The new Toyota Etios is not as stylish as the Lamborghini Aventador nor can it quite match the top speed of the Bugatti Veyron. Yet I'm willing to bet that this new budget Toyota has the potential to stir a lot more hype. In fact this could very well end up being the best-selling car in this Toyota-besotted country if TSA can secure enough volume, which at the moment appears to be limited to 20 000 cars per year.
Toyota desperately needed a car to challenge the VW Polo Vivo and Ford Figo in the so-called sub-B market and, unlike that pair, the Etios is not a facelift of an old relic but rather an all new, clean-sheet product imported from India, albeit designed in Japan with input from India, South Africa and Brazil.
PLAYING IT SAFE
Not that this little Toyota's design is going to set any pulses racing. It is unashamedly conservative, even downright bland in sedan guise, but at least the hatchback has a few RunX overtones in its truncated rear end.
So why is it playing it so safe? I suspect because it has to be everything to everybody, from first-time buyers to smaller families and basically anybody who's smart enough to invest as little as possible in the depreciation landslide that is the modern car.
Essentially filling the shoes that Toyota's Tazz vacated six years ago, the Etios will be sold alongside the Aygo city car, but as a bigger and consequently more practical alternative.
Starting at R115 800, it can be ordered in Xi or XS trim levels. The entry-level Xi gives you air conditioning, power steering, dual airbags and ABS brakes while XS sweetens the deal slightly with remote central locking, electric windows, some chrome garnish and colour coding for the mirrors and grille.
SOLID BUILD QUALITY
Stepping inside, you'll find a dashboard clad in hard but durable-looking dark grey plastic; build quality is solid enough although cost cutting is evident in places. Like the previous Yaris, the instrument pod is perched in the centre.
Everything is within easy reach and there's loads of storage space - the 13-litre cubbyhole even devouring a small laptop.
I plonked my average-sized frame behind my driving position and found ample stretching space in the back. You could just about live in the boot of the sedan, which has a class-leading capacity of 595 litres; the hatch will also swallow a few holiday tog bags with 251 litres to play with.
NUTS AND BOLTS
Under the bonnet you'll find a 1.5-litre 16-valve engine that musters 66kW at 5600rpm and 123Nm at 3000rpm. Bye-bye variable valve timing and the like but you are still getting a lot of metal for the money.
On our launch route, albeit at sea level, the Etios felt far punchier than I'd expect of an entry level car, the revvy little motor willing to race through town with some gusto and still holding its own quite nicely on the open road.
Toyota claims a zero to 100km/h sprint of 11.3 seconds, top speed of 165km/h and average fuel consumption of 5.9 litres per 100km.
Just don't expect it to be as refined or as sophisticated as a Yaris - it's a far cheaper car that offers similar practicality and there is a payoff.
The steering is light and lifeless and there's notable body roll when pushing through corners at speed, although the levels of grip and lack of understeer were impressive. The ride will be comfortable enough on most surfaces but the Etios feels quite unsettled on imperfect roads - it bounces about but it's not hard or spine-punishing by any means.
It's also quite noisy at highway speeds, despite the fact that Toyota has added extra noise deadening for the South African market.
Yet I suspect that all the drawbacks I've mentioned so far are going to be nothing more than niggles for the average customer at this price level and they can't detract from the fact that this car offers immense practicality, strong performance and that promise of Toyota reliability for a very reasonable price by today's standards.
In a lot of ways Toyota has gone back to its roots with this car. Think of it as a 1980s Corolla or Conquest reinvented for the modern era. Now where's that RSi, Toyota?
The Etios arrives in local showrooms on 21 May with a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a two-year or 30 000km service plan.
1.5 Xi 5dr - R115 800
1.5 XS 5dr - R120 900
1.5 Xi 4dr - R121 800
1.5 XS 4dr - R126 600
Chevrolet Aveo 1.6 L (77kW) - R136 400
Ford Figo 1.4 Ambiente (62kW) - R118 670
Kia Picanto 1.2 EX (65kW) - R118 995
Nissan Micra 1.2 Visia+ (56kW) - R122 400
Renault Sandero 1.6 Dynamique (64kW) - R129 900
VW Polo Vivo 1.4 Trendline 5dr (63kW) - R130 000