Toyota Starlet

Starlet on test – spending a little extra time with it reveals a calm companion on the road

We had the Toyota Starlet on test before. But the opportunity to drive one at leisure through the holidays, revealed far more about a car set to play a major role in the South African market going forward.

Of course there’s a little elephant to get out of the room first. You know of course that this is basically a Suzuki Baleno in drag? Not that it particularly matters — Suzuki builds splendid little cars and that is no doubt one of the central pillars to that new Toyota deal to badge them with a T, rather than an S.


We were suitably impressed when we first tested the Baleno a good few yers before its Toyota cousin came along a few months back. Scratching through our data reveals it managed 10.29 seconds to 100 km/h and my notes revealed that we readily met its claimed 5.1 l/100km fuel consumption. Which promises a fuel range of beyond 700 km between refuels. Baleno’s solid feel and understated, quality finishes impressed too.

Fire Starlet up with the prod of the Start button and the rorty ‘Zook 1400 comes to life. Clutch action is easy and gear selection a cinch. Our test unit delivered even better performance than Baleno did back when too. It proved three-tenths quicker to 100 km/h still.

Solid and silent on the road, handling is sweet and road holding positive and ride quiet. It also packs cruise control to make country driving a pleasure. Baleno… er, sorry, Starlet has a pleasant engine voice when accelerating but the cabin is actually actually very quiet on the cruise. It is particularly pleasant to drive — especially for a car in this neck of the woods.

Fuel economy is great when you’re trying to save fuel. Although it quickly becomes the opposite when you’re pushing on a bit.


All very good, and all of which plays into Toyota’s hands when considering the very different job this car has to do versus its bit player Baleno identical twin. See, Starlet steps into Toyota’s top-selling Etios shoes, so its bound to be — and has already proven a market star. It’s a significant step forward over that car and also builds impressively on those pillars of performance, economy and value.

Best of all is that Starlet adds a huge slice of style, space and spec to the bargain. Besides those Toyota badges, grille and trim, for the rest, you know the drill. Just read Baleno. Which of course augurs very well for the mission at hand.

Our holiday Starlet Xr manual came fully stacked. Its people friendly climate-controlled cabin is impressively specced with a chunky telescopic tilt-adjustable electric power multifunction leather steering and a cool set of analogue and digital dials.


The multi adjustable pews are comfortable amid Starlet’s real trump card — there’s van loads of space in there. Especially compared to the car it replaces. There are a 60/40 split folding bench, privacy glass and 12-volt outlets in the back too. None of us could figure out those vision test floor mats though. But for the rest, it’s a pleasant and comfortable driving environment.

The Starlet Xr has four power windows with one-touch operation for the driver and indicator repeater power wing mirrors too. The bright, clear, legible and simple to operate multi-info display sits atop the centre dash. It includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, CD, Bluetooth, USB, Aux and 6-speaker audio. There’s a reverse camera and park distance control too. We’d happily say this is the cream of the entry car infotainment crop.

The Starlet Xr also packs an impressive safety spec. It has driver, passenger, curtain and side airbags, two ISOFIX child restraint anchor points and a security system. The MyToyota App Wi-Fi hotspot telematics app comes with 15 gigs free data to help manage your Starlet via the web.


The Starlet on test is 1.4 Xr manual It’s a grand cheaper than the compatible Suzuki Baleno 1.4 GLX. It’s sold with Toyota’s 3-service or 45 000 km plan at 15 000 km intervals and a 3-year 100 000 km warranty. Additional service plans and warranty extensions are available from your local Toyota dealer. That compares to the Suzuki’s 4 year 60 000 km warranty and the same level of warranty cover.

It is very difficult to criticise this car. All of which makes it easy to understand why Toyota opted to go this route to replace the Etios. Starlet needs to satisfy a very broad market and to do so, it needs to quietly deliver some way beyond expectation.

Our extra time with it revealed precisely that. But more too. Well more than we have come to expect from Toyota in this corner of the market. To be honest, this car is a giant leap forward over the Toyota that this Starlet on test eplaces. it quietly gets on with the job while secretly getting under your skin. The Toyota Starlet is your silent partner for sure! — Michele Lupini

Images — Giordano Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xr
Engine: 8 kW 130 Nm 1.4-litre petrol I4
Drive: 5-speed manual FWD
0-60km/h:         4.27 sec
0-100km/h:        9.89 sec
0-160km/h:        27.67 sec
400m:             16.8 sec @ 132 km/h
80-120km/h:       7.18 sec
120-160km/h:      14.14 sec
VMax:             175 km/h
Fuel:             5.1 l/100km
CO2:              120 g/km
Warranty/Service: 3y 100K/3-service 45Kkm
LIST PRICE:       R263K
RATED:            8
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