It’s always hard to judge what things will turn out like when manufacturers co-ordinate to produce new car models. It is relatively common for a company which owns several brands to simply sell different versions of the same car (see the VW Group or everything GM has produced), but it’s far less common for opposing manufacturers to pool their resources, especially when they are renowned for vastly different talents. Results can vary between the good (Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86), the bad (Alfa Arna/Nissan Cherry Europe) and the surprisingly interesting (Saab 9000/Alfa 164).
Probably one of most successful pairings of recent times, and one of my favourite, has been the tie up between French manufacturer PSA (Peugeot Citroen) and Japanese giant Toyota; the resultant trio of city cars which has been produced have been a constant good seller for all brands and continue to shift despite the advancing years of the design. Launched in 2005 and produced at a factory in the Czech Republic, the Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo are amongst my favourite city cars on the market…in fact their cheekiness and amazing value has at least made me consider ditching my SUV plan at times in the past.
I have actually had some minor experience with an Aygo in the past, as a holiday hire car not long after they were first launched. Honestly I don’t have many memories of the car, but I do remember that it struggled with 5 people aboard and the boot was tiny, but judging from the number of the triplets I see on the road this does not bother too many customers. Part of the cars’ appeal undoubtedly comes from their styling; compact, cute and often in bright colours, the cars do their best to appeal to buyers young and old…the differing specs, alloys and individual design elements themselves mean that there is a model for everyone. The original Aygo was the looker of the pack and my personal favourite, especially in black with biggish wheels. C1 and 107 models looked a little too bug-eyed for my tastes, but their cheaper pricing meant that they also sold well despite the lack of media attention they got compared to the Aygo (who sponsored youth-orientated T4 TV shows and also appeared multiple times in Top Gear). All the designs were majorly facelifted in 2012, with the Aygo aping the Prius hybrid’s front end, the 107 gaining the new Peugeot corporate face and the C1 getting an unusual new grille and LED running lights. I still personally prefer the slightly different rear doors of the Aygo (which are not attached to the tail-lights as they are in the other 2), but the special editions of the C1 make a strong case with their detailing.
Inside the cars have aged slightly worse; when they were first launched the interior was fresh and a higher standard than anything else on the market-luminous materials and simple yet elegant controls were clearly built to a price but still pulled a visual punch. Newer rivals such as the Fiat 500, VW UP! (and siblings) as well as the Hyundai i10 have more of a grown up feel, but I personally don’t see much wrong with the harder plastic and exposed metal inside the PSA/Toyota siblings. Cracks start to appear further back though…as I have said rear space is at a premium for both passengers and luggage, and the pop-open rear windows strike me as cheap rather than cheerful.
On the road the cars again shine, with tidy handling and a characterful 3 cylinder engine which makes the cars quite go-kart like to drive. As usual I cannot actually say I have driven any of the models myself, but the Aygo was used to play a giant game of football to demonstrate it’s handling prowess, and plenty of reviewers speak about the sharp steering which is quite reminiscent of the original Ford KA in its playful feel. A short wheelbase means that the ride is not the smoothest though, and the engine whilst sweet around town is not that refined, so motorway driving is not where the little cars’ strengths lie (admittedly they are city cars though!). A diesel engine is also available, but as the 3 cylinder petrol returns 60mpg anyway and is quicker and cheaper, it makes little sense to choose it.
Is there anything actually wrong with these triplets? It would appear from a bit of hard plastic inside and a cheapo rear window that no is the answer. Why then are sales starting to decline slightly and reviews of the cars starting to become quite negative? Well the city car segment has become incredibly competitive in the last few years; previous contenders like the Ford KA and Fiat Panda have themselves been updated, and been joined by the likes of the bland but high-quality Hyundai i10, strikingly styled Kia Picanto…and most importantly the VW Group’s new triplets. The UP! possesses a high-quality and striking interior, bold styling and most importantly a semi-premium image and has gone straight to the top of many reviewer’s list of recommendations. It’s SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo siblings trade some style and desirability for lower prices, and that pushes the cars into even fiercer competition with the original city car trio. PSA and Toyota have combated this by offering their cars with some pretty outstanding offers…namely finance/insurance deals; £109 a month buys a C1 Connexion (high spec) for anyone aged 19 or over, pretty good considering that even just insurance can cost that for a young driver per month. The SEAT Mii can admittedly had for less (£79 a month on a similar deal if you’re over 21), but my money would still be on one of the cheeky PSA/Toyota triplets, I can’t wait to see the new versions whenever they arrive.