REVIEW | There's a new Star(let) in Toyota's line-up and it's about to shine brightly


• Toyota's new Starlet replaces a South African favourite, the Etios.

• The Starlet is based on the Suzuki Baleno and shares a drivetrain with it.

• Our test car, the Starlet XR manual, retails for R258 500.

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By now, most of us are fully aware of the Toyota Etios' "demise". The car, a popular choice among local buyers, took its final breath and will not be sold in South Africa anymore. The factory in India, from where it was imported, halted production on the car, which led to its discontinuation in our market.

Over the past few weeks, South Africans were introduced to a new arrival in Toyota's local arsenal, the Starlet. And if the car looks awfully familiar, it's because it is. Based on the Suzuki Baleno - a mighty impressive car, we might add - the Starlet picks up where the Etios left off. The car shares everything with the Baleno: it's design, interior, as well as the drivetrain.

Everything but the badges are Suzuki Baleno, but the Starlet has a few tricks up its sleeve to warrant a fair consideration.

A practical car

The Starlet can be somewhat misleading, in a good way. Coming in at just under 4 metres, one would think that space would be on the limited side, but it's not. A 1.8m tall driver can sit comfortably, while the passenger behind him/her does not have to worry about being cramped for space. Rear legroom is more than sufficient, without the need to adjust and alter the front seats a million times.

The dashboard is a very user-friendly space (à la Baleno), and everything is easy to understand. The dials, with which to operate the climate control, is decked with easy-to-read buttons, and the radio has a playful, yet engaging, feel to it. What may be an issue to some is that you can only connect your phone while the car is stationary. Yes, this is with road safety in mind, but there are systems on the market that allows quick and easy connection while the vehicle is in motion. Perhaps this is something Toyota could consider when the facelift comes about.

READ: Farewell Etios, hello Starlet - Meet Toyota's new affordable star

Compared to the Baleno, the boot is slightly smaller at 345 litres, but with the rear seats folded down, space increases to 1 075 litres. The Baleno is about 10 litres bigger in both instances.

Toyota also made provision for the Starlet to be equipped with an (optional) tow bar. When fitted, the car can pull a trailer with an un-braked towing capacity of 400kg.

Toyota Starlet

2020 Toyota Starlet (MotorPress)

Peppy engine

The engine and gearbox have been carried over from the Baleno, thanks to the partnership between the two Japanese automakers that came into play in March 2019.

The engine, a naturally aspirated 1.4-litre motor, produces 68kW and 130Nm, with power being sent to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox (like our test unit) or a four-speed automatic. Gear changes are solid, with a surety that the next gear will be hooked without issue. What we picked up on, though, is that the engine must be driven-in for both performance and fuel consumption to turn a positive page.

REVIEW: Likeable Suzuki Baleno is quite the charmer

Upon receiving the Starlet, the car had about 150km on its odometer. Fresh off the truck, the Starlet had that new-car smell and prodding around town highlighted the relatively high consumption. On the national roads and running at 120km/h, the gearbox had to be worked for the car to maintain momentum on most inclines. Cruise control played its part to a degree, but was overridden most of the time as fourth gear had to be engaged.

Admittedly, we think the Starlet will offer far better performance once the engine has been "broken" in.

Toyota Starlet

2020 Toyota Starlet (MotorPress)

Pricing and warranty compared to rivals

With the Etios now out of the picture, Toyota refocused its sights on the segment leader against which the Starlet will compete: the Volkswagen Polo Vivo. Comparing the base prices, the Starlet is R11 000 more affordable than the Vivo and R17 000 cheaper than the Baleno it's based on. However, just because the Starlet is the most affordable of the trio doesn't mean that it's any less car.

It has a host of features that will make the Vivo hide its head and the Baleno ask itself "Why do I cost this much?".

Our test unit, the Starlet 1.4 XR manual, retails for R258 500, which makes it R1 400 more affordable than the Baleno 1.4 GLX, but R800 more expensive than the Vivo 1.6 Highline. The Starlet and Baleno have six airbags, as opposed to the Vivo's two, as well as LED headlights (Vivo not), and cruise control (optional on the Vivo).

All three cars come standard with their automaker's respective warranties. In the Starlet's case, it has a three-year/100 000km warranty and three-year/45 000km service plan. The Baleno has the best peace-of-mind package of the three: a five-year/200 000km warranty and four-year/60 000km service plan. The Vivo only has a three-year/120 000km warranty, but a service plan is optionally available.

Prospective Starlet buyers can enquire about prolonging their warranties at reasonable rates.

Do you think Toyota's new Starlet will be a sales success? Email us with your thoughts.

Toyota Starlet

2020 Toyota Starlet (MotorPress)

In Summary

The new Starlet is somewhat of a revelation. Compared to the Baleno, it offers much of the same features, but at a more reasonable price; something Suzuki SA can't be smiling about. And when compared to the Polo Vivo, the Starlet has this one in the bag; albeit on paper.

Toyota can be assured that its Starlet will be a huge success in South Africa, and that the void left by the Etios will not be missed. The Starlet is a car in its own right and with plenty to offer. Perhaps something I'd have liked on the car would be slightly bigger tyres. The Starlet is prone to buckling under strong winds, and a wider tread, or rim, would go a long way in ensuring sturdiness on the road.

There's a new star in Toyota's portfolio, and it is destined to shine for a long time.

Toyota Starlet

2020 Toyota Starlet (MotorPress)

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