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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...

What vehicle would you regard the quintessential "new-out-of-the-box" student car? Something with a price tag of comfortably below R150k? Until relatively recently, such vehicles were usually stripped out, previous-generation B-segment vehicles, which, thanks to their popularity, have impeded the proliferation of well-specced, if less practical, city cars such as the previous-generation Citroën C1, Peugeot 107 and Aygo.

Just as was the case with the VW Up!, the latest Toyota Aygo does not arrive on the local market at the very beginning of its lifecycle, but, thanks to an attractive price tag of R138 900, a well-judged specification and sufficient safety equipment, the newcomer represents a pint-sized student car proposition from a respected volume-selling manufacturer. And the last part of the previous statement is significant, because as opposed to the latest C1, Datsun GO, Chery QQ3, Geely LC and FAW V2, to name a few, the Aygo has a distinct advantage by virtue of Toyota's extensive dealer network and reputation for solid after-sales service. It may not be fair on the others, especially the C1 (because it is produced at the same factory in the Czech Republic as the Aygo), but that's the reality.

Nonetheless, the Aygo does not trade solely on the name of its manufacturer. Gone are the oddball looks of its predecessor, and in its place is the distinctive X-motif that dominates the front view and looks particularly striking on the X-play black (black and white/red) or X-play silver (silver and gray) specifications, both of which cost R1 000 extra and includes leather steering wheel and gearknob, which are nice-to-have items. The rear features extended upright taillamp clusters (again, an improvement on the old car's fussy posterior) and although I'd stop short of saying the little car's attractive (given its blobby proportions), it certainly appears distinctive and very youthful.

Compared with the exterior execution, the interior is a markedly more utilitarian affair and dominated by a grey centre stack with chunky HVAC controls, yet the instrument binnacle features a trip computer and, given society's obsession with smartphones, the touchscreen audio system, equipped with four speakers, with a USB socket and Bluetooth music streaming capability, is likely to be a major drawcard for buyers... or, at the very least, those who nag buyers to purchase an Aygo for them. The cloth upholstery does not seem smart, but feels as if it should be durable, and although the rear legroom is tight, the added practicality of the five-door configuration is not insignificant.

From a driver's point of view, the modest torque output of the otherwise rorty sounding three-cylinder engine requires well-considered shifts of the five-speed transmission, especially at freeway speeds, but round town (with two occupants on board), the Aygo feels sprightly enough and should prove impressively frugal to operate. Lugging the engine in second gear (when pulling away from a yield-situation in traffic, for example) is not a good idea and the clutch pedal doesn't feel particularly progressive when released. However, once a driver becomes accustomed to treating the left-most pedal like an on/off switch, progress becomes much smoother.

Where the Aygo has a notable advantage over its Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto 1,0 rivals, to name two examples, is with the provision of ABS and brake assist in conjunction with dual front and side airbags, as well as Isofix child seat anchor points. Remote central locking, electric windows (front), electrically adjustable side mirrors, a pair of drinks holders and bottle recesses in the front door pockets complete the spec.

Included in the purchase price is a 3-year/100 000 km warranty and although a 3-year/45 000 km service plan is optional, the first 1 000 customers of the new Aygo will receive a complimentary service plan at no additional cost, Toyota announced at the launch.

Many consumers will undoubtedly want to know how well the new Aygo compares with the Up! (produced by Toyota's archrival Volkswagen); suffice to say the CAR team intends to make a direct comparison between the competitors in due course. However, my initial impression leads me to suggest that although the Up! holds the edge in terms of build quality and finish, the Toyota's value-for-money proposition is superior. If you can only spend R140k and want a "new-out-of-the-box" student car, the Aygo is best.

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