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Toyota gets mildly adventurous with its second-generation Aygo city car - but does it do enough to hold off advances from the Volkswagen Up, Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto?

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During almost a decade and a half of service across two generations, the Aygo has proven itself a fine starter car for Toyota.

Built in a joint venture with Peugeot and Citroën, the snappily styled, modestly priced model has become a popular fixture of the city car class – particularly in the buoyant secondhand market, where the brand’s reputation for reliability and dealership transparency has probably done it no harm at all.

The first Toyota Aygo was launched in 2005 and updated twice

Before signing a deal with PSA Peugeot-Citroën in 2001, Toyota had not built a bona fide city car — preferring instead to leave smaller domestic models to its subsidiary, Daihatsu.

Following the success of the Toyota Yaris supermini, the B-Zero project was aimed at meeting the demands of European urbanites, with the first generation Aygo and its French-badged sister cars, the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 107, being produced at a new joint facility in the Czech Republic.

The model was launched in 2005 and received subtle, largely cosmetic facelifts in 2009 and 2012. These were replaced by an all-new version in 2014, which like its predecessor remained an Franco-Japanese venture with Citroen and Peugeot (this time with the 108) launching their own subtly different variants.

By the time the second generation machine arrived it landed in a class that had grown significantly in size. Entrants such as the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto are tough enough, but it's the Skoda CitigoVolkswagen Up and Seat Mii that are the toughest challengers as they have shown that grown-up quality isn’t the preserve of bigger hatchbacks.

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Even so, desirability remains a key part of the Aygo’s apppeal, and Toyota has dug deep into what it imagines are the “outspoken shapes and forms” of Japanese youth culture for the styling, that easily distinguishes the Aygo from those around it.

‘Fun to drive’ and ‘easy to fall in love with’ are also among the firm’s stated aims, which ought to dovetail perfectly with our unchanging criteria for small cars.

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DESIGN & STYLING

2 Toyota Aygo 2019 UK RT hero side

Toyota has been bold here. The inspiration for the Aygo’s look is the expansion of a soft centre through a hard shell, hence the dramatic break lines that form the ‘X’ graphic on the nose. But that’s by the by.

The really audacious element of the styling is that a mainstream manufacturer has committed itself to such an obviously divisive feature in the first place. Early versions stood out thanks to the removable front grille, rear bumper insert, front wing section and alloy wheels – thereby offering buyers (and dealers) the chance to gently customise the car at any point in its lifetime by slotting in alternative coloured trim pieces. However, this feature was dropped for the 2018 facelift, giving the Aygo a slightly more grown-up visual appeal.

The 1.0 triple now delivers better fuel economy and lower emissions

Underneath the boldy bodywork, the Aygo’s shared platform is unchanged from the first generation model  but considerably reworked to make it lighter, stiffer and more aerodynamic.

The use of high-tensile steel, an extra 119 spot welds and a thickening of the floor brace make the car’s architecture more rigid than before and, together with lighter body panels and a new torsion beam, a modest amount of fat has been trimmed from the Aygo’s bone.

The springs and dampers are retuned in a bid to improve ride comfort, and Toyota claims that a larger electric motor delivers quicker response to steering inputs.

Efforts to enhance the car’s dynamic performance are arguably outstripped by those made to improve its refinement – surely as much an acknowledgement of its rivals’ achievements as any condemnation of its predecessor.

Better insulation has been introduced to the bonnet, front wings, dashboard, body frame, transmission tunnel and instrument panel, and the Aygo’s underbody has been strengthened specifically to reduce unwanted vibration.

Unlike many rivals, which now have electrified or mild hybrid engine options, the  Aygo sticks with its tried-and-tested three-cylinder 1.0 VVT-i, which has had its intake and mounts re-engineered to improve its refinement.

Toyota’s dinky three-cylinder petrol engine has been a long-standing feature of the Aygo and has received several updates to ensure that it keeps pace with European emissions standards. The latest iteration is no different and has undergone another overhaul intended to improve performance without dramatically impacting on the car’s bottom line.

Superior economy is the main target, with particular attention paid to the unit’s thermal efficiency. The compression ratio is now marginally higher and Toyota has fitted a new cylinder head with a built-in exhaust manifold to improve exhaust gas recirculation.

Engine oil distribution and faster heat-up have been aided by the addition of a piston jet and a twin-tank oil pan. The latter also contributes to reduced internal resistance, the reason why the engineers have adopted a low-friction timing chain and given the valve lifters a dusting of diamond-like carbon coating.

