History is replete with bad ideas from people who should have known better: “Trust me, New Coke will make America forget all about the original.” “Helium? Why not fill the Hindenburg with hydrogen?” And, of course, “Let’s tart up a Toyota iQ with an Aston Martin grille, special paint and better interior bits, and triple the price!”
The Cadillac Cimarron has been roundly excoriated as an exercise in cynical and shamelessly transparent badge engineering, and not without reason. Today, let’s examine another vehicle just as preposterous, the Aston Martin Cygnet. And while arguing whether Cadillac or Aston Martin committed the greater sin is like pondering whether Denny’s or Waffle House is the finer restaurant; it can safely be said that both companies probably wish they’d never gotten their hands dirty. Of course, since the Cimarron belonged to a relatively high volume, high visibility brand, it certainly had higher public awareness than the Cygnet, which came and went with nary a ripple.
Aston Martin. The mere mention of the name conjures up visions of James Bond, motoring along 8A on a glorious afternoon, impeccably tailored, and every store-bought hair in place. At least that’s how the fine folks at Aston Martin, the storied purveyor of luxurious, high performance automobiles, would like you to remember the marque—which would not be at issue had Aston Martin (herewith ‘AM’, for brevity’s sake) not embarked on a dubious dalliance with that commonest of commoners, Toyota.
So what possessed AM to go slumming? To answer that question we must look back to 2008, and the European Union emissions standards scheduled to take effect in 2012. Unlike Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Maserati, Porsche and even Bugatti, AM had no parent company into which they could fold their sales to produce a compliant corporate average. And with annual sales of just over 7,000 cars, AM was too big to qualify for an exemption from the new standards.
It was decided that the most expedient solution would be to add a new model to the lineup, one whose numbers were so good that it would bring the company’s average emissions score into compliance. And while buying off the rack must have been unsettling for a company more comfortable with bespoke, AM decided to approach Toyota with a plan to buy Toyota/Scion iQs and then bring them back to the Warks factory, where each car would be finished to AM standards (a process that, according to the factory, required some 150 hours of craftsmen’s labor per car).
In the Cygnet’s case, the upgrades amounted to special paint, a new grille, fancier wheels, a stunningly upgraded interior, and…well, that’s about it. Underneath all the glitz, mechanicals remained strictly iQ, including the 1.3 liter, 97 hp engine and 5-speed manual or CVT automatic transmission.
Inside, at least, things were more suitably Astonian. Every visible surface of the tiny interior cabin was covered in leather, Alcantara, polished alloy, wood, and premium carpet. Aston Martin gauges and graphics replaced standard-issue Toyota items. Also on board were climate control, electric windows and mirrors, leather seats, keyless start, CD audio system, and satellite navigation.
The Colette Special Edition even included two throw pillows. Why, I don’t know.
But try as it did, the Cygnet just couldn’t overcome its iQ-ness. The beautifully upholstered driver’s seat had no height adjustment. The audio system could be controlled only by steering wheel-mounted controls. Traditional Aston Martin gauges in the iQ-sourced dash nacelle looked ridiculously out of place. And finally, a purse-like leather bag took the place of a glove compartment, a feature the iQ also lacked.
A five-piece handcrafted set of Cygnet Launch Edition leather luggage was available for purchase, but God only knows why. With all four seats in place, cargo capacity was 1.1 cubic feet, a capacity surely eclipsed by the luggage set itself. With the rear seat backs folded, all five pieces could fit, providing one was willing to forego rearward visibility.
No fewer than 25 standard and two optional choices were available for the leather interior trim, along with 11 extra-cost Alcantara interior fabrics. Eight standard exterior colors (including the delightfully named White Horse and Yellow Kangaroo) were available, although Cygnet buyers could order up any exterior color currently or previously offered by AM, at what we can assume was considerable extra cost.
