JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – Toyota recently updated its Aygo city hatchback, which serves as the entry-point (alongside the Etios) to the Japanese firm's range here in South Africa. We head upcountry to sample the refreshed model both in urban areas and on highways.

What's new?

While the facelift of Toyota’s funky little hatch does involve more than a mere visual upgrade, the styling changes are fairly substantial, and include larger projector headlamps (with LED daytime-running lights), a stronger X-motif up front, a more prominent front air dam and a new rear bumper arrangement.

Under the skin, important additions include hill assist control (allowing drivers to safely pull away from an incline) and, more importantly, vehicle stability control. As before, ABS with brake assist comes standard, along with four airbags on this model (and six for the flagship X-Cite).

Minor modifications to the engine have resulted in an increase of 2 kW for a new peak of 53 kW, while torque has fallen two units to a maximum of 93 N.m. The result is a small improvement in the claimed 0-100 km/h time, with the claimed fuel consumption figure also falling slightly to 4,3 litres per 100 km.

As before, the touchscreen-based infotainment system offers USB and aux-in ports, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. There are also power windows, electrically operated side-mirrors and a 12-volt socket on offer. Our launch unit features a two-tone body colour (red and black), and is called the X-Play Black. The top-of-the-range model is badged as the X-Cite and features a retractable soft-top roof, as pictured in the press images above.

Behind the wheel

There's no denying that you're climbing behind the wheel of a city car when you lower yourself into the Aygo. Still, the single-piece cloth seats are quite comfortable, while headroom is surprisingly sufficient, even for myself at 1,87 metres tall.
Toyota Aygo

The red exterior paintwork is carried over to the interior on this derivative, with the lower windowsill and air-vent surrounds to the right of the steering wheel are finished in red.

Turn the key and the small 1,0-litre, three-cylinder unit quickly settles into a relatively quiet idle. One needs to remember that in Johannesburg, a naturally aspirated engine’s performance drops by roughly 17%. Even so, in town, the engine’s performance is sufficient, even with two relatively heavy men on board. And, since the Aygo occupies such a small patch of tarmac, it's perfect for manoeuvring through gaps in traffic or threading through claustrophobic multi-storey car parks.

On the highway, though, it's a different story. Bizarrely, the gearing is fairly long, so at three-figure speeds the driver often needs to shift to third gear to keep up with or overtake traffic. That said, the gearlever moves with little effort so shifting isn't too much of a chore.

The ride is comfortable enough, largely thanks to the clever suspension setup and fairly high-profile rubber (165/65 R14) wrapped round the 14-inch wheels, while the rear seats are best reserved for children (or young teenagers, at a stretch).

Summary

Its fresh face and the handful of under-the-skin updates certainly render the Aygo more appealing than before. The fact that the X-Cite derivative offers a semi-convertible experience only adds to range's versatility. That said, the updated Aygo has its work cut out luring potential buyers from a number of strong (and some larger) alternatives at the price, chief among them the impressive new Suzuki Swift...