Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Ugly duckling a blast from the past

Aston Martin Cygnet.

I want to talk, for what I think is the third time on these pages, about Aston Martin’s Cygnet. It was formally unveiled last week at the Geneva Motor Show, and my comments can now contain rather more than mere opinion or speculation. But there will still be a lot of the former.

Back in July I speculated that it would be put on sale at a price of £20-25,000, suggesting on Octane’s website in December that the sale price would be towards the lower end of this price bracket. No. Aston Martin think they can get away with selling the £10-13k IQ for nearer to £30,000 with an Aston grille and hand-stitched interior. I could have a fully specced MINI Cooper S Mayfair (Yes, another example of BMW’s Mini nomenclature misuse) and £1645 change for that. Or a Jaguar XF.

Yes, that’s right. Aston Martin are charging XF money for a Toyota in drag. That has a 1.3 engine, does 60 in thirteen seconds, and looks like a cross between a dishwasher and a rollerskate. Something doesn’t add up quite properly there, in my view.

Next criticism. It uses the standard Toyota drivetrain. I have always said it would, as in their defence have AM. But is it really right that a supercar manufacturer launch a car with less sporting performance figures than the company’s products of fifty years ago?

But I’m only halfway through this article, so you know there has to be a ‘however’. Well, there isn’t. I’m going to say ‘That said’ instead.

That said, I can see exactly what Aston are doing. They’ve chosen a base car that’s far too small and weedy to bear the Aston badge, but look at that £30,000 as high end Mondeo money rather than base XF money and it starts to slot into place. The Allegro-based Vanden Plas 1500 was a little car with a plush interior and slight cosmetic workover to ape the larger cars VP worked with; in this case Daimlers. Leyland saw fit to charge Dolomite and Princess money for the car, which in modern parlance becomes high end Mondeos and low end 3 Series BMWs. So what Aston have done is launch the car I’ve been bemoaning the loss of; a small luxury car.

They’ve done it in the wrong way, I stand by that. The iQ was the wrong base; if I’d been responsible I’d have chosen to base it on the Prius and given it a Rapide style makeover – assuming Toyota would have allowed it. You see, Aston could then claim a hybrid to it’s range, and the car would have been a suitable size to become a miniature limousine. And £30,000 wouldn’t look quite so steep in comparison with a £20,000 base as it does when the base car is half that. But the basic idea of a little limousine is one which is to be applauded, so the car gets a slightly reserved thumbs-up from me.

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