With an 11.6 second 0-60 time (with CVT transmission), it’s a safe bet that the Cygnet was the slowest Aston in recent memory, although its three turns lock-to-lock steering undoubtedly made it quite agile in the urban traffic for which it was designed; what’s more, several British reviews cited surprising composure and stability on the open road–pretty impressive for a car some 19 inches shorter than a Fiat 500. Of course, the only specs that mattered to AM involved fuel economy and emissions, at 57 mpg and 116g/km CO2, respectively.
Although Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez projected annual sales of 4,000 Cygnets, less than 400 were sold during its two-year run. In retrospect, it’s hard to see what AM got for its investment. The Cygnet offered a couple of years’ worth of compliance with mileage and emissions standards, but in the end, simply folding the penalties into the cost of existing Aston Martin models would have cost them a whole lot less. So far, no explanation has been offered as to why they didn’t do so.
All in all, it’s likely the Cygnet is one iQ test Aston Martin wishes it had skipped.
Right – firstly, Denny’s is better. Secondly, the Cimarron is surely more shameful. The Cavalier was an inherently crappier car than the iQ and the Cimarron was just GM cashing in.
The Cygnet makes a lot of sense to me – you have a “proper” Aston, but it’s not much fun to drive, and park, and scrape over speed bumps when you’re at your London home, and you grab a Cygnet as your city car. It’s like a Radford Mini for the 21st century, only less cool and bespoke.
Yep, I’d say it was perfect for the market…it’s the clutch that you bring when your main Louis Vuitton purse is too big….or the car you buy for your 17-year-old daughter when you don’t yet trust her driving skills with the “real” Aston. It has the all-important branding that shows you’re rich, so the fact that it’s kind of a crap car is irrelevant. And it might just get valet-parked close to the front because it’s cute and fits in between the valet stand and the potted plant, freeing up space for a regular-sized car somewhere else.
Well, it seems these things are offered for sale at stupid money for what they are (40K), so maybe in retrospect they are not THAT much of a failure – obviously some people want them.
Maybe am could have offered this car as a value added purchase of a real Aston. That would have brought them down on cafe drastically. On the other hand its prob the most rare am ever made.
Now that’s a great idea. Like the Jeep mountain bikes.
I had almost forgotten about this silly thing. In a way, it’s SO silly that it almost excuses itself, although the price tag took the joke too far. If it had been less obviously absurd — if, for instance, AM had gone back to former owner Ford and arranged to make a Mondeo/Fusion hybrid look even more AM-like than it already did — there would have been a much greater danger of someone taking it seriously, thus resulting in the inevitable Cimarron-flavored embarrassment. The Cygnet is too ridiculous for that, paradoxically making it harder to take offense.
In this market the price tag is the point….and it is actually a Toyota, so it’ll probably outlast the real Astons.
I’ve never heard of this car until today…amazing!
Well, the Cimarron had room for humans AND luggage, and didn’t look like a wart!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Exactly! Which is what was wrong with it (apart from not looking like a wart). It wasn’t so small that its smallness was an advantage, it wasn’t sporty or whatever, it was just something trying to be a bit Cadillacish, but grotesquely inferior.
The Cygnet (or rather the iQ) is actually decent at what it does, which is various things real Astons don’t do. Many Aston drivers must have wished at some point that their car was better suited to city driving, but no Cadillac driver wished their car was more like a cut price rental car.
EDIT – The iQ also carries two humans and… some stuff.
EDIT – The iQ can carry two adults, two toddlers and…some stuff. Or three adults and a toddler, if the right front seat is not slided too far to the back.
And it can actually carry all your groceries when the rear seats are folded down.
Well, Cimarron is at least pleasing my eye better than the Swedish made Cadillac, nicknamed Saabillac, based on a Saab 9-3.
No wonder GM had to sell Opel to French PSA, after ruining the well-reputed Saab.
Now we might even look forward to seeing future Opel cars without rust problems.
In the 1990’s I tried to “upgrade” an anonymous Opel Ascona in standard blue into something more eye catching, inspired by the Cimarron.
