2021 Toyota Starlet
It could turn out to be Zimbabwe’s new Superstar
The Starlet, for those who do not know, is actually a Suzuki and has been available in South Africa for a couple of years as the Baleno. The grey imported Toyota Starlet was once what Honda Fit is to Zimbabwe some years ago. Winky D actually has a song on the little cozy vehicle. In that song Winky D talks of it as a love nest. How one turns such a miniature car into a love nest baffles me but anything is possible in this artistic world. In the song he is pleading for freedom with the Officer after he is caught “ari mujagwa achipa chimoko chake rudo” (in the car giving his girl some love). The first time I listened to the song I got lost because I did not know what a Jagwa was. Jagwa is street lingo for car
While automotive alliances are clearly back in vogue as manufacturers seek to slash research and development costs, the products of modern platform sharing are very often distinctly styled (think supposed “twins” such as the Aygo and Peugeot 108, the Supra and BMW Z4 and the latest-generation Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50). While they are near-identical under the skin, they are set apart by styling, each featuring a unique (brand-specific) upper body.
The Starlet is a good car and Toyota is offering it at a very reasonable price. In South Africa the range starts at R204 900(In Zimbabwe it is likely to cost double which is about US$26000 due to duties and taxes), which is basically where the Etios also sat at when it was discontinued last year. This makes the car a good option for Toyota fans who own the old Etios. It is a better car. In fact, it outshines many direct rivals from other brands and I will even go as far as saying the Starlet is a better proposition than Toyota’s own Yaris which sits above it in the brand’s line-up.
It could turn out to be Zimbabwe’s new budget superstar!
Still, the long-in-the-tooth Etios hatchback – a particularly strong seller in South Africa since its arrival back in 2012 – needed replacing and the Starlet fit the bill. In fact, it is more spacious, better equipped, more efficient and arguably easier to look at than the Etios, and even comes dangerously close to treading on the toes of the XP150-generation Yaris soldering on in the segment above. It is evident Toyota South Africa Motors is looking at budget entry level cars more now than ever before. Like it is my custom to say “if South Africa sneezes motoring wise, Zimbabwe catches the cold”. Our motoring trends are more or less fashioned by what is happening across the Limpopo.
The Starlet employs Suzuki’s familiar K14B engine, with the naturally aspirated 1,4-litre petrol unit sending 68 kW and 130 N.m to the front axle via either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. It is a peppy little power plant, with its performance and efficiency amplified by the vehicle’s impressive lack of lard (Toyota lists a kerb weight of just 915 kg, precisely the same as Suzuki’s figure).
It rides comfortably and handles tidily, while the manual model’s feather-light clutch, gear-shift action and steering lend themselves to fuss-free low-speed manoeuvres. Rear legroom is particularly impressive, while the luggage compartment measures a claimed 345 litres, almost 100 litres more than that of the Etios hatch.
While the entry-level Xi trim keeps the starting price very respectable (and will likely appeal mostly to fleet buyers, with the