When is an Aston Martin not an Aston Martin? When it's a Toyota, of course

Aston Martin's Cygnet is based on a Toyota iQ. Photo / Supplied
Aston Martin's Cygnet is based on a Toyota iQ. Photo / Supplied


When is an Aston Martin not an Aston Martin? When it's a Toyota, of course. The new Cygnet might wear James Bond's favourite badge, but Aston's luxury city car is based on the Toyota iQ, the budget run-around of choice for Britain's Hollyoaks-watching teenage drivers.

And depending on your motoring philosophy, the smallest and slowest car in the Aston Martin garage is either a chic way for the supercar-owning classes to get around or an overpriced motoring mutant unfit to wear Aston's wings.

Designed as an urban plaything for the world's HNWI (that's high net-worth individuals, to you and I), while their supercars rest in West Kensington or Hong Kong garages, the Cygnet starts life in a Toyota factory before Aston smothers it in fine leather and pearlescent paint.

Unfortunately for New Zealanders who want something small and parkable to sit in the garage next to the Rapide or DBS, the wee Cygnet now won't be landing on these shores.

Despite the premium price tag (in the UK, it costs NZ$40,200 - more than the iQ), it shares the same engine, chassis and gearbox as its Toyota parent.

The real transformation is its exterior styling touches and luxurious interior. Apart from the roof, its panels are all new (the old ones are shipped back to Toyota to be reused) and there are 22 different hides (all hand-stitched) and 30 exterior colours to choose from.

A few cheap tells aside (the wobbly indicator stalks and the plastic door-control mirrors), the Cygnet does feel like a proper Aston Martin. Things are different on the road, though. In town there's enough punch when you need it and its tiny turning circle gets me more than one jealous look from black-cab drivers in central London.

But it's not an Aston Martin. Its engine needs a good thrashing to accelerate above 50km/h and it delivers an irritating whine rather than the guttural roar of an Aston's normal V12.

While comfortable enough on the motorway (the ride is surprisingly good for a tiny car), its performance does more to lower Aston's overall emissions (a typical supercar emits three times as much carbon as the Cygnet) to help comply with new European rules than to set pulses racing.

And who would buy one, when a top-of-the-range iQ or Fiat 500 offers more than enough comfort, and just as much punt, for any sprint across town? According to research by Aston Martin, 70 per cent of Cygnet owners already possess one of the company's performance beasts. Cygnet means baby swan, after all. And the world's wealthy are obviously easily convinced - the first run sold out immediately and Aston Martin hopes to soon be producing 1,000 a year.

But the company admitted last week that sales have not met expectations and customers are complaining at having to wait for their car to be custom built.

So while buyers of $200,000-plus performance cars are happy to wait for them to be meticulously pieced together, they are less keen to wait for the Cygnet. These are the sort of people who wouldn't want to wait around for a $50,000 handbag.

All of this driving decadence makes me uncomfortable, though. I drove a proper Aston Martin earlier this summer (a bright red Virage Volente) and somehow managed not to feel like an idiot - though I'm sure I looked like one.

The Cygnet is cute (and a lot of fun around town), but I just wouldn't want people thinking I'd paid £31,000 (NZ$62,000) for one. But then, I'm not a globe-trotting playboy, am I?

ASTON MARTIN CYGNET
Price: £30,995 - not available in NZ
Engine capacity: 1.33 litres
Top speed: 170km/h
0-100 km/h: 11.6 secs
Fuel economy: 5.2l/100kms
CO2 emissions (g/km): 116

- THE INDEPENDENT

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