Motors - Mini and Aygo: Is it all about the look?
Small can be fun and eccentric - but sometimes it can be awfully noisy
Sometimes we try to be too clever in these columns. There I was on holiday driving two funky cars over the two weeks, both with a lot of red and white on them, and thinking ahead to the new school and university terms, which, to me, is always more the beginning of the year than is January.
Could I link the two vehicles in a nifty bit of prose, showing how clever I was by acknowledging their past and portraying their future? Would I be able to say that both were the cars for the student wanting to impress? I played around with themes - especially over a glass of wine or a good pint of real ale, but in the cold light of day I gave up. There is no doubt that the new Toyota Aygo makes the statement its designers want to. It is eye-catching inside and out and tries to be something different in the fast-expanding small city-car area. It is also very funky, with all its optional colour schemes and add ons.
At first I hated it as a car trying too hard but after we had a good day out at the Donadea Forest Park in it, I had a lot of feeling for the new Aygo because Toyota, after years of boring, brilliantly reliable and re-saleable family cars, is trying something different.
It is coming to the party quite late, after the VW group has made great strides with variants of the Up! and Fiat has nearly all its eggs in the 500 basket. However - and I talk from really paying out cash here - the Hyundai i10, especially the new 2014 model, is the one to beat. Compared with the Aygo, which has pretty useless luggage and back-seat space, the i10 is a proper small family city car at a bargain price. It isn't funky like the Aygo, but it is really practical motoring.
The Aygo suffers from being very noisy and as we rattled down the motorway towards North Kildare and Donadea it was difficult to have a conversation or listen to the radio. It was old-fashioned motoring. Don't expect much power either. The three-pot petrol engine requires an awful lot of work with the gear-shift and overtaking on country roads needs plenty of careful consideration! Yet the car turned heads wherever it was and parked outside a new coffee bar in Dublin's Stoneybatter it provoked the barista into envy. The goods from the simply named Coffee were equally impressive and I wondered if he would swap his espresso machine for the Aygo.
The Aygo is worth checking out if you need some character in your life. It would suit a rich student - if there are any left. There's a lot of the dreaded connectivity aboard and in some models, quite ludicrously for such a small vehicle, a reversing camera. Prices start at €12,625 and with options could top €16,500. There are three-door and five-door versions but even when there are two rear doors the windows only open a fraction. Air-conditioning doesn't kick in until you are paying at least €14.5k.
There is something of the old Mini about the Aygo which isn't a bad thing at all.
However, the present Mini is a very different beast and, after the privations of the Aygo, it was wonderful to get into the new generation Mini Cooper D. It was by contrast, solid, refined, relatively quiet and had oodles of power. The car has got quite a bit bigger, which you really appreciate up front and with luggage. The back is still cramped and I wouldn't want to be sitting behind me on any sort of a long journey.
Towards the end of next month I am off to see the new five-door version of the Mini hatch, which has been extended again and will address some of these concerns without going the whole hog of the Countryman.
For our main trip in the Mini Cooper D we steamed up the MI into deepest Monaghan and the Castle Leslie Estate, which lived up to everything I had heard about it. Slightly eccentric but so welcoming, with real country pursuits - even ballooning - if you so desired. We were only there for the afternoon but will be back. The 100 minutes it took us from Phibsborough would have been a nightmare in the Aygo but the Mini now has the solidness to do motorways with ease while still giving the old go-kart feel when you are on the twisty country roads. It is a car that inspires confidence. But it does come at a price. Our very well-specced Cooper D came in at more than €31,000 and there's no doubt you can just keep adding the options.
The most basic Mini Hatch has an on-the-road price of €20,500 and when you think how superior a car it is to the Aygo, then it might be worth the 50pc premium.
The engine in the Cooper D is absolutely exquisite as is the gearbox, almost too so, as the range is so great you need to keep an eye on the gear-shift indicator light to check you aren't hurtling along at 100kmh in third. The standard spec on the Mini range is now getting very good but as I said earlier, you can just keep adding the extras until you run out of money!
The massive dinner plate in the middle of the fascia which was the old speedo is now home to all the connectivity and information that you could possibly want. It is almost too much.
Yet what you can never get enough of is the fantastic drive that the car gives you. You can criticise the cost and the almost greedy marketing of all the branding but sit behind the wheel, pump up the volume a bit and start driving to get the thrill that has remained pretty constant for more than 60 years.