NEW PRODUCT: Redesigned Toyota Aygo adds customisation options
Not your granny's Aygo: Toyota hopes garish paint colours (this is a 'special edition') and numerous personalisation options will broaden appeal to younger buyers
Discussion amongst journalists attending the European launch of Toyota's redesigned Aygo A-segment city car centred around the engine - had the automaker done enough?
This is, of course, the Europe-only tiddler developed and built in partnership with PSA which sells its own versions as the Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1. All go down the same line at a joint venture plant in the Czech Republic with Toyota taking the lead on most of the design and production engineering and PSA taking care of purchasing.
But about that engine. All three brands have the same, entry level, 68PS, Toyota-designed, three cylinder, one-litre, 12-valve variable valve timing petrol engine with five-speed transmission, manual or, as an option, automated manual. But while PSA also offers an 82PS, 1.2-litre, I3, petrol alternative - its own design used across multiple models – Toyota is sticking with just the smaller unit.
Some of the pundits reckon the one-litre motor is now too unrefined – great in 2005 when the first Aygo/C1/107 arrived but since overshadowed by newer designs such as Ford's EcoBoost I3 and the BMW I3s in the latest Mini hatchbacks.
Certainly, you hear the slightly uneven exhaust note when working the little motor hard which, due to a lack of low speed torque, you do often to snatch a gap in city traffic or get up to speed quickly when joining a motorway. But I quite liked the sound. The 0-100km/h (62mph) time is a leisurely 14.2 seconds (15.5 with the automated manual) and the exhaust note gives the impression the car is faster than it really is (like an original 850cc Mini or one-litre 'Fire' Fiat Uno) so you can actually have some fun without getting into too much trouble.
Toyota has done quite a lot of work on the engine for the redesign and claims that distinctive engine note is deliberate.
"We heard from Aygo drivers that they like the sporty engine note," chief engineer David Terai said. "But they sometimes felt the car was too noisy. So we focused on damping the engine and road noise but, at the same time, keeping the characteristic engine sound and even tuning it slightly."
As an aside, Terai expained the absence of a diesel this time around: "City car motorists are proving more loyal to the petrol engine than any other group of drivers, with 90% of customers choosing it in preference to a diesel."
Toyota GB insiders said the extra cost of a diesel - due in part to all the work required to meet strict new Euro 6 emission laws - didn't deliver a sufficient return in fuel savings to justify the investment.
Terai added: "In the A-segment running costs are paramount; customers don’t want to spend a fortune on fuel bills. But at the same time we didn’t want to resort to expensive technology to reduce consumption, as this would have driven the vehicle price up too high. So our challenge was to come up with relatively simple, but clever ways to achieve our targets."
Changes to the one-litre petrol I3 targeted better combustion efficiency, reduced friction losses and an exhaust system optimised for low emissions.
Compression ratio has been increased from 11.0:1 to 11.5:1. Cooling has been improved and a high tumble intake port ensures an optimum fuel-air mixture in the cylinder. Better oil injection has been achieved by adding a piston jet and the VVT-i variable valve timing system has been adjusted. As a result, the engine now achieves a claimed class-leading 37% thermal efficiency.
Friction losses were reduced by using a low-friction timing chain with an auto-tensioner. The valve lifters now have a 'diamond-like carbon' coating, which gives a smooth contact area with less friction.
Fitting a twin-tank oil pan further contributes to reduced internal resistance, as it allows the oil to heat up faster.
The engine also adopts a cylinder head with a built-in exhaust manifold, and the exhaust system itself has been improved with an exhaust gas recirculation system.
Engine power is now 69bhp/51kW at 6,000rpm and torque output has risen to 95Nm at 4,300rpm.
EU 'official' combined cycle fuel consumption improves from 65.7 to 68.9mpg with a reduction of 4g/km in CO2 emissions to 95g/km.
Without being specific, Toyota claims to have "vastly improved" the automated manual but a very brief drive indicated this is still pretty jerky when shifting up though this can be mitigated if you can judge when the upshift will occur and lift off the throttle momentarily. It is actually smoother on full throttle blast-off. A CVT would be better but Toyota counters that none are made in Europe and that the auto option only accounts for about 20% of sales.
