Indian-built Toyota Etios slots under the Yaris pricewise and is powered by a 1.5-litre engine.
Indian-built Toyota Etios slots under the Yaris pricewise and is powered by a 1.5-litre engine.
Rear end has all the styling flair of a washing machine but redeems itself with a cavernous 595-litre boot.
Rear end has all the styling flair of a washing machine but redeems itself with a cavernous 595-litre boot.
Interior styling is practical but very bland.
Interior styling is practical but very bland.

In the heydays of the Tazz and the Citi Golf, expectations in the entry-level car segment weren’t very high. Comfort, safety and aspirational value all took a back seat; price was everything and all you expected was essentially a steering wheel and four wheels.

But the world’s moved on and most budget cars nowadays have safety features such as airbags and antilock braking as a bare minimum - and the world’s a better place for it (notwithstanding the higher pricetags this has necessitated).

Six years after the exit of the Tazz, the Etios that replaces it is a veritable executive car by comparison, with standard items such as power steering, a sound system, aircon, antilock braking and dual airbags even in the entry-level model.

Available in sedan and hatch derivatives, the Indian-built Etios is an “emerging market” car that slots in under the more modern Yaris. Its pricing is similar to the Aygo city car launched in SA last year, but the Etios is a considerably larger and more practical car.

In the sedan on test here, passenger room’s very generous and four full-sized adults will fit inside the cabin quite comfortably. The 595-litre boot’s cavernous and will swallow a big pile of holiday luggage and there’s plenty of cabin storage space too, including a 13-litre cubbyhole that’s large enough for a small laptop.

So if you’re looking for a budget car with true family-sized space, put the Etios on your shortlist.

The model tested here, the Etios 1.5 Xs sedan, is the top-of-the-range version which, on top of the features already mentioned, also comes with additional luxuries such as electric windows and central locking. It’s impressive that a 1.5-litre car with this spec comes with a pricetag of R126 600 - similar to some 1.0-litre rivals - which instantly rings alarm bells as to where the cost-cutting took place.

Fortunately the Etios, though rough around some edges, mostly rises above cheap-and-nasty stature. There’s a lot of hard plastic in the cabin but it seems of a decent quality.

The car seems pretty well screwed together in general, it’s just that the interior styling is very bland and nothing like the zhoozh cockpits of more modern small cars such as the Aygo, Kia Picanto or Hyundai Accent.

The loose-fitting upholstery on the rear seats of our Etios test car looked low-rent, however, and spoiled the overall picture.

On the outside the cost-cutting exercise sees the car wearing steel instead of alloy wheels, which isn’t a big deal in itself, but the sedan is entirely bereft of any styling pizzazz. It’s a generic-looking body that looks like it was designed as an afterthought, although the two Etios model grades, Xi and XS, at least feature finishing touches such as body-coloured bumpers. The flagship XS in addition has a colour-coded grille and door handles plus a few chrome accents.

In its driving characteristics Toyota’s budget car has its good and bad points. On the negative side it’s not particularly refined and don’t expect the silence and sophistication of the more expensive Yaris. The Etios engine drones loudly enough to make you have to crank up the radio volume as the speed increases.

PLEASANT URBAN COMMUTER

On the plus side it’s a remarkably easy car to drive, and its super-light steering, gearshift and clutch make the Etios effortless to operate in the cut-and-thrust of busy traffic, making it a very pleasant urban commuter.

Most cars in this price range offer 1.0- to 1.2-litre engines so the Etios’ 1.5 16-valve unit is an attractive drawcard to prospective buyers. Though it’s not the most powerful 1.5 around, with 66kW and 132Nm on tap, the Toyota petrol engine serves up a decent level of pace and never feels out of breath. It’s a pleasantly torquey engine with more than enough power for any commuting situation and out on the open road, although noisy, the car cruises fairly comfortably and mostly maintains its pace up hills.

Toyota claims a sea level 0-100km/h sprint of 11.3 seconds, top speed of 165km/h and average fuel consumption of 5.9 litres per 100km (our test car managed 7.9 litres).

The ride quality feels smooth and garners no complaints and the handling, while hardly class-leading, is acceptably clean for the type of commuting that most owners will do.

The Etios is sold with a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a two-year or 30 000km service plan; its rivals include the VW Polo Vivo sedan and (now discontinued) Renault Logan.

VERDICT

Though it has the styling flair of a washing machine Toyota’s budget car delivers the goods in the key areas for this price range. It’s very spacious, well-specced with comforts and safety, and has decent commuting performance. More than decent, in fact, and one of the car’s selling points is that it offers 1.5-litre power at a 1.2-litre price. And, of course it wears that Toyota badge.

Predictably Toyota’s new budget beater is already setting the sales charts alight. - Star Motoring