There was a time not so long ago when city cars felt cheap inside and carrying four people in comfort was pretty much out of the question.
The Volkswagen Up changed all of that. It proved that a bargain price didn’t have to mean major compromises, and since then Hyundai’s i10 has brought similar assets to the city class for an even more realistic price.
The i10’s reign at the top could be short-lived, though, because Peugeot, Toyota and Citroën have teamed up to produce three subtly different takes on the same basic car. Here we’re finding out if the Peugeot 108 or Toyota Aygo have what it takes to shake up this hugely competitive class.
What are they like to drive?
The Peugeot and Toyota share the same three-cylinder engine, which feels flat at low revs and doesn’t start pulling effectively until 4000rpm. As a result, you need to make frequent gearchanges to keep the revs high, while your right foot remains planted to the floor a lot when you escape out of the city.
The Hyundai, on the other hand, is one of the nippiest cars in this class. Its punchy, free-revving, four-cylinder engine is happier to pull from low revs, and is ultimately much more powerful, so you don’t need to change gear as often. The i10 is also the most relaxing car to drive; its gearchange is slicker than its two rivals’, and despite a bit of boom in the cabin at high revs, engine noise remains more restrained for most of the time.
The 108 and Aygo both have vague-feeling gearshifts and noisier motors, with the Toyota proving the least refined of the three; more engine noise and vibration filter through into its cabin. All three cars generate a considerable amount of road noise at steady motorway speeds.
The Peugeot and Toyota have subtly different steering. The 108’s lighter set-up makes for easier parking, whereas the Aygo’s steering feels heavy in town, although that extra weight does give you more confidence when tackling faster corners.
The i10 has slower steering altogether, which means more armwork through tight turns. However, it’s light enough for easy parking, yet precise enough to give you enough confidence along faster, twisty roads.
All three cars control their bodies well through corners at moderate speeds, so they feel agile in town. However, the i10’s taller stance means that it leans the most when cornering hard.
The Hyundai’s suspension does a better job of keeping the ride settled over scruffy road surfaces, though, and it also deals best with potholes. Meanwhile, the 108 and Aygo are never jarring, but tend to jostle their passengers about more over smaller bumps.
What are they like inside?
All three cars get seat height-adjustment as standard, but finding a comfortable driving position is easiest in the 108 and Aygo because you can adjust the angle of their backrests simply by twisting a wheel. Doing the same thing in the Hyundai means pulling a lever and pushing your back into the seat, which is more awkward.
That said, the i10 has the most supportive seats, and it’s also the easiest to see out of thanks to its slim pillars and tall windows.
All three cars have simple and user-friendly dashboard layouts with relatively intuitive dials for adjusting the air-conditioning.
The Aygo’s dashboard gets a piano-black face and it’s the only car here with a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearlever. However, the Aygo’s cabin plastics feel just as cheap as those in the 108. Hyundai has gone to great lengths to cover up all exposed areas of metal, and although its interior plastics aren’t the last word in quality, they are at least textured in a way that makes them appear more inviting.
The 108 and Aygo are based on the same chassis, so they offer a near-identical amount of interior space. That means tall adults have enough head- and shoulder-room up front, but things are very cramped in the back – the head- and kneeroom on offer is pretty tight.
The i10 offers class-leading head-, leg- and shoulder-room all-round. It also gets three rear seats (compared with the two in the other cars), although carrying five is a squeeze.
Officially, the i10’s boot is 72 litres bigger than the 108’s and 84 litres than the Aygo’s; it’s also longer and taller. It also comes with a conventional solid parcel shelf – the others get flimsy material covers. The i10’s rear seats fold with a 60/40 split, and flipping up the rear seat bases helps them lie flat. The rear seats in the Aygo and 108 split 50/50, and lie at a pronounced angle. None of these cars is available with a false boot floor to iron out the considerable entrance lips.
What will they cost?
The i10 will cost you by far the most at the pumps; it averaged 42.6mpg in our real-world True MPG tests, compared with 54mpg for the Aygo and 108. Translated into cash, that’s a difference of around £350 every 12,000 miles, which partly explains why the Hyundai will cost you the most to own over three years – assuming you have the cash to buy outright and plan to sell the car after three years.
The Toyota is predicted to work out £445 cheaper over the same period, but the Peugeot will cost you the least by £576, thanks mainly to its slow depreciation.
Company car drivers will save the most money opting for the 108. It might have the same CO2 emissions as the Aygo - 95g/km - but the fact that it has the smallest list price means it will save a 40% taxpayer £50 over three years. The saving over the i10 is much bigger, because the gap is nearly £400.
All three cars come with air-con, electric front windows and remote central locking. The i10 and Aygo add electric mirrors and a rev-counter, and the Hyundai also gets cruise control and electric rear windows.
You get six airbags, stability control and a tyre pressure-monitoring system as standard on all these cars, although the i10 was the only one that had been Euro NCAP safety tested at the time of writing. It scored lower marks compared with the best class rivals, including the VW Up. Security firm Thatcham also found it easy to break in to.
With such high standards set by the likes of the Hyundai i10 and the Volkswagen Up, Toyota and Peugeot knew they were in for a tough ride.
Toyota has undoubtedly upped its game with the perceived quality of the Aygo’s cabin compared with its predecessor’s, especially in X-Play trim, where piano-black detailing and leather trimmings add a touch of class. The list of standard equipment is pretty good, too. Peugeot has focused less on quality and more on infotainment, because it has a colour touch-screen system as standard.
With their shared engine, the 108 and Aygo also provide extremely low real-world fuel economy and cheap road tax. The fact that both are predicted to hold on to their value well over three years makes them just as attractive to private buyers, too.
However, these advancements aren’t enough to beat the Hyundai i10, which scores higher in more areas. Its more comfortable ride and superior performance mean that it’s much better to drive in town
and on the motorway.
The i10 also wins on space; there’s enough room to seat four six-footers and carry a decent amount of luggage, unlike in the Aygo and 108.
However, the fact that you can’t add Bluetooth is a definite black mark, as are the i10’s poor security score and its disappointing real-world fuel economy. Overall, though, it ticks more boxes for city car buyers, so it deserves its win.
Hyundai i10 1.2 SE
For Spacious cabin; big boot; comfortable ride; eager engine
Against No Bluetooth; easy to break in to; real-world mpg
Verdict Still the best city car but Premium trim makes more sense
Peugeot 108 1.0 Active
For Touch-screen; light steering; cheapest to run
Against Unsettled ride; poor rear space; small boot
Verdict Cheap to run. Shame it’s not bigger or better to drive
Toyota Aygo 1.0 X-Play
For Smart dashboard; well-equipped as standard
Against Poor refinement; tiny boot; touch-screen costs extra
Verdict Not worth the extra over the Peugeot
Hyundai i10 1.2 SE
Peugeot 108 1.0 Active
Toyota Aygo 1.0 X-Play