This time around, Toyota Europe's baby is a bit more distinctive than the PSA twins with the Aygo having a very distinctive frontal 'X' graphic that really stands out in a sea of look-alike small hatchbacks in traffic. This spreads out across the bodywork and contains all the car’s key elements, including the upper and lower grilles, headlamps, fog lamps and even the door mirrors and side glazing.
For the headlights to be narrow enough to be located within the X graphic, they had to use projector technology, exceptional in the A-segment.
The Aygo also has a unique waistline, kinked up at the rear side windows (still the el cheapo pop-out type rather than wind-down) which greatly restricts the view out, especially for children, though the car is really a bit small for family hatchback duty.
Tail lights are also distinctive, located in the pillars each side of the lift-up rear 'glassgate'; the PSA cars' lights are lower.
In an age of growing vehicles, the new Aygo's overall length is up just 25mm (one inch) to 3,455mm and, although front headroom has increased 7mm, overall height is 5mm lower. Front and rear tracks have been widened by 8mm.
Wheelbase remains 2,340mm but passenger compartment length is up 9mm.
Luggage capacity has grown 29 litres to 168 litres but it's still tight – two carry-on bags was pretty much it.
Aerodynamics are improved, the body is more rigid, suspension has been tweaked for better handling and ride and the electric power steering has been modified for a smoother and more precise feel.
Inside, plenty of painted metal and hard plastic door trims leave no illusions this is an economy car but full driver's seat height adjustment and infinitely variable backrest recline both come as a surprise even if the steering column has height-only adjustment (the instrument pod moves with it).
What will surely add appeal, though, is extensive customisation options with the Czech factory doing the basics according to model level specification and choice and, for the UK, a special unit at Toyota's Derbyshire facility carrying out the rest.
Cue chief engineer Terai again: "Customers have become used to a wide choice of colours and executions in many of the things they buy [Apple's multi-colour iPhone 5c was cited as one example], so it is time for the motor industry to catch up. The ability to create an Aygo that is very much your own is key to delivering the desirability I wanted to achieve. Knowing that your car is somehow unique will make it all the more special to you."
Exterior interchangeable parts are the x-shaped front grille, rear bumper insert, front wing garnish and alloy wheels. In the cabin the instrument panel, centre console, air vents, gear shift knob and gear lever surround can easily be changed, even after several years of ownership.
Nissan Europe has just introduced a similar range of options for its revamped Juke, offering four, factory fitted design packs.
For the Aygo, Toyota GB is getting the Czech factory to build a straightforward range of three grades in various colours, two special edition models (which will be renewed regularly) in more limited colours with two optional exterior and interior packs.
This will minimalise lead time with further customisation being done in the UK.
As usual, trim and equipment varies by market but the UK is kicking off with three regular grades, x, x-play and x-pression, and two special editions called x-cite and x-clusiv, with prices ranging from GBP8,595 to GBP12,395.
The base model really is just that but a huge range of additional goodies can be acquired by moving up the grade scale and adding options, most of which are grouped in packs. Bluetooth connectivity, smartphone integration, multiple ways of playing audio, keyless entry/start are all commonly available on even entry level cars these days but the availability of leather trim and the claimed class first of a rear view camera may come as a surprise.
Toyota GB has, however, said no to the canvas roof convertible version offered in some European markets.
Generation Two Aygo has a hard act to follow. Even in its swansong year, sales of the first generation car are up 9% to about 30,000 so far in 2014 and that's with the number of competitors up from nine in 2005 to 20 now. Toyota Europe claims it has a higher brand conquest rate than the A segment average and higher customer loyalty. Gen 2's target is to boost Toyota's A-segment share from 5.2% now to 6% (80,000 units) in 2015, the new model's first full year.
UK sales last year tallied 16,539, making the Aygo Toyota GB's second highest volume model, and 2014 sales are up 17%. The model has the lowest average age of any Toyota model and the strongest conquest rate after the niche GT-86 sportscar.
TGB is after 19,350 sales this year, rising to 23,780 in 2015, so the UK alone is good for over a quarter of European sales. That should hike the model to a 8-9% share of the hard-fought A-segment.