I was kind of tired of having to read the license plate to see whether it was Mum cruising down the road or not.
My mother drives the more humble Toyota edition, an iQ with the 1.0 liter 3-cylinder and a 5-speed manual. Once sitting inside, and as long as you don’t look what’s (not) behind you, you wouldn’t say it’s such a tiny car. It’s relatively wide and it’s much better equipped than the Toyota Aygo she had before the iQ. Better soundproofing and interior materials too.
And it has the turning radius of a wheelbarrow, while its gas mileage is only slightly worse.
Matching tie and handkerchief, or rather, matching yacht and dinghy. It’s not really supposed to be taken seriously as a car on its own accord, more a sort of a supplement to the more expensive range. Though it would’ve been much more fun if they had made it a requisite to be an owner of a “real” Aston Martin. Or made it an option on the option list of the regular cars. Also, don’t forget Aston Martins subsidiary Tickford used to dress up much lesser cars like the Ford Capri and Austin Metro.
And the Triumph Stag! (Although, to be fair, Tickford only did one, and that was a ’75 they did in ’82)
Wow, do not recall having heard of this before today. I guess AM took the concept as far as it could be taken, which would seem to prove that the concept was faulty. There are apparently cars that people will not accept as a high-end product no matter what is done to customize them.
A fascinating read.
At first I thought this was an early April Fools article — I’d never heard of this car before. And right now, I wish that I still hadn’t.
I would love to know the characteristics of the 400 folks who bought one. Besides being rich. Maybe a car for the hired help to run short errands… or a gift for a teenage daughter, who would probably tire of it in about 6 months? Really — I’d love to know.
And while I’m at it, I wonder what these sell for on the used market… have they fallen to near-iQ prices, or have their absurd kitschiness actually produced some used demand?
Overall, I’d say this is a worse sin than the Cimarron. While Cimarron was way off target, for the Cygnet I’m not sure there was ever a target in the first place.
A quick look at the used car market says there are few for sale, and for quite a hig price, between 20-30 000 pounds. That tells me most cars are still with the original owners, that they can’t get rid of them, and that they ask more money than the car is really worth. I guess they’re stuck with them.
Or . . . . . . they’re possibly finding them very useful and don’t want to get rid of them.
I’ve driven an iQ. For a commuter car is was a nice little package, definitely better than a Smart. Just because it was built upscale and bespoke doesn’t mean it became a worse car.
I agree…having worked in some ritzy nightlife areas, a car that can park anywhere is a real convenience…and I can just hear those rich girls talking about how cute it is.
I don’t know, are there any cars on the road that you would GLADLY accept having the “base” price tripled…..when all the money was spent on “personalization” of the appearance and a small badge on the nose?
Interesting idea about the “upscale” Mondeo, but Ford has beaten you to the punch, so to speak. About a year ago Ford in the U.K. (don’t know about the rest of Europe) brought out a new top-of-the-range Mondeo. The sales and servicing experience is VERY similar to that used by many premium car brands in the U.S. That is, “special” sales representatives who (supposedly) sell only that car will….process your order and when you bring your car to the dealer for service you (and other owners of that model car) will have exclusive use of a waiting area. When your car has been serviced it will also have been washed and the interior vacuumed. This model also has it’s own exclusive colors and interior details.
Wish I could remember the name of the Mondeo, I believe it’s called the Vignale….but could be wrong. And last I heard, Ford was going to add other models to this top-of-the-range. …experience.
It’s the Vignale label alright. Mondeo and others:
Vignale is the new Ghia.
Wow, Ford kept the Vignale mark in the great PAG selloff? I didn’t know that.
For whatever reason this car came into my thoughts last night. Were they serious? Aston probably should have gone with an SUV, and I am sure people would still be buying it. That strategy worked for Porsche, didn’t it?
They could have done an Aston Martin version of the RAV4 or the C-HR.
Like others above, I had almost completely forgotten about these! Love your writing style… I’m still suppressing a laugh.
