Aston Martin Cygnet
Two years after Aston Martin's shock announcement of its first ever foray into low emission, ultra-compact city car design, the Cygnet has finally surfaced. Cygnet was always a bold move for a company associated almost exclusively with luxury sports cars and the concept kicked up plenty of fuss. Throughout the development programme the dust never really settled and cynics and critics have spent the intervening time lamenting both the need for and the execution of the Cygnet programme.
To their credit, Aston Martin held their nerve and forged ahead. The gamble seems to have paid off - if the reaction to the car was as positive as what we experienced in London a couple of weeks ago, the Cygnet will be extremely successful. Admittedly, we have a vested interest in this particular model, for Aston Martin came together with Tom Dixon to create their own take on the bespoke city runaround for Wallpaper's 2011 handmade exhibition in Milan in April. But take the car out of the gallery and does it still make sense?
At the Cygnet's London launch, it swiftly became clear that a busy urban environment was not going to be a problem. Wallpaper* took the option of hacking across town in a Mercedes SLS AMG, a flawed but brilliant supercar GT that was a frankly unhappy place to be in heavy traffic. Edging along traffic-snarled roads, its width and snappiness counted heavily against it - Aston's own DBS, Virage and Rapide models have similar downsides in the city.
Enter the Cygnet. The theory was always that existing Aston owners would snap up this diminutive and highly bespoke reworking of Toyota's award-winning IQ. It's a functional trinket for downsizing supercar owners, rather than an easy route to Aston Martin ownership for anyone else. In look, feel and form, the Cygnet works best as a foil to one of its lengthier, lower and swifter older siblings; it's essentially a compact chip off the old block.
The car's genius is in its packaging, which squashes three functional seats into a sub three-metre length, with a fourth seat at a pinch and plenty of luggage space. That tricksy interior is now fully hand-stitched in supple leather of your choice, with a neat Garmin satnav helping you make the most of sudden opportunities.
It came in handy. Aston Martin presented us with a route that was essentially proof of concept, taking the Cygnet through a thicket of roadworks, bomb threats, snarl ups, dead ends, street closures, dense herds of oblivious tourists and stuck lorries, all in a typical day's confusion for London traffic - or Paris, Milan, Berlin or Madrid, for that matter. Throughout this ordeal we were cooled and cosseted, and never flustered by the thoughts of a 20-inch alloy catching a kerb or a tight squeeze down past a delivery van. The Cygnet's fuel gauge never dipped below full and the speedometer was entirely irrelevant. Despite this, there's plenty of pep in the Cygnet's step and the short and wide wheelbase made turning comically crisp and easy.
Meanwhile, the Dixon car acted a bit like Carroll's White Rabbit, darting hither and thither throughout the day - its distinctive orange hue flashing in the corner of the eye. At times, our pre-planned route felt almost like a promotional trip for the small fleet of Cygnets out on media duties. As we drove through the prosperous streets of the car's potential heartlands in Chelsea, Knightsbridge, St Johns Wood, Mayfair, the City and Notting Hill, the car turned many heads and received approving comments. Although we suspect the purists will never be convinced, the Cygnet is smart, sensible and fun. You might lose a few hundred horsepower over a regular Aston Martin, but you'll gain a whole load of freedom.