Toyota has also revised gear ratios on its optional 'x-shift' automated manual transmission for what it calls a “better balance” of driving pleasure and fuel economy.

The result is fuel consumption of up to 54.36mpg, and CO2 emissions of at least 118g/km, while the standard five-speed manual is capable of emitting as little as 111g/km. It’s worth noting that this on-paper, WLTP figures aren’t particularly strong compared to newer rivals such as the Hyundai i10, although the Toyota’s running costs hardly break the bank.

INTERIOR

9 Toyota Aygo 2019 UK RT cabin

Essentially there are just three trim levels available with the Aygo: Entry-level models get 15in steel wheels, LED day-running lights, front electric windows and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity as standard, along with a reversing camera, air-conditioning and Toyota’s Safety Sense package, which comprises autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning.

Mid-range x-trend trimmed cars add climate control, front foglights, and privacy glass, while the range-topping x-clusive is lavished with leather trim for the seats, automatic headlamps and 15-inch diamond cut two-tone alloy wheels. This flagship model can also be specified with a pair of bi-tone paint finishes of Scarlet flare (red with a black contrasting roof) or Bold Black (black with a red roof).

There's still no reach adjustment for the steering wheel

To really stand out, however, it needs to be as cleverly packaged as a Hyundai i10, as classy as an Volkswagen Up and as charming as a Suzuki Ignis. It’s not quite any of the above, but it certainly does enough on all three fronts to be considered a credible alternative.

The Aygo's age tells inside, where headroom and legroom are tight for full-sized adults, even by city car standards - the competition has moved the game on here.

But you do get a greater impression of space up front. The low-set driver’s seat creates useful headroom and shoulder space, and the more steeply raked steering column makes the driving position feel less upright.

Boot space is generous, although annoyances here include a cheap cloth parcel shelf that’s fiddly to fit and a large load lip that makes lifting heavier stuff in and out a bit trying.

The Aygo’s fascia looks and feels much less cheap than its predecessor’s, but while it’s a match for most, rivals such as the Hyundai i10 have a more premium look and feel. Still, the moulded plastics are hard but not rough, they look pleasant enough and they feel flimsy only if you go looking at low levels for a wobbly fitting.

Our test car benefited greatly from its x-touch 7.0inch touchscreen multimedia set-up, which provided an upmarket focal point for the whole dashboard and worked well. It's standard on all models and does the basics well, featuring a DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity.

But that’s not all it does because CarPlay and Android Auto are both included, allowing you to display your phone's screen on the seven-inch display and so select and browse all your compatible apps, including navigation.

The x-touch set-up works through a four-speaker audio system that sounds a little tinny and distorts when producing lower frequencies with any volume, but it’s entirely decent for the class.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

20 Toyota Aygo 2019 UK RT engine

The previous Aygo displayed a great deal of pep to its driving experience – not from the raw numbers, but from the general nature of its thrummy three-cylinder engine’s delivery.

Less get up and go, more get up and show willingness to get a shift on, if you like. That impression is present this time around, too.

In fifth gear, 50-70mph takes 24.1sec in the Aygo. Volkswagen's Up took 18.6sec

Given the engine’s paucity of capacity and relatively low outputs, you’d expect nothing other than the 13.9sec that it requires for a 0-60mph ‘sprint’. Of more value to the driver here is in-gear flexibility.

First, the bad news: low-end shove is not its strong point. Peak torque arrives at 4300rpm, which is no great surprise for a naturally aspirated petrol engine, but it means that the Aygo needs to be worked if you’re looking to join a motorway at a pace similar to the traffic already on it.

Fortunately, the fact that there are only three cylinders means that the relative frequency of the bangs is a bit lower than in a four. And the note is appealing. So you don’t feel as bad about working the Toyota as you might an engine with an extra cylinder. Do so and you’ll find that 50-70mph in third gear takes a respectable 11.4sec.

Shifting the lever for the five-speed gearbox used to be a bit of a chore, with excessive notchiness and too little return to centre, but both of these criticisms seem to have been addressed. The ratios themselves are well spread to allow swift enough response at low revs and an able motorway cruise.

The five-speed automatic – designated x-shift – works in an acceptable fashion but it does take time to shift; we'd recommend you stick with the manual if possible.

The Toyota's pedals are light yet well weighted relative to each other, while braking is respectable in the dry and good in the wet.

RIDE & HANDLING

21 Toyota Aygo 2019 UK RT on road front

When the original Aygo and its French cousins were launched, there wasn’t a great deal of competition in this class. That they felt relatively agile and were responsive enough to inputs meant that they rose near to the top of what was a fairly mediocre bunch.

