Toyota has launched its Aygo city car in South Africa six years after its international debut.
Some might say it's six years too late, given that rebadged versions of the same car have been selling here as the Peugeot 107 and Citroen C1 for the past several years.
But Toyota SA believes a recent 81% upswing in demand in the A segment, in which the Aygo competes, makes this the perfect time to bring the tiny five door hatchback to market.
It will be the brand's entry level model, undercutting the Yaris Zen in price and aimed at young, fun-loving, first-time buyers.
Rumours of the next-generation Aygo's imminent arrival are premature and the current car will still be around for another two to three years, says Toyota.
While SA sales of the French-badged versions of the car have recently trickled along at an average of less than 40 units a month, Toyota expects to shift around 300 Aygos every 30 days.
They'll probably achieve it too thanks to the selling power of that Toyota badge, and the fact that it's the only car in its class offered standard with a service plan (four years or 60 000km).
The imported Aygo (pronounced i-go) is from this week onwards offered in two five-door models, the basic Aygo Fresh selling for R109 900 and the higher-specced Aygo Wild for R120 100, with a three-door model to follow in the third quarter of the year.
Standard spec in the Fresh, which slightly undercuts le C1 and 107 in price, includes dual front airbags, ABS brakes with EBD, electric power steering, and aircon.
The Wild in addition gets electric front windows, an MP3-ready radio/CD, central locking, colour coded mirrors and door handles, side airbags, split-folding rear seat (the Fresh has a one-piece folding version), and alloy wheels (the Fresh rides on steel wheels with plastic hubcaps).
The power unit, if one can use so bold an expression, is a 1-litre three-cylinder petrol engine which moves the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission.
Actually, it's quite an impressive little unit with variable valve timing, 12 valves and double overhead camshafts letting it punch above its modest-sounding spec. It's won its class in the International Engine of the Year award for several years running, and its 50kW/93Nm outputs, combined with the car's extra-light 830kg mass, makes for surprisingly adequate commuting pace and the ability to set off speed traps on the freeway as well.
The factory quotes a 0-100km/h time of 14.7 seconds and a 157km/h top speed, but it's the claimed 4.6 litres/100km consumption that is the bigger selling point following the latest fuel price hikes.
A short 80km urban drive in Cape Town at the car's media launch yesterday revealed the Aygo to have a bit of a choppy ride as is common for cars with such short wheelbases. But overall it's a nippy, easy-to-like city car with decent road manners and the ability to squeeze into the tiniest of parking spots.
Despite its advancing years the Aygo, which was facelifted in 2009, is ageing well and has youthful, funky looks that will appeal to its youthful and funky target market. The cabin is more of the same, with a cheerful dash design apparently inspired by speedboats. The large, pod-like instrument panel is mounted atop the height adjustable steering column, ensuring visibility of the speedo regardless of the steering wheel position, while there's generous oddments space about the cabin.
There's space for four adults at a squeeze in the small car, but the rear seat would serve better duty as extra cargo room as the tiny boot offers about as much capacity as a carrier pigeon. There's at least a full-sized spare wheel though.
Within the next year or so Toyota SA will launch another budget-priced small car, the Indian-built Etios, which will most likely be positioned below the Aygo as the successor to the discontinued Tazz. Details are scant at present but dare we hope for a sub-R100 000 price tag?