They gave one to Stirling Moss too.
I wonder what he was really thinking. Was he pleased to have a free car for a quick run down to the Tesco, or was he horrified at the brand debasement, compared with the phenomenal Aston Martins he’d raced?
Moss apparently drives an electric Renault Twizy, although I think that’s an endorsement deal. He’s not a stuck-in-the-50s curmudgeon though, I can see him liking that kind of thing.
From the pre-production stories I’ve read, the Cygnet was: a. Primarily aimed at London traffic and the taxes you’re charged to be able to drive in the city, b. Was only available to a customer who already owned a ‘real’ Aston Martin, and c. For all we laugh at it, was not a bad idea.
And it certainly had a more bespoke interior than the Cimmarron. And tried harder to be a credit to the line.
The hard cold reality that Aston Martin was attempting to face is that a lot of governments have no intention whatsoever to make life any easier for small, bespoke car manufacturers in terms of environmental expectations. At least Aston Martin picked a good car to start with (the only problem with the Scion iQ as a city car was that it was WAY too expensive for what you got – something’s wrong when the larger Yaris is cheaper), but couldn’t get over the Toyota identity.
I can see this problem occurring more and more in the future. Lamborghini at least has all those little Volkswagens to fall back on, and I have no doubt that Ferrari will pull some kind of technicality with Fiat to cover their butts. But Aston Martin is going to have to go back to the well again.
And if you’re done laughing at the Cygnet, just think what could have been done: An Aston Martin small car based on the Smart? In that light, at least they picked a competent platform.
Smart-based Cygnet… Dammit don’t drop the idea!!!
Aston Martin is currently associated with Mercedes….
“b. Was only available to a customer who already owned a ‘real’ Aston Martin…”
IIRC that was the intention going in, but that policy was dropped after a while when they weren’t selling in the numbers needed to bring down their Euro CAFE.
So how is Aston doing with the Euro emissions standards (not CAFE) now that the Cygnet is history?
I genuinely appreciate the honesty of this “Aston.”
No, seriously, I genuinely appreciate the honesty of this car.
It shows what happens when one that is disinterested in doing the thing they’ve been tasked with, but still has high standards of themselves and their work, does the thing. Everyone who knows this car knows why this car came to be. Everyone who knows this car knows Aston had no interest in making a tiny car to satisfy some out-of-the-way bureaucrats.
It’s honest. Aston took their high standards to a project they didn’t like, applied them as best they could so they came out looking mostly clean for having had to touch it at all, and kept it moving. Not a discredit to their name if it ever came out they were involved in it, but not something they’d ever put on their resume either.
This is, to my view, a major difference between the Cygnet and the Cimarron. The Cimarron was dishonest-GM tried to pretend they were truly interested in the work and that they’d truly made a Cadillac. No one was standing behind GM telling them they needed to make a tiny Cadillac-it’s a project they chose for themselves. And GM showed no pride in their work or high standards. One can look at a Cygnet and see that Aston gave it a fair go. One could even look at the first Seville and see that Cadillac gave it a fair go. One could not seriously look at a Cimarron and believe Cadillac gave half a damn in making it.
One can look at the Aston and say, yeah, they were forced into it, but they still gave it a fair go. One cannot do the same for the Cimarron.
+1. For the extra money, you got a decent car, albeit tarted up as far as possible. With the Cimmaron, you got a Cavalier. With gold toned trim. And nothing else. All for a much higher cost than the Cavalier, with all of the quality that one would presume in a low line Chevrolet from the 70s.
Another point possibly worth mentioning is that the iQ was and is quite a rare car in the UK and looks fairly unusual anyway, so it wouldn’t be like driving a Cimarron and every man and his dog knowing it’s a Cavalier.
I wonder if the reason the Cygnet wasn’t more popular is simply that the iQ upon which it was based wasn’t exactly a great seller, either. Contrary to popular belief, the wealthy tend to be quite frugal with their own cash, and the Cygnet just wasn’t a very good value. I would imagine AM owners (they were the only ones offered the chance to purchase a Cygnet) looked at one and thought, “Why buy this when I can get a nearly identical iQ for a whole lot less?”.
