on the engineering, and things start to look up again. The PSA-Toyota shared platform is largely unchanged, but there have been improvements. It has been lightened by using high-tensile steel, stiffened by adding an extra 119 spot welds, and improved upon in the handling stakes by adding a new torsion beam and returning the dampers, which also helps improve ride comfort. The underbody has been strengthened and there are new engine mounts, all to reduce vibration, a problem with the previous model. Finally, there’s a new larger electric motor, which allows for quicker response to steering inputs.
On the road
The carried-over three-cylinder 1.0 VVT-i engine from the previous model feels a lot friskier this time round, although if you step into the Aygo after another of the trendy turbocharged three-cylinder 1.0ℓ options doing the rounds (the Opel Adam especially) it can feel a bit pap on take-off. The trick is to make good use of the triple, rev it like a lunatic possessed and play getaway car as much as you can.
Getting caught in the wrong gear is best avoided – with a minuscule 95 Nm of torque peaking at a heady 4 300 rpm, it will simply not move much. It is better to wind it up and enjoy the three-cylinder strum of the exhaust note. The good news is that even if you do rev its little cartoon head off, the noise is tolerable, as better insulation has been introduced to the front wings, bonnet, dashboard, transmission, body frame, tunnel and instrument panel. And shifting is fun now – the new gearbox is fluid and fast and the ratios are well chosen, meaning that there are no big holes in the acceleration.
More good news is to be had out on the twisty stuff. The stiffer platform and that bigger electric motor have helped make the steering more precise. It’s still not as much fun to throw around as a Volkswagen Up! or even a Hyundai Grand i10, but there’s plenty of positivity, accuracy and response. And the suspension has benefited from the tweaks too – it’s comfortable, with decent isolation from crashy surfaces and represents a leap forward for small Toyotas. More broadly, it is astonishing how well tiny, light little cars are riding these days.
As you’d expect from such a tiny tot, economy is a great attraction. Figures of 5ℓ/100 km should be possible for the simple reason that there’s no turbocharger here to muck things up when you open the taps. It’s going to take the best part of 15 seconds to get to 100 km/h, but as we’ve noted, it’s a fun, smooth journey.
A non-turbocharged three-cylinder is
a great economy choice and likely to be hugely reliable – certainly the previous model was. But there’s a problem. Last time round there wasn’t much opposition (just French versions of the same car),
but now there are German and Italian sprogs spoiling the party. Their names
are Up! and Panda – both delightful, even memorable, tykes with reserves of ability and energy, better road manners and far better dynamics. The Up! particularly is a real threat, because it’s decently priced. The Panda is more expensive and uses the older Fiat four-cylinder engine, but is a precious creature, huge fun and magically designed. Why choose the Aygo? Badge cachet inevitably, and that biggie – resale value. A no-brainer then, isn’t it? ‘X’ marks the spot.
In a nutshell
Weird cross-eyed looks, great price,
Bit tepid in the power department,
not as zany as it could be
Engine: 998 cc, 3-cylinder
Power: 51 kW @ 6 000 rpm, 95 Nm @ 4 300 rpm
Performance: 0–100 km/h in 14.2 sec, top speed 160 km/h
Economy: 4.6ℓ/100 km
Transmission: 5-speed manual
CO2 emissions: 102 g/km
Suspension: McPherson struts front and rear
Price: R138 900
Volkswagen Move Up!
Brilliant little car, loads of space, feels far more solid than it looks, a fun drive and dynamic to boot. The Move is the only one to get, with the Take Up! lacking vital necessities and the Club
Up! approaching silly money. Arguably VW’s best car of the past 10 years. 0–100 km/h in 13.2 sec, top speed 171 km/h, power 55 kW / 95 Nm R147 100
Fiat Panda Pop
The chicest non-turbocharged tiny tot around. Beautifully appointed inside, roomy and premium. Drives well too, great in corners, responsive and intuitive. Great gearbox. 0–100 km/h in 14.2 sec, top speed 164 km/h, power 51 kW / 102 Nm R151 667
Citroën C1 Feel
The upmarket version of the Aygo, on the same shared platform. In the hands of the French, it gets double-decker headlights, a multifunctioning steering wheel and, if you choose the expensive Airscape, a retractable roof and Paul Smith-inspired
detail. 0–100 km/h in 11 sec, top speed 170 km/h, power 60 kW / 116 Nm R168 900