Driven: Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xr

There’s a new combatant in the fight for the entry-level segment. Well, sort of new

What is it?
This is the Toyota Starlet and if it looks familiar that’s because it is a badge-engineered Suzuki Baleno – and that is good. And if its name sounds familiar it’s because the badge is an old one, if not a model that’s been available locally. You might have encountered it in Gran Turismo or seen one from a neighboring country. It replaces the Etios locally and represents a significant upgrade in the budget segment with its 68kW/130Nm 1.4l VVT.

How does it look?
Again, just like the Suzuki Baleno it shares its platform (and panels) with. Nobody does compact hatchbacks as well as Suzuki does, ditto SUVs and saloons. So it makes sense that Toyota would lean on them for a replacement to the Etios. Slapping their badge on the Baleno instantly creates a new R200-R280k contender with styling that is leaps and bounds ahead of the Etios and we’re thrilled to see them on the road.

What about living with it?
Suzuki, and by extension Toyota, has a greatly appointed cabin with copious amounts of space. It’s a cliche for good reason when I say that you get C-segment room in a B-segment footprint. Modcons abound with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, air-conditioning and electric windows. Plus, safety is on par with its rivals as well making this a marked improvement once again over the car it replaces. This means you get ABS with EBD, brake assist (BA), vehicle stability control (VSC) and six airbags ala front, side and curtain.

How does it go?
Look, 68kW and 130Nm isn’t going to light your pants on fire, but here at the reef I had no problem trotting to 100kph from standstill in 10 seconds. The aforementioned 4-pot is paired with a five-speed manual transmission and can cruise at a frugal rate of 5.1l/100km.

Should you buy one?
Well, this is where things get interesting you see. Our test model, the well-appointed Xr model comes in cheaper than the similar GLX Baleno (R259,990) but where the Toyota comes with 3-year/100 000 km warranty, and a 3-services/45 000 km service plan, the near-identical Suzuki goes further with 5-year/200 000 km warranty and a 4-year/60 000 km service plan. And that’s worth emphasizing. Both cars, the Baleno and Starlet, deserve their place as serious contenders in this segment and you’d do well choosing whichever one tickles your bits.

Quick Stats: Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xr
Price: R258,500
Powertrain: inline 4-cyl 1.4l fwd,  68kW, 130Nm, 5-speed manual
Performance: 0-100kph in 10.8 seconds, 5.1l/100km fuel consumption

Range Pricing:
Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xi – R204 900
Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xs – R215 200
Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xs – R235 700
Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xr – R258 500
Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xr AT – R272 500

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