This time around, things have become more difficult. There are rivals that are not only more refined than an old Aygo could ever have hoped to be but also give more driving enjoyment at the same time.

The Aygo won't surprise you nastily, even when driven in an aggressive fashion

The stiffer platform of the new Aygo has cured the city car of one of its biggest dynamic bugbears: slack, lifeless steering. Now it turns with more positivity, accuracy and response; the rest of the major controls are fine, too.

An Up or alternatives might give you more firmness and directness to their controls and an i10 has a more positive gearshift, but this Aygo is far less soggy than the previous one.

It rides pretty well, too, with decent isolation from secondary lumps and bumps, which is no mean feat for a car of its minimal mass. Again, our impression is that there’s a touch more isolation, in both noise and composure, in an Volkswagen Up or Hyundai i10, but the Toyota Aygo is comfortable against the rest.

However, with the past decade’s increase in class size has also come an increase in fun. The Fiat Panda is still the car for which we hold the most affection here , although the only non-high-riding four-wheel drive option is now the wide-tyred Sport. It doesn't necessarily grip hardest or show the best resistance to understeer, or even have the keenest steering, but it shows a degree of verve that it's more sensible rivals do not.

The Aygo falls somewhere between them all on this count. It doesn’t quite feel as willing as a Panda to be shown the way, but there’s more vigour and response and a better-controlled body than you’ll find in the Volkswagen or its sisters.

If a driver is on the limit in a Toyota Aygo, there are two likely possibilities: one, it’s an emergency; two, it’s a hire car. The former is our priority here, and the Aygo will serve you pretty well.

The stability control always stays on and the traction control can be switched out at low speeds only, to allow some slip on very low-friction surfaces. The stability control itself is pretty well judged, too, nipping any serious slip before it begins but cutting out again pretty quickly once things are under control.

The Aygo’s natural handling balance, then, is slightly harder to judge, but on our wet circuit they were a little clearer. The car displays a tendency to understeer at first, just as it should, before the stability systems cut in.

There’s the onset of lift-off oversteer, too, but you don’t get far into it before the electronics intervene. For the ragged-edged hire car driver, then, there’s a little to enjoy here; the Aygo is otherwise agile and its brakes display a willingness to resist fade in all conditions.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Toyota Aygo 2019 UK RT hero front

You probably predicted that the Aygo would be undercut on value for money by its Citroën cousin.

Leaving our highly equipped test car to one side for a moment, Toyota asks £13,345 for an entry-level five-door X model, which realistically has all the kit you’re ever likely to need.

Toyota claims an average of 68.9mpg for the manual 1.0-litre petrol Aygo

The equivalent C1 costs £400 less and gets all the same equipment apart from the Safety Sense extras. Meanwhile, for £14,025 Hyundai will sell you an i10 SE Connect with alloy wheels, powered door mirrors and cruise control.

Toyota could clearly try harder to appeal to the wallet as well as to the eye in that sense, but overall the Aygo is well-equipped for the cash and benefits from decent residuals.

The Aygo isn’t in a segment-leading position on insurance costs, however. Our test car came with a group three rating, with rivals as low as 1E. But there’s better news on fuel economy.

The 1.0-litre three-pot returned a very frugal 63.2mpg on our touring test, where the equivalent i10 returned 51.2mpg earlier this year. Even driven quite hard on the road, our Aygo test car seldom did worse than 50mpg.

If you're sold on the idea of an Aygo, the entry-point x-play spec should be all you’ll need in terms of equipment (unless you really have to have leather trim in your city car).

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VERDICT

23 Toyota Aygo 2019 UK RT static front

The arrival of the Volkswagen Group’s trio of city cars back in 2012 rendered the previous Aygo an also-ran almost overnight – at least as far as our class rankings were concerned.

Nothing less than a brand new platform and a ground-up redesign could have made the new Toyota Aygo a class leader, so few will be surprised that we’re damning the car with slightly faint praise.

The updates bump the Aygo from also-ran to contender, but it hasn't upset the class leaders

This car is modern and pleasant, broadly competitive on space and value, and more creditable on efficiency and equipment. It’s also among the most desirable city cars to look at.

It’s evident that Toyota hasn’t gone to great lengths to make key dynamic improvements to the Aygo underneath those eye-catching styling features. When all is said and done, this car is no match for an Up on refinement, and its handling isn’t as fluent and vivacious as a Fiat Panda’s.

In short, it won’t pull up many trees. But it’s certainly good enough – if you happen to like it enough.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Toyota Aygo 2014-2021 First drives