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Aston Martin Cygnet 1.33-litre four-cylinder dual VVT-i petrol engine, six-speed manual with Stop & Start technology, 72kW/125Nm.

Exclusive Test Drive of the Aston Martin Cygnet

Location: Gaydon, Warwickshire – Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

It might wear an Aston Martin badge, but Aston’s baby Cygnet has certainly stirred up some controversy ever since the concept was shown to the public a couple of years ago.

Critics dismissed it as a pretend Aston Martin; one that didn’t share the performance attributes of the rest of Aston’s fleet of high-end sports cars. To a sizeable group of enthusiasts and fans around the globe the Cygnet was no more than a re-badged Toyota iQ, while other more pragmatic observers saw it as a smart move for the company for a couple of well founded reasons.

Apart from the obvious benefits of owning such a small vehicle in overcrowded cities such as London, Paris or New York, the Cygnet also represents a significant opportunity for Aston Martin to comply with the European Union’s fleet average emissions standards, which kicks in next year (2012).

If Aston can sell enough of these Cygnets, it means it can keep building its high performance V8 and V12 sports cars without being overly penalised for the subsequent CO2 emissions of those more powerful vehicles.

The Cygnet’s tiny 1.33-litre four-cylinder engine produces CO2 emissions of just 110g/km. That’s in stark contrast to the 350g/km-plus levels of its flagship V12 models.

It makes sense too. Sell around 4000 Cygnets a year and the company’s total emissions ledger falls to a low enough point to allow for more V8 and V12 performance Astons to be built.

Initially, the company had considered restricting sales of the Cygnet to current Aston Martin owners, but with several major markets still not fully recovered from the financial woes of the GFC, Aston Martin chief Ulrich Bez decided to open sales up to anyone that might want an Aston for the bargain price of just £30,000 ($45,000 direct currency conversion).

That’s a buying group sure to include plenty of current Aston Martin owners who might see the Cygnet as a good move for those shorter commutes or last minute supply runs to the local store. You can see the logic here. They’ve already got a DB9 or DBS in the garage, but can’t be bothered going through all the rigmarole of getting it out for a five-mile round trip to the store.

Equally enthusiastic about a Cygnet purchase will be those folks who aren’t genuine performance car enthusiasts but still possess healthy bank accounts and like the thought of owning an Aston Martin. There’s also the aspirational buying group keen to get their hands their very own James Bond runabout. Just don’t expect to be handed the same key fob as the chap in Chelsea with the DB9.

That said, don’t expect James Bond to be chasing bad guys in the Cygnet; not with 72kW and 125Nm of torque. The spec sheet lists 0-100km/h in what sounds like an eternity – 11.8 seconds for the six-speed manual, or fractionally quicker at 11.6 seconds with the optional CVT transmission. Either way, it’s no sports car, at least not in the tradition of Aston Martin’s current creations.

It’s a very different story once inside the cockpit though. Opening the door reveals an interior fit-out that is 100 per cent bespoke Aston Martin craftsmanship. Cygnet buyers are also able to individualise their cars with exactly the same leathers, stitching and materials to match the Aston Martin DBS Volante that’s already parked in their garage. Even the choice of paint colour can be perfectly matched to anything of your choice.

Our press car was upholstered in a sumptuous tan leather, which smothered every conceivable millimetre of the Cygnet’s interior except the headliner and seat inserts. They were treated in an equally superb Alcantara, and all of it double stitched by hand.

The focus is clearly on luxury with the Cygnet. Even the edging on the four-piece floor mats is leather bound, and I’ve just noticed the front-seat hand grabs – they’re also covered in the same tan hide as the rest of the seats. The leather-encased steering wheel is more luxurious than one you would find in a Bentley, and this one has an Aston Martin logo in the centre.

As you would expect for 30,000 quid, there’s no shortage of kit in the Cygnet despite its city car status. Included in the creature comfort inventory is climate control, electro-chromatic rear-view mirror, keyless entry and start, leather glove box bag (because there’s no glove box to begin with), electric windows and mirrors, multi-information display, rear parking sensors, auto wipers and headlamps, privacy glass, six-speaker audio unit and gearshift indicator with Stop & Start system. There’s a Sat Nav unit with integrated Bluetooth, but it’s a portable Garmin system that’s mounted on top of the dash, presumably to save on space.

