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TOYOTA STARLET

Despite recent flood damage to its plant in Prospecton, Durban, Toyota remains South Africa’s leading automotive marque. The recent introduction of the restyled Starlet B-segment hatch confirms the brand’s growing strength in the passenger car market with an honest, reliable, compact champion.

Toyota’s ability to retain its position as the number-one-selling South African car brand is legendary, as is its knack for giving South African consumers the products they need and want. With stellar vehicles such as the Hilux and Fortuner, some may think that the brand’s dominance extends solely to the commercial sector, but their ability to produce icons such as the Corolla, Conquest and Run-X tells a different story.

The carmaker also has monumental brand cache in other classes where, previously, the Yaris – followed by the first-generation Starlet – were important compact hatch contenders.

With the previous Starlet (launched here in 2020), Toyota reasserted its might once more by proving that “compact” does not have to equate to sub-standard and that their ability to successfully market smaller cars remains firmly intact. 

Toyota now brings an even sharper offering to the table with the significantly updated Starlet, heeding customers’ calls for more tech, an improved driving experience and increased value.

VALUE BOOST

Sourced from the same factory in India as the market rival Suzuki Baleno, the Starlet’s updated looks are spearheaded by a modernised front end that shows off a new headlight design (LED projector type on the top two derivatives), set in a new grille with large chromed wings on either side of the Toyota badge. Chromed fog light surrounds (excluded from the entry-level derivative) flank a distinctive honeycomb grille framed by a bold grey plastic frame. 

Sleek new side panels and doors are a massive departure from the rounded shape of the previous car, making the overall design more streamlined and sporty, while new taillights and a redesigned bumper neatly round out the overall picture. 

The line-up includes five Starlet derivatives in three grade levels: Xi, Xs, and Xr. All derivatives boast a new two-tone dashboard in grey and black, with either blue or black door panels. Xi and Xs models are distinguished from the Xr by mock carbon-fibre accents, while chrome details – scattered across the latter’s cabin – give it a remarkably premium feel. Safety is taken care of by two front airbags in the Xi and Xs (six airbags for the Xr), along with vehicle stability control and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution.

Further upgrades to the cabin bring a 7” touchscreen to the Xi and Xs models, while the Xr receives a 9” high-resolution touchscreen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality are offered as standard, as is 15Gb of data with the brand standard Toyota Connect Wi-Fi system.

FRUGAL DRIVE

Our launch drive took place on a remarkably warm autumn day in Cape Town, allowing us to put the Starlet’s automatic climate control system to good use. The system is standard on all Starlet models, although only the Xr has dedicated air vents at the rear. A sliding centre armrest between the front seats, three USB charging ports, cruise control, and keyless entry for the Xr derivative enhance Starlet’s value proposition. 

Driving time during the launch was limited to a tour around the peninsula, where we stretched the Starlet’s new 1.5-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder engine. Although slight, the power premium over the previous car is noticeable. Combined with either the four-speed manual or five-speed auto, the Starlet is sufficiently eager that it won’t disappoint in a hurry. Its best attribute in the performance department is that it sips fuel at a claimed rate of 5.4 l/100 km – a welcome bonus in the age of exorbitant petrol prices. In real-world conditions, you are likely to maintain an average closer to 6.4 l/100 km as we did at the coast, especially since the Starlet is roomy enough for up to five passengers while filling the deep, 314-litre luggage space will also affect its inherent frugality.

LAST WORD

The Starlet has already proven itself a popular alternative to entrenched B-segment competitors. Buyers looking for good value, modern functionality, excellent build quality, and Toyota’s unmatched national dealer footprint will be hard-pressed to get much more car for less money.

Report by Bernie Hellberg Jr | Images © Toyota South Africa

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