Road Test The Cygnet is a clever idea and an appealing, if not an exceptional, little city runabout.
Cygnet is an unconventional, everyday kind of Aston Martin
You might think that stepping out of an Aston Martin DBS and into this tiny, 1.3L powered (and I use that word reservedly, given the modest 98hp output) Aston Martin Cygnet would be something of an anti-climax. There's no denying that the four-cylinder engine's breathless sound and rather flat exhaust note aren't a touch on the rousing timbre of the DBS's 6.0L V12, but it's certainly a lot easier to drive.
As much as super and sports cars thrill, they are a nuisance to use every day. A nice problem to have, admittedly, but people with enough money to buy supercars don't buy more than one car because they can. It's because they need them. A DBS is fine if you're in the mood, but the compromises it brings are huge, not least if the underground parking for your penthouse apartment is on the tight side. Step up the Aston Martin Cygnet.
The majority of us motoring journalists have been pretty hard on the Cygnet, but since it was shown at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show it has fascinated me. Much like I cannot fathom why my wife and her friends aspire to $2,000 handbags, it's impossible for any but the most handsomely paid motoring journalists - of which there are few, save the odd television presenter - to get into the mindset of someone who might buy a Cygnet. Sure, it's about three to four times the amount you'll pay for the mechanically identical Toyota iQ, but that's not the point. I'm sure the factories churning out $2,000 handbags do a sideline in cheaper versions.
No, the Cygnet is interesting because it's different. Those mechanicals stay the same because, really, if you want to go fast in your Aston Martin, you'll do it in your V8 Vantage, DB9, Virage, DBS or, if you're a real high-flyer, the One-77. It's easy enough for us to enthuse about the sports cars because they represent something we're familiar with: the rich buy fast, flash cars. Fact. What's more difficult to comprehend is the thought process behind buying a car like the Cygnet.
Yet Aston Martin isn't the only firm to tap into an upmarket small car; Mini will soon offer a limited run of "Inspired by Goodwood" models, trimmed and painted by Rolls-Royce. We've yet to hear a price, but it'll be handsome. And people will pay it; one of Mini's dealers at the flagship Park Lane London dealership admitted that it wasn't uncommon to sell Minis costing upwards of £40,000 (Dh229,000) By that rationale, the Cygnet makes a lot of sense.
Not least because Aston Martin has re-styled it. Sure, it's not as lithe as its sports cars, but some of the machismo is there - even if it's not quite as thrusting. It's not just a few lashed-up parts either. The Cygnet's grille is a proper metal one, such as those on the sports cars, while every exterior panel, with the exception of the three-quarter and the roof, is unique to the small Aston. Clever extension of the shape of the lights by adding nostril-like vents, new rear lights, front wing vents and unique wheels all make the Cygnet look the part, even if it is unconventional.
If there is a disappointing area, it's not the performance but the interior. Lashings of leather do raise its game, but the areas left in standard Toyota trim let the side down. A bit more handcrafting and less parts - sharing would help, but then Aston Martin has always been partial to a borrowed column stalk, switch and air vent. Thing is, like the sports cars, it's unlikely if you're buying a Cygnet you'll have ever sat in an iQ, so you're unlikely to be too concerned.
Likewise, the Cygnet is never going to create the kind of maniacal face-contorting performance of the sports cars, but it's not without appeal. The iQ upon which it's based is rightly praised for being fun in that unconventional way that tiny engined cars often are. The Cygnet's wide stance helps, meaning it's not as wobbly as its upright, short dimensions might suggest. And while the steering is light on feel and precision, the Cygnet does hang on well - at the speeds it's capable of. For all its limited performance - 0-100kph taking an age at 11.6 seconds - it's actually a bit of a giggle to drive, because it's the only Aston Martin you can drive everywhere pretty much flat out without fearing for your licence. The top speed is apparently 171kph, but you'll run out of road before you ever achieve that.
No, the fun's to be had from just keeping it going; the little 98hp four-cylinder engine's output might be akin to the power needed to keep a One-77's air conditioning running, but it's enough. Just. It's a shame it doesn't sound more charismatic, though the rev-hungry CVT gearbox is not helping. A manual alternative is offered.
I handed it back to Aston Martin enthusing about it, not because it's an exceptional car, but because it's a clever idea. Its execution might not be perfect, but there's merit to the Cygnet. While I cannot comprehend what it must cost to run five houses, fuel a super-yacht or buy a Jaeger Le Coultre Aston Martin AMVOX DBS with a transponder to open the doors of my actual DBS, I can understand why an Aston buyer might want to buy a Cygnet. Whatever anyone else says about it.
Base price: not available
Engine: 1.3L four-cylinder
Power: 98hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 125Nm @ 4,400rpm
Fuel economy, combined: 5.2L/100km