Apart from the extraordinary luxury inside the Cygnet, the standout feature of this city car is the sheer abundance of space. I know it’s a sub-compact, but there’s room for four adults inside, at least for short-haul trips to dinner or a movie. Better still, front-seat room is actually spacious by small-car standards, and the comfort level exceeds anything and everything in this so-called A-segment. Not bad for a car that measures just over 3m in length and 1.6m wide. There’s plenty of headroom too with a height of 1.5m.

Luggage space behind the rear seats it severely compromised – well, you might get a few magazines in there if you’re lucky. If you need to carry the weekly grocery shopping or even load a large box, that won’t be an issue; just fold the rear seats down flat (it’s a 50/50 split-fold system) and Bob’s your uncle. It’s a clear example of some very clever interior architecture.

When all’s said and done though, the big question is, how does the Aston Martin Cygnet go? Not too bad actually, considering there’s only 1.33 litres under the bonnet.

The quaint little village of Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, is our destination from Aston’s HQ at Gaydon in Warwick and should only take about 30 minutes although, oddly enough, it’s raining.

While the verbal directions don’t seem too difficult, I prefer the added security of the Garmin Sat-Nav unit, which I found to be perfectly simple and intuitive for first time users.

Hit the start button and there’s a surprisingly sporty engine note inside the cabin. I’m also pleased that this test car is the six-speed manual version too, as I’m not at all fond of CVT transmissions due to their tendency to be overly noisy most of the time.

On paper, there isn’t a lot of low-down torque, and yet it feels lively – if not sporty – up through the ratios. That’s due in part to the Cygnet’s 998kg lightweight advantage no doubt. It’s not quite in the hot hatch class as far as performance goes, but it’s a lot more fun to drive than I expected and there’s plenty of grip on these wet roads.

The leather-clad shifter is as bespoke as the rest of the car and feels lovely and tactile in your hands. The shifts too are silky smooth and require fingertip effort only.

I’ve only got the car for half a day and although I’ve left the Stop & Start system on (you can hit the ‘Eco’ button to switch it off) I’m not at all worried about my fuel consumption – I’m too busy having fun with the little Aston.

It’s no slouch on the M40 Motorway either. I’m sitting at a comfortable 130km/h and the NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) management is excellent, with very little intrusion of mechanical noise inside the cabin except for the sporty engine note. It’s hard not to want push on a bit in the Cygnet – after all, it’s got a proper Aston Martin badge on it.

There are hundreds of these historic villages in the UK, and all them packed with tourists on any given day, so parking spaces are at a premium and difficult to get in the main street. That’s where the Cygnet shines. It’s effortless to park and negotiate some of the narrower lanes, and yet it’s entirely comfortable. It also feels rather special with the Aston Martin badges and those trademark Aston side strakes in a bright metal finish.

There’s also plenty of feel through the steering wheel and it’s weighted nicely too when you’re at full flight on the motorway.

Ride and handling is again better than I expected from such a small car with no need to take it easy along windy roads. There is little or no body lean on turn-in and enough pliancy in the MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam suspension to provide a comfortable ride on these UK B-roads.

Fortunately, I got all the way to Shakespeare’s birthplace when I realised my wallet was back at Gaydon, which extended my test drive inadvertently, of course. After all, it is an Aston Martin and there’s plenty of head turning going on whenever I pull up anywhere.

Aston Martin has just launched the Cygnet in Hong Kong, where luxury hospitality venues have shown keen interest in the car, along with buyers looking for the ultimate fashion accessory for a price less than the stone they have on one finger.

There will be no shortage of buyers ready to hand over the funds for a bargain price Aston Martin, regardless of its performance specs. Some of those folks will be existing Aston owners wanting what will amount to a tender for those city trips, but many will be those simply wanting the ultimate expression of luxury and brand in what has proven to be a surprisingly good package.

Aston Martin’s Asia Pacific Operations chief, Marcel Fabis, told CarAdvice that the company is working towards an Australian launch sometime in 2012.






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