Toyota Starlet Xr

We test the ‘new’ Toyota Starlet. A rebadged 2015 Suzuki Baleno that outsells it 20:1

The new Toyota Starlet 1.4 tells a very interesting story. Released a month ago, it’s nothing more than a rebadged Suzuki Baleno. But in the month since it was launched, the one with the Toyota badge sold 1102 units. The Suzuki? 51.

Now there’s nothing at all wrong with Suzuki in South Africa. It’s rightfully proud of its efforts over the twelve years since the car brand re-launched here and the company is to be commended on breaking the 2000 cars sold barrier for the first time, also last month. Suzuki builds splendid little cars and that is no doubt one of the central pillars to that new Toyota deal. Whoever sold that to Toyota, did a brilliant job.


So now rather than shipping 50 cars down the spice route to Durban, Maruti Suzuki sends 1200 or more cars to Africa. Good business practice? You bet! But that also shows just how strong a brand Toyota is in South Africa.

Looking back a little, Suzuki first suggested its future B-segment hatchback in the 2014 iK-2 concept. It hinted at Suzuki’s recently introduced mild hybrid and soon heralded the new Baleno. It was the first car to be powered by Suzuki’s new turbocharged litre petrol Boosterjet engine overseas.

Longer, wider and lower than the Swift, Baleno rode on an all new Suzuki TECT high-tensile steel strengthened platform. Sporting MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension, it has an electrically assisted power steering. And ABS, EBD and assist braking and stability control. The car that reached South Africa late in 2016 deployed the more agricultural old school 68 kW 130 Nm 1.4-litre also used in Suzuki’s Swift, Ertiga and Ciaz.

We were suitably impressed when we tested the Baleno early the following year. Its 10.29 second 0-100 km/h acceleration was considerably quicker than the claimed 10.9 seconds. We readily met its claimed 5.1 l/100km fuel consumption claim promising over 700 km between refuels too. And we were impressed by its quiet ride, solid feel and quality finishes. Baleno quietly went on to provide a few South Africans with a great transport solution.

Then about a year ago, Toyota and Suzuki just as quietly joined forces. Suzuki wanted hybrid and autonomous tech and Toyota liked the idea of slapping its badges on some market-leading compact cars. And Starlet is the first spawn of said union in this market.


A ‘brand new’ Toyota, Starlet is actually a Suzuki Baleno in drag. It brings back an old Toyota badge to this market for the first time, to open a new South African motoring chapter. Big for a Suzuki and small for Toyota, it fills a pretty big pair of shoes too. See, the Starlet replaces the runaway Toyota Etios, which commanded a quarter of its segment through its decade tenure.

Starlet builds impressively on the Etios’ pillars of performance, economy and value. And adds a big dose of style, space and spec. Besides the Toyota badges, grille and trim, for the rest, you know the drill. Just read exactly what’s written four paragraphs up. Toyota also reminds us that Starlet (and obviously Baleno) can tow a one ton braked trailer.

The Starlet looks the part. A Toyota specific grille and that hallmark badge between LED daylight running headlights. Front fog lamps and a roof spoiler add to a swooping but pleasing allure. It does of course also leave you wondering where you’ve seen it all before.

Our test Starlet Xr manual came most impressively specced. Access the spacious and people friendly climate-controlled cabin is by remote central locking. Or just touch the button on the bold chrome door handles with the key in your pocket. Settle in behind the chunky telescopic tilt-adjustable electric power multifunction leather steering wheel and you’re greeted by a really cool set of analogue and digital instruments.


The comfortable front seats are adequately adjustable and there’s literally acres of space in there. The rear cabin is just as spacious. It has a 60/40 split folding bench for versatile loading and there’s privacy glass and 12-volt outlets too. We’re not so sure about those zebra floor mats, 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 along with indicator repeater power wing mirrors. 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.

This Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xr manual comes in at R258K, or 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.


Fire Starlet up with the prod of the Start button (and your foot on the clutch) and the rorty 1400 comes to life. Clutch action is easy and gear selection a cinch. Our Starlet delivered even better performance too. Three-tenths quicker to 100 km/h still than the same claim for Baleno, it’s solid and silent on the road. Handling is sweet and road holding positive. It also packs cruise control to make country driving a pleasure.

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 Yaris. To be honest, this car is a giant leap forward over the Toyota that the Starlet replaces. Which is of course kudos to Suzuki too. And a splendid business decision all-round. — Michele Lupini

Images — Michele 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:       R258K
RATED:            8
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