Cygnet in the city

2011 Aston Martin CygnetI live in London and as any city dweller well knows urban living has some serious drawbacks – mainly when it comes to driving.

On the one hand we want to do the right thing and not pollute the planet. But as much as I enjoy cycling on a sunny day, wind blowing in my hair, or breezily hopping on and off a red bus, on a wet winter’s day both options are less than appetising.

Let’s face it, when it comes to running simple errands like shopping and the school run, nothing quite beats a personal car.

There are many practical options to choose from but what if you need a small urban run-around that is big enough for your daily commute and small enough to park, but desire a more luxurious interior with a personal touch?

Aston Martin, not normally associated with small city cars, has spotted this gap in the market. Its Cygnet is a compact commuter car that just about seats four and can be customised, inside and out, to create an almost bespoke product.

Once you’ve specified your desired look from the almost infinite number of body colour and interior trim options, there is very little to associate this car with the Toyota iQ from which it shares its skeleton.

Many in the press have been rather damning of the Cygnet, criticising its premium price tag. And yes, why would you pay so much extra when you can have an iQ for a fraction of the price? I put this to Aston Martin’s design director Marek Reichman.

Glancing at my handbag he smiles and quips that most women will also pay way over the odds for a designer ‘it’ bag. “When you’re in the city you need to look good – the Cygnet is about the materials, the way the car looks.”

My test car is a Snow White Launch Edition with twin matt satin stripes and 16” white diamond turned alloys. This limited edition option comes in either black or white with interiors to match and is powered by a 97bhp 1.33-litre petrol engine, with manual or CVT auto gearbox options.

My senses tell me that the interior works. The cabin boasts hand trimmed pearl white soft leather seats with perforated Alcantara inserts; the steering wheel is also covered in tactile leather. With a delightful absence of plastics the interior smells deliciously of leather and the chrome finishes dotted here and there remind me of jewellery.

2011 Aston Martin CygnetAdditionally this car comes with a clever removable glove box ‘bag’ which makes so much sense in a city where you don’t want to leave your valuables in the car.

Driving the Cygnet in London is a breeze. A petit 3m long and 1.7m wide, it is almost like a scooter as I rapidly change lanes, and do some risky u-turns to escape the city centre’s clogging traffic jam.

The car isn’t and doesn’t need to be massively quick, but more importantly for city driving, I had little difficulty finding a parking space.

The Cygnet is a fine city car but is it worth the £30,000 price tag (£40,000 plus for the Launch Edition) as opposed to the £12,000 iQ?

The truth is there are people out there who don’t mind paying for something that offers a more personal touch and is a little bit special. These same customers wouldn’t blink an eyelid buying a £1,000 limited edition designer bag, especially if it was made to feel even more exclusive by appearing on a waiting list (you could probably pick up a similar one at H&M for under £20 – also made in China). Equally there are a large number of people who would think it absurd to do so. But then that is the nature of consumption with its own strange logic.

In the words of the designer himself: ‘The Cygnet is small, precious and very desirable, which gives it a feel good factor. Everything you touch you get the feeling of Aston Martin.’ A 007 car for £30,000? Now that can’t be a bad thing.

By Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

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