They rarely look it, but cheap cars are an industrial art form. They have to do most things cars costing twice as much can do, look sanitary and turn their makers a (usually modest) profit. And these days, a basic car is so much less basic than it was 20 years ago.
The Toyota Aygo that you see here comes with twin airbags, scores four stars in European crash tests, is sufficiently well-trimmed inside that you wouldn't mind a day journeying in it, and is actually pleasant to drive. There are Citroen and Peugeot equivalents too, called C1 and 107 respectively, and all three are made in a new Hungarian factory.
True, if you look hard, you can spot the money-saving. The doors shut with a resonant if well-engineered clang, there's plenty of painted metalwork rather than trim inside - though the design makes a virtue of this - and there's plenty of plastic in there too, if attractively textured. The basic Aygo has wind-up windows and manual door-locking and no stereo, but it's keenly priced at around £6,800.
Further examination might reveal that its engine is a cylinder short of the norm, making do with three pistons rather than the more fashionable four, but this is no impediment to its zest, the little one-litre motor serving a 14.2 second sprint to 62 mph. That won't worry a Porsche or much else, but it's competitive and will not leave you floundering in traffic.
In fact, the little Toyota feels brisk, its smooth, free-spinning engine pulling you along at a more than acceptable pace. And with considerable quiet too - the gearing is so long-legged that it will pull at 90 mph in third, which means that in fifth gear, at similar speeds, the engine can't be heard at all. Instead, you hear the distant commotion of motion, leading you to conclude, rather unexpectedly, that this city car is rather good on motorways. Mind you, you must make use of the gear lever to maintain momentum if the road rises.
Though the Aygo can only be had as a five-door - its French cousins also come as three-doors - it will seat just a pair of adults on its back bench, there being two belts only. It's best considered as an occasional four-seater too, because space in the rear is limited, as it is in the boot. But up front there is plenty of space, and a good view out too. You also sit behind a pleasingly modernist, lightly funky dashboard, the party piece of which is a curved heater control panel that glows orange in the dark. Cool.
Three-cylinder motor apart, there's less novelty in the drive, the Aygo getting about much like other small hatchbacks. But it's entirely adequate. More important for most drivers will be the feeling of robust quality for which Toyota is famed, the possibility of achieving more than 60 mpg and the promise of low running costs.
No, it's not quite as small and cute as a Smart car, but it's more useful and better value for money. Expect to see it - and its Peugeot and Citroen brothers - in a city near you soon.
Price £6,800 (estimated)
Max power 67 bhp
Max torque 69 lb ft
Max speed 98 mph
0-62 mph 14.2 sec
Fuel consumption 61.4 mpg
CO2 emissions 109 g/km
Fiat Panda 1.1 Active £6,595
A close match for the Aygo - just as practical, enjoyable to drive, but not quite as brisk.
Ford Ka 1.3i 69 £7,095
A decade old now, but still looks fresh. Fun to drive, but feels dated against Aygo.