CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – When I heard the Toyota Agya was making its way to South Africa, I was honestly pretty excited. It’s a little car I’ve wanted to drive since the TRD S variant, available to certain Asian markets, was revealed earlier this year. As an self-confessed Kei car connoisseur, I often get excited when a new Japanese micro car is revealed but rarely ever do we get a chance to experience such vehicles in SA. Recently, though, a number the cars just above this segment have been made available to the local market, many of which are shipped in from India.

Granted, the aforementioned are not quite Kei cars. They’re simply too big and it’s the same story with the Agya, which measures a full 305 mm longer than the Japanese-spec Toyota Pixis Epoch (like the Agya, a rebadged Daihatsu). By South African standards, however, the newcomer is a tiny tyke. But before we get into the dimensions, let’s cover the basics.

At R182 400 (or R178 600 if you opt out of the audio system), the Agya arrives as Toyota South Africa’s most affordable offering, replacing the Aygo. Is this a sensible swap-out? Before exiting the market, the base Aygo 1,0 had an asking price of R182 000, offering an audio system as standard as well as essential safety features such as four airbags and electronic stability control. In the Agya, however, the airbag count has been reduced to two (one for the driver and another for the passenger) and stability control is missing. Still, the pre-facelift Agya achieved a commendable four stars in its ASEAN NCAP test back in 2015.

Based on comments posted to social media, the Agya has garnered its fair share of criticism regarding styling, most particularly with reference to the bold taillamp design. Given its proportions, the small hatch does feature some other peculiar cues, such as the seemingly performance-inspired front bumper and a rear-end housing both a rather cheeky hatch-mounted spoiler and faux-diffuser. This is rounded off with a set of black 14-inch alloy wheels.

In the cabin, things are more subtle with a basic steering wheel, manual gear shifter, gauge cluster and that optional audio system. While the materials used are simple and cast with plastic, given its segment the perceived quality is acceptable, with all of the switches and dials feeling light but well assembled. Headroom in the driver’s seat, however, is sparse, while the steering column is fixed, offering no reach or rake adjustment. Furthermore, the driver and passenger seats are frankly tiny, with the integrated headrest ending at the top of my neck. The rear bench, on the other hand, is fairly generous in terms of space thanks to the Agya’s 2 455 mm wheelbase.

For those wondering, "Agya" is the Sanskrit word for “fast”, which seems fairly ironic considering the little hatch is powered by a naturally aspirated 998 cc three-cylinder mill pushing out just 49 kW and 89 N.m of torque. With a claimed 0-100 km/h time of 14,6 seconds, the Agya is, in fact, anything but fast. What I was surprised to find out, however, was just how much of a joy it is to drive. Though modest in terms of outputs, the engine is characterful and offers sufficient power to propel what is a properly lightweight car. The short-ratio five-speed manual gearbox isn’t the slickest thing to use but allows the driver to get the most out of the powerplant. The positioning of the shifter, though, is awkward and precision is lacking. In addition, the short top ratio sees the engine spinning at around 3 800 r/min at an indicated 120 km/h, making the mill a bit noisy and thirsty on highways. Those who prefer self-shifting alternatives can opt for the four-speed torque converter for R182 400, sans the audio system.

 

 

 

Before getting behind the wheel I made the assumption the Ayga would be a generic South-East Asian product with a dull electrically assisted steering system and minimal road feel. What I experienced, though, was a well-weighted and direct steering arrangement that makes the Agya a treat to pilot through a set of twisty bits. To help keep fuel consumption low, the Agya comes fitted with a set of Bridgestone Ecopias, which usually offer fairly low levels of grip. The Agya’s impressive front mechanical grip, however, compensates for the tyre’s hard compound. As a result, the Agya presents itself as an enjoyable driving vehicle to the point where one wonders why a hot hatch variation hasn’t yet been created. Regardless, it’s refreshing to get behind the wheel of a budget car that you can actually have fun with through some corners.

That said, the Agya is a budget car first and with its entry-level price it is being pitted against some tough, strong-selling contenders in the segment. Based on initial impressions, Toyota’s latest addition is re-entering the budget segment with a very strong product that offers basic motoring with decent safety at a reasonable price.