You have to wonder what sales might have been if the Cygnet had been offered to anyone with the cash. It’s not like there would have been huge numbers of them flitting about, but I’d venture to guess that sales would have been a whole lot more than 400 over three years. I mean, sheesh, the article says AM sells around 7000 of their regular cars per year, and they ain’t cheap.
I tend to agree.
I’d have to wonder too about the driving experience. IMHO that’s what makes an Aston. I could take the Cygnet a lot more seriously if Aston-Martin had done something with the engine (but probably limited by the Euro emissions compliance) or the suspension, both AM strong points. The interior rework is lovely, but that and the grille alone doesn’t say Aston Martin to me.
To me, a Toyota is sort of like automotive tofu: it does the job but is bland and needs spicing up somewhat. You can surround it with all sorts of nice things, but without a nice tangy sauce a block of tofu is still just so much tofu.
I have no idea what the demographic might be for A-M buyers, but I’m relatively certain that they have money, and they lean towards the luxury/sporting type vehicles. While the Cygnet might have tried to aspire towards luxury, it certainly wasn’t anywhere near ‘sporting’.
For a small car to which A-M buyers might gravitate, I would think something like a MINI loaded with all of the John Cooper Works extras and trim would be much more appealing,, particularly as one would come in close to $10k less than the Cygnet.
I always thought these ‘things’ were intended to be carried aboard one’s yacht, to be hoisted off deck by a gantry.
I also always thought that the original was called a Toyota “ick”. As in, “I’m sitting in my car, in the middle of the Mediterranean, and I reach out and all I feel is iQ”.
I always thought the point of the IQ was to show Smart how it should be done, just as the point of the aluminium Audi A2 was to show Mercedes how the A-class should be done ( as if the elk test hadn’t shown Mercedes the error of their ways).
I think I’ve only ever seen one IQ ( I’ll probably see it again in 10 days time if it’s still in the same driveway in Hertfordshire) , but I thought it was clever, if expensive. The Cygnet is starting to look interesting as a used purchase.
Wow! Never knew they were offered only to existing owners, immediately it says any driver is seriously rich, or perhaps leveraging a particular talent to someone who is…
The antithesis of stealth wealth and a convenient marker for today’s time poor equivalent of the 70s Red Brigades.
Fun to read about, and not entirely without merit, but I wouldn’t want anything to do with them.
Cygnet means “baby swan”….so they were going for the cute even in the name.
Good article. Had almost forgotten this car and really had not understood the reason it was produced. An IQ or Yaris would probably serve very well for the people moving responsibilities at my house. Not this. If I get a little car I want a price that is commensurate with the real value.
I liked Cygnet the small southern Tasmanian town I lived in great place, the car not so much as a Toyota it would be ok but at the vastly inflated AM price no.
“Helium? Why not fill the Hindenburg with hydrogen?”
Because throughout the history of airships and continuing today hydrogen has been cheaper and therefore more economical to produce than the noble gas helium, and it’s got better lifting properties than helium. Really its tendency to combust was actually the only thing holding it back, and the demise of the airship was probably also an issue of inability to unite the economy of hydrogen and the safety of helium. Even today engineers are still wondering whether advances in technology have made hydrogen safe enough to use in airships again.
Back in the 1930’s the Germans attempted to buy Helium from the US. Citing security concerns, the US turned them down. Therefore, the Zeppelins were using Hydrogen because they didn’t have any other choice.
Possibly the most extreme derivation since the Panther Rio, born of the Triumph Dolomite with new metalwork and lots of leather and wood inside, for more than the cost of a Silver Shadow!
Looked at the other way, nothing says “rich” more than shelling out 40k for an overpriced kei car simply because you can afford to. Proof positive that people would pay money for a dog turd if it had a “prestige” badge on it.