To broaden its appeal and boost revenue, Aston Martin is departing from tradition with a city car based on Toyota's iQ micro car.
The British luxury sports carmaker says the Cygnet's hand-stitched leather interiors and Aston Martin badge on the grill will persuade customers to pay £30,995 ($61,000) for the model.
The Cygnet's price is more than double that of Toyota's iQ, which provides the engine, transmission and frame.
Aston Martin aims to sell 1500 Cygnets a year, which would make it the company's second-best seller after the V8 Vantage's annual deliveries of about 2000.
Overall, the brand's sales last year gained about 6 per cent to 4250 cars, spokesman Kevin Watters said.
Chief designer Marek Reichman says the Cygnet is a luxury city car: "Prior to Cygnet your choice was, you open the door and it smells of plastic; now you open the door and you'll be hit by this wonderful smell of leather."
Aston Martin relied on Toyota to cut the cost and time for building the Cygnet in a unique project with the Japanese carmaker.
The ultra-luxury carmaker, which unlike rivals isn't backed by a larger carmaker, developed the model in about a year, compared with the typical three-year timeframe for most car projects.
Environmental pressure and growing city populations have prompted luxury carmakers to tailor offerings for urban drivers. Audi introduced the A1 subcompact last year. BMW will introduce an electric-powered city car in 2013. Mercedes-Benz later this year will start selling a revamped B-class compact, the first in a line of four new small cars.
Aston Martin has to meet these demands on its own. The company hasn't had the backing of an automotive parent since Ford sold the carmaker to a group of investors for £479 million in 2007.
Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti are owned by VW, while Fiat controls Ferrari and Maserati.
That solitary status may have pushed Aston Martin too far in the effort to reach new customers, says Simon Empson, managing director of British discount-car website Broadspeed.com.
"I have no idea who would buy an Aston iQ or why they would even want one - it looks just daft," said Empson, who previously owned the Aston Martin DB5 featured in The Italian Job film. "Extending the brand is all well and good - fitted luggage and sunglasses I get - but city cars I just don't."
Cygnet buyers will get a leather interior made from seven cow hides, the same amount used in the DB9 sports car, Reichmann says. Aston Martin will offer six types of alloy wheels and as many as 3 million possible combinations of trim and colour options. A navigation system, six-speaker stereo, leather-clad steering wheel and gear shift are standard.
But the luxury doesn't extend beneath the bonnet, with the car's 72kW engine essentially unchanged from the Toyota iQ. The Cygnet accelerates from zero to 100km/h in 11.6sec, compared with 3.7sec for the One-77, Aston Martin's limited-edition supercar.
The Cygnet will be Aston Martin's slowest car. The four-seat, stub-nose compact will rely more on fuel efficiency and practicality to win over buyers than the speed of its other models such as the DBS, James Bond's latest ride.
"It's not about zero to [100km/h] speeds ... or great racing capabilities," said Reichman.
"In the city, space is far more at a premium. You've got fewer chances to park, far more congestion, so it makes sense that our customers have a small, luxurious product."
The Cygnet also gives Aston Martin a less-polluting option, which provides buyers with a "green halo", says Peter Schmidt, managing director of England-based Automotive Industry Data.
The compact emits about 120g of C02 per kilometre, compared with 572g for the One-77. The company will sell the Cygnet to customers in the United States, Asia and Europe. "The attitude of the super-rich has changed," Schmidt said. "They really do want to be seen to be green. People can turn up at their golf club in this car and it will be a talking point."