Aston Martin is no stranger to sexy cars: the elegant yet muscular Vanquish, the stately DB5 that James Bond made famous, the alien spaceship that is the Valkyrie, the list is seemingly endless. But every company has their misfires, and Aston Martin’s flop was the Cygnet.
After decades perfecting the art of the grand tourer, in 2011 Aston Martin tried its hand in the city car market. On the surface this sounds faintly ridiculous, but there was good reason behind their experimentation: at the time, Aston Martin was facing fines in Europe for having a high fleet average for carbon dioxide emissions.* Turns out a lineup full of V8- and V12-powered sports cars isn’t very fuel efficient, and independent Aston Martin couldn’t rely on a mainstream brand to balance out its fuel economy stats like Lamborghini does with the affordable brands in the VW Group.
This independence also made building an all-new city car a financial impossibility, so they struck a deal that sent Toyota iQs (known as Scions in the U.S.) to the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon, where they undertook a transformation and emerged as the angry little frog you see here. The Toyota’s blank face was replaced with the iconic Aston grille and the iQ’s chunky taillights were swapped for an LED design. Fake vents sprouted on the front fenders, the hood, and from the front of the headlights, and the Cygnet featured unique chrome wheels.
The Cygnet may have still looked like a glorified Toyota from the outside, but the interior was up to Aston Martin standards. Hand-stitched leather seats sat beneath an alcantara headliner, while machined aluminum trim adorned the dashboard. The interior color options were also literally infinite—a customer could bring in a sample and Aston Martin would match it.
But that was where the modifications stopped. Aston Martin made no suspension changes and the 97-hp 1.3-liter inline-four was left untouched. This meant a paltry 106 mph top speed and a 0-60 time of 11.6 seconds with the CVT (the manual was two-tenths slower). In a Toyota iQ, numbers like these are acceptable—the car’s purpose is efficient and easy city commuting, not high speed driving. But for the Cygnet, the weak performance makes its status as a true Aston Martin untenable.
Initially, the Cygnet was only available in the U.K., starting at £30,995 (about three times the price of an iQ) and Aston Martin aimed at moving 4,000 units per year. That target proved to be optimistic, to put it nicely. Most sources state that around 300 were sold between 2011 and 2013, with approximately 150 Cygnets finding customers in the U.K. Those disappointing numbers were likely a result of the Cygnet’s exorbitant price and the fact that no one really asked for a Aston-Toyota mashup in the first place.
The Cygnet may not be very attractive or very fast, but its rarity might lead it to become a collectable in the near future—at the moment, they have basically retained their value, selling for around £30,000 on the used market. While the Cygnet’s weirdness and obscurity earns it some bonus points, it did spawn something undeniably cool: the Cygnet V8, an official one-off created by Aston Martin with the Vantage’s 430 hp engine stuffed inside the tiny body. But that’s a story for another time.
*Side note: Although the common origin story for the Cygnet involves meeting the 2012 European Union fuel emissions requirements, this may not have been the case. While several websites quote Urlich Bez, the CEO at the time, saying that the Cygnet was satisfying the “demands of emissions and space,” I also found this article which quotes Bez arguing that, “I don’t need the Cygnet to make my fleet [average] go down. We have reduced our fleet [emissions] average in the past three years by 27 per cent, we are meeting our European and American requirements for small manufacturers.” These conflicting quotes raise questions over the car’s true purpose. If fleet emissions numbers are the true reason, how Aston Martin has been able to comply with those standards since ending production of the Cygnet? It’s not as if it was replaced with another fuel efficient vehicle, and Aston Martin hasn’t stopped using massive V8s and V12s. However, if we discount the emissions story, we are left wondering why Aston Martin would ever build a puny, Toyota-based city car. A commenter on this forum suggests it was a “vanity project” of Bez’s, while Aston Martin’s website claims that the “Cygnet was designed to signify Aston Martin’s exclusivity and heritage in a unique and innovative format,” which sounds like marketing hogwash to me. If emissions aren’t the real answer, I’m not what is.