The best things come in small packages

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The iconic Aston Martin marque, long associated with James Bond and an image of powerful sports cars, has now appeared on a small city car, although as Bob Monard reports, the Aston Martin Cygnet has all the luxury associated with the company’s super car range

img512Well, I could never have imagined that one day I would find myself picked up at the airport by a smart chauffeur driving a prestigious car. But that’s exactly what happened. After arriving at London Heathrow on a flight from Brussels, I found myself face-to-face with a tall and impeccably dressed man who invited me to accompany him to the car park where I was confronted by a car of sublime beauty, a grey metallic Aston Martin Rapide. What a pity I was only the passenger.

The V12 engine snorts, my stomach lurches – I’m happier than a kid at Christmas. It is reassuring that I still have the ability to be amazed – the climb up the six-speed automatic transmission is like listening to opera.

Into London and through Hyde Park, we arrive at the Hempel Hotel in Craven Hill Gardens, in time for a stroll and a shower before dressing for dinner at the Conran Shop.

DISCOVERY

My dining companion is John Muirhead, marketing communication manager at Aston Martin; my host is keen on motor racing and familiar with the SpaFrancorchamps track… after an excellent evening in his company and a sumptious breakfast, it’s time to discover the Cygnet. This little three door city car is just three metres long, 170 cm wide and one metre high and weighs just over 900 kg. Under its bonnet sits a 1.33 litre 4-cylinder 98 hp engine coupled to a six speed manual transmission making the Cygnet the mechanical twin of the Toyota iQ.

“Our little Aston Martin represents elegance, style and exclusivity: it’s in the DNA of our heritage,” says John Muirhead, explaining the rationale behind the Cygnet – in a changing world, survival depends on diversification.

“We needed an alternative to our sports cars for the city. We also wanted to respect the environment. Manufacturers such as Mercedes, Audi and Fiat have small models. We want to remain loyal to Aston Martin owners while attracting other motorists,” he adds.

ICONIC BADGE

It’s got the iconic aluminium Aston grille, side air vents, spoiler and skirts; the seats are heated and the leather interior is hand-stitched – a very British touch. But is this enough to justify the price of €38,350 euros (manual version) and €39,830 euros for the automatic?

While our London excursion through the interminable traffic jams raised many smiles, a cyclist expressed his disapproval commenting: “The badge isn’t everything – it’s not the spirit of Aston Martin.”

I agree, since simply sticking on the prestigious logo made famous by the Volante, Vantage, Lagonda, Virage and other DB9 models presupposes top quality, whether it’s design, the engine or the finish or simply the glory days or yore. And while British engineers have indeed transformed the iQ into the Cygnet, they should have added an exhaust that is more fun and more in the spirit of the AM tradition as Citroën did with its DS4 and Peugeot with its RCZ. This doesn’t cost a lot, but changes the mood altogether.

Available in grey-green, white, burgundy, black, garnet and fuchsia, our Cygnet cruised from the Bluebird Cafe to Borough Market with a pit-stop at Daylesford Organic before afternoon tea at Claridges, the Art Deco palace which has charmed visitors for more than a century.

Well balanced and with excellent suspension, this car has been well thought out; no gas guzzler, it negotiates the traffic with agility and can stop on a sixpence, proving that small and luxury can go hand-in-hand.