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REVIEW: 2022 Toyota Starlet hits a sweet spot for over-burdened SA consumers

Published Jul 15, 2022

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Launch Review: 2022 Toyota Starlet 1.5 XR manual

Johannesburg - Right now fuel prices are laughing at the previous record highs that we complained about not too long ago - how we all feared that R20-per-litre doomsday - and just about everything seems to be inflating at a rapid rate, except most of our incomes.

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In these tough times it’s tempting to look at cars that are classified as fuel savers and while you might say these little hatchbacks are as cute as garden gnomes, they’re unfortunately also not much bigger. Not the kind of cars that most South Africans like to buy, especially those with families to lug around.

After spending a week with the recently updated Toyota Starlet, it occurred to me that this is the perfect car for the times. It’s about the size of a Polo, yet somehow manages to look a bit bigger, and it’s priced from R226 200 to R313 300, depending on the level of specification you want. This means it’s not really much more expensive than those small city hatches and the Starlet is relatively economical too, which we’ll touch on a little later.

Like the Suzuki Baleno that it’s based on, the Toyota Starlet was recently given a makeover, which seems to fall somewhere between a major facelift and a full generation change. They’ve also made a bit more effort to differentiate the styling this time around, with a unique front bumper and grille that makes it look more like a Toyota at the front. The side and rear views have also been given a refreshed look, along with the cabin architecture.

Plenty of beneath-the-skin changes have been made too, including revisions to the structure as well as the suspension and steering, but the biggest change is the switch to a bigger 1.5-litre normally aspirated engine. The new motor, also found in the Urban Cruiser and most Suzuki models these days, produces 77kW and 138Nm, which is 9kW and 8Nm more than the previous 1.4 unit mustered.

But what’s it like to drive?

Having sampled the new Toyota Starlet at both sea level and Gauteng altitudes, we feel the engine delivers adequate performance for this package. Although it didn’t feel too underpowered at altitude, it did need to be worked fairly hard at times to extract brisk performance, which is not an altogether bad experience as it is a sweet-sounding engine that seems to enjoy being revved.

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That said, if you’re seeking a quieter and more serene driving experience, you might find the Starlet’s noise insulation package to be wanting as the engine noise can get a bit intrusive even at medium revs.

As for fuel consumption, the Toyota Starlet which we had on test was not too much of a drinker, with our on-board readout showing 5.3 litres per 100km on a mostly rural route, and after being reset for some in-town driving it settled around the 7.5 l/100km mark.

The driving experience is agreeable in most respects. The ride quality is comfortable enough and the light steering makes it a cinch to drive around town, although the manual gearbox can get a bit notchy when changing into third.

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The overall driving experience is hardly sporty but it’s an easy car to drive and that should appeal most to the target market. And if you’d prefer the car to change gears for you there is a four-speed automatic transmission option available.

Let’s take a look inside

The cockpit has a swoopy new design that reminds us of modern BMWs, and the infotainment screen now juts out from the top of the dashboard, making it easier to operate without taking your eyes too far off the road. Material quality is hardly brilliant, but also not bad considering the price.

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The infotainment system has a pretty straightforward interface and the touchscreen measures 7.0-inches (17.8cm) in the base Xi and Xs models and 9.0-inches (22.8cm) in the range-topping XR that we had on test. All Toyota Starlet models ship with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity and those at the back also get their own USB ports (USB-A and USB-C).

Is the Toyota Starlet practical?

Speaking of the back seats, rear legroom is quite ample in this car and I had a fair amount of stretching space behind my seating position, but the headroom felt a bit tight. It’s probably all right for an average-sized adult or teen, but taller people could end up feeling a bit claustrophobic in the back.

We were impressed by the amount of boot space on offer. Toyota claims a volume of 314 litres but the broad and deep luggage area actually seems a bit bigger than the numbers suggest.

What features do I get?

The Toyota Starlet is offered in three specification flavours: Xi, Xs and XR.

The 1.5 Xi (starting at R226 900 at the time of writing, in July 2022) is where the real value is. In addition to the aforementioned infotainment system, the Xi comes with automatic climate control, multi-function steering wheel, powered mirrors and windows, multifunction steering wheel, park-distance control, multi-information display, dual front airbags, VSC stability control and ABS.

The mid-range Xs manual (R239 100) and Xs auto (R261 100) add 16-inch alloy wheels and fog lights, and unless you really want the auto model you could save some money by buying an Xi and visiting your nearest wheel and tyre outlet.

The XR flagship that we had on test (R294 900 as a manual and R313 300 in auto guise) gains upgraded infotainment with reverse camera and two extra speakers, as well as cruise control, push-button start, height-adjustable driver’s seat and a leather-covered steering wheel with added reach adjustment.

VERDICT

The Toyota Starlet is a car that hits the sweet spot for many buyers and its monthly sales figures, averaging well above 1 000 units, are a testament to that. The recent makeover adds to a winning recipe that once again offers a very sensible blend of affordability, practicality, comfort, economy and performance.

That said, the new Suzuki Baleno that it’s based on offers all of that and a little bit more spec at slightly lower prices (R225 900 to R295 900). We’re not going to tell you which one to buy as both offer excellent value. At the end of the day you need to balance the Suzuki’s lower price and longer service plan (four-years/60 000km versus Toyota’s three-service/45 000km plan) and warranty (5yr/200 vs 3yr/100) against Toyota’s vast dealer network and your possible loyalty to that brand, of course.

FACTS: Toyota Starlet 1.5 XR manual

Price: R294 900 (July 2022)

Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder, petrol

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel drive

Power: 77kW @ 6000rpm

Torque: 138Nm @ 4400rpm

Fuel use, freeway: 5.3 L/100km (tested)

Fuel use, urban: 7.5 L/ 100km (tested)

Boot capacity: 314 litres

Kerb weight: 975kg

Fuel tank capacity: 37 litres

Warranty: 3-year/100 000km

Service plan: 3-year/45 000km

IOL Motoring

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