The sky's the limit

The new AYGO x-wave drive’s fabric roof transforms a smart city car into a full-on sun-loving convertible. So we went in search of adventure, a beach you can drive onto and the UK's best ice cream.

How could anyone resist the lure of open-top motoring? The wind in your hair, the sun on your face, the sights and sounds of summer. Toyota’s new AYGO x-wave makes it possible. A clever alternative to a conventional convertible, it has a full-length electric fabric roof that's simple and quick to close when the sun the finally sets.

Available in five-door x-pression trim, it comes with 15-inch alloy wheels, projector headlights, air conditioning, a digital radio, reversing camera and Bluetooth, so you can link up a Bluetooth device. Push a button next to the rearview mirror and, in a few seconds, the roof folds all the way back. So we took it for a fun-packed weekend drive, from the Llŷn Peninsula in north Wales east across the country to Manchester.

Red AYGO x-wave exterior ice cream

Black Rock Sands is a two-mile stretch of beach between Glaslyn river estuary and the village of Criccieth. (Music fans might recognise it from the cover of This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours by Welsh band Manic Street Preachers.) It’s one of the few UK beaches you can drive on to and park on in the summer, albeit for a £5 fee.

On an island of ticket-happy traffic wardens, crowded car parks and ubiquitous yellow lines, there’s something liberating about driving onto a beach – it’s like taking off your shoes and feeling sand between your toes.

As the AYGO’s roof slides back, the cabin fills with sunlight and ozone-rich sea air, transforming a neat city car into an open-top beach buggy in seconds.

Black Rock’s sand dunes are a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the rocky headland to the west is a jumble of multi-coloured cliffs, sea caves and rock pools. It's a spectacular view in any weather, and even more so today as the beach is soaked in hazy sunshine.

Red AYGO x wave beach aerial view

Walkers stroll along the low-tide sand, dogs play in the waves. Our bright red x-wave attracts plenty of interest. One lady, an Auris owner, wants to know how big the boot is (it’s 168 litres, the same as a standard AYGO) and whether her dog will fit inside.

Red AYGO x wave beach couple

Continuing our journey, we take the coast-hugging country lane to nearby Criccieth. With nothing but blue sky above, you can hear the sound of seagulls and sheep over the muted growl of the AYGO’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine.

The little AYGO is perfectly suited to flowing B roads like this. Its responsive handling and light, precise five-speed manual transmission make following the winding route a pleasure.
We drop down into Criccieth for our next stop, Cadwalader’s ice-cream parlour, in Castle Street. Founded in 1927, ‘Caddy’s’ is a Welsh institution. It began life as a family general store owned by husband and wife David and Hannah Cadwalader. But the vanilla ice-cream Hannah Cadwalader made in their shop window became a huge hit with holidaymakers. 
The family sold up in the 1980s and the new owners now operate a small chain of shops in Wales, and a couple in England. The original shop is now a cafe, its window filled with a rainbow display of ice-cream flavours that still attracts ice cream aficionados from across the world. Still made in Wales, although not in the shop, the unique Cadwalader’s recipe remains a closely guarded secret. On a clear day, it’s worth installing yourself at the back of the cafe for a lazy hour enjoying the outstanding views across Cardigan Bay. 

Red AYGO x-wave road
AYGO x-wave fun roof

The next leg of our tour takes us down into mid-Wales on some faster roads. The AYGO’s super-efficient petrol engine easily manages 60mpg on a run and will cruise comfortably at 70mph, taking us to the market town of Rhayader and nearby Elan Valley in a couple of hours. Spacious, with plenty of seat and steering-wheel adjustment, the x-wave stays comfortable on longer trips. And even with the fabric roof closed, headroom is generous.
Which is just as well, because after yesterday’s fresh air, feel-the-wind-in-your-hair weather, today is definitely a roof-shut-tightly day. It’s not just raining – it’s pelting, tipping and bucketing down. It makes me grateful for the many impressive safety features that gained the AYGO four Euro NCAP stars, from its LED running lights, six airbags and stability control to hill-start assist and tyre-pressure monitoring. 
It rains a lot here in the Cambrian Mountains, which is why the Victorians chose it as the venue for an epic feat of civil engineering. Elan Valley’s reservoirs and dams were built to supply clean water to Birmingham's booming population. The entire project cost £6 million when it originally opened in 1904 (£240 million today) and the network covers 73 miles. 
Most of the magnificent man-made lakes are reachable by car and the park is popular with cyclists, walkers, photographers and, increasingly, film producers. Scenes for the BBC spy series The Game were shot here and today Hollywood has come to Elan Valley. 
Dozens of trucks and 4x4s line the roadside as a hundred-strong crew sets up a shoot downstream of the Claerwen dam. They’re filming the sequel to the fantasy movie Sleeping Beauty and the Huntsman. The elaborate setup, next to a rocky stream, involves fake snow, giant spotlights, miles of cabling, a temporary bridge and a team of safety divers.

Red AYGO x wave bridge

This exact scene may well end up being screened at our next destination in the not-too-distant future. A Manchester industrial estate is a strange place to find a slice of Californian car culture, but this is the home of the UK’s first permanent drive-in cinema.
Opening rain or shine, sun or snow, Route 66 has proved a popular night out since its launch in 2012. On busy summer evenings, the 50 car spaces quickly fill up and the company has already expanded with an outdoor sister cinema in Liverpool.
It’s a Tuesday evening and a dozen or so cars are parked up waiting for the film to begin. Manchester’s moviegoers munch popcorn and order pizzas from a nearby takeaway.
When the sun dips below the rooftops, staff fire up a giant digital projector housed in a blue double-decker shipping container. Tonight, it beams superhero movie Avengers: Age of Ultron over our heads onto a 22-metre by 12-metre screen whitewashed onto a factory wall. Switching on the AYGO’s seven-inch multimedia touchscreen, we tune to a special FM frequency and the soundtrack booms sharp and clear from its speakers. 
It’s getting chilly. Time to close the x-wave’s top, grab a handful of popcorn, relax and enjoy the show. 

Words: Richard Fleury
Photography: Peter Guenzel

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