Small cars, big prices – used bargains?

2 October 2013

Aston Martin Cygnet in yellow

Sports car company Aston Martin has reportedly axed its ugly duckling, the Cygnet city car, which was famously a rebadged Toyota iQ with a big shiny grin and lots of leather on the inside.

Apparently sales didn’t meet expectations, though the reasons for this aren’t as clear cut as the little car’s many blinkered detractors might presume. In 2011, Aston Martin admitted it was having issues with the Cygnet’s sales process. Apparently wealthy buyers were inclined to view the Cygnet like a pair of shoes, assuming one in the chosen colour could be brought forth from a back room on demand, presumably wrapped in ribbons. But as a bespoke product built to order, there was the tiresome need to wait, and plenty of lost sales as a result.

While it lived, the Cygnet was often misunderstood. Typically cited as a means to cut fleet-average CO2 figures, in reality the car was more of an attempt to expand tiny Aston’s revenues. As a heavily retrimmed edition of a £13,000 Toyota, the £32,000-plus Cygnet no doubt enjoyed a profit margin in the vicinity of 30 or 40 per cent. Sell about 100 and you’ve made a million quid, which is helpful when you build only a few thousand cars each year and have to somehow fund development of the next generation.

Aston Cygnet interior

Now that it’s been quietly strangled, there’s some prospect that the Cygnet will enjoy future appreciation – in both senses of the word. Perhaps people will one day look back more fondly on a small car with huge ambitions. And maybe rarity will see prices climb in the future, given that there are only about 150 examples on the road in the UK.

Take care out there if testing a used Cygnet, mind you – scratch the paint and there are seven layers of the stuff to repair, while kerbing those 16-inch, diamond-turned alloys doesn’t bear thinking about. It might be wise to zip over to Insure Daily for fully-comp temporary cover before so much as sinking into the leather-swaddled seats of somebody else’s Cygnet.

Used Cygnets currently start at about £18,000, so I suspect there may still be some hefty depreciation to go before prices bounce back up again, though I’d be surprised if they ever dip below £10,000. Though please don’t be daft enough to regard my addled thoughts as investment advice.

And if the Cygnet never quite managed to tickle your fancy, it did seemingly inspire two other manufacturers to send their own city cars off to the artisans for a full trim and polish, and a massive price hike.

Mini Inspired by Goodwood

The name “Inspired by Goodwood” was never going to roll off the tongue but it kept BMW’s poshest Mini at arm’s length from the German firm’s other British acquisition – Rolls-Royce, which builds its uber-expensive limos in a factory nestled on the Goodwood estate in Sussex.

Exactly 1,000 Goodwood Minis were due to be built at a staggering £41,000 a pop. On the outside, restraint was the order of the day, with the familiar Mini bodywork finished in understated Rolls-Royce black paint. And as with the Cygnet, nothing whatsoever was done to the mechanicals – lacking the room to install a 6.8-litre V12 under the bonnet, the Mini had to muddle along with the standard Cooper S engine. But inside the Goodwood Mini was treated to a sea of sumptuous leather, walnut, cashmere and lambswool.

Mini Inspired by Goodwood interior

Number 1 of the 1,000 Goodwood Minis spent some time in Harrods shop window in 2012, and by chance this most exclusive of the line happens to be up for sale as I write. Previously owned by its manufacturer, number 1 is now 18 months old with just 2,000 miles on the clock.

It’s yours for a mere £31,495. Possibly not quite in the running for depreciation-free motoring just yet. Maybe leave it a year or two.

Fiat 500 Abarth Maserati edition

Meanwhile, if you want a posh Panda, you can pay a bit extra and buy a Fiat 500. If you want a posh Fiat 500, you can pay a bit more again and buy an Abarth 500. And if you’re still not happy, perhaps consider being a bit less picky. Or go the whole hog and opt for the Abarth 695 Edizione Maserati.

Priced at £32,000 new, the plushest Fiat 500 of all came finished in a three-layer Maserati maroon paint called Pontevecchio Bordeaux, together with a grey fabric retractable roof.

An instrument panel tweaked by Jaeger and assorted aluminium highlights joined lashings of leather and carbon fibre in the tweaked interior, while outside there were 17-inch alloys made to a Maserati design. The 1.4-litre petrol engine, meanwhile, was coaxed to produce 180bhp, with uprated brakes to match.

Abarth Maserati interior

Even more exclusive than the extra shiny Mini, just 499 of these mini Maseratis were made. Assuming Fiat has managed to sell them all, that is.

Today, I found just one for sale in the UK, though it’s not really a good candidate for a used bargain, given that it’s a 2013 model with a mere 10 miles under its shiny leather belt and being sold as new. Already fully optioned up, it’s yours for just £34,995.

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll come back to that one in a few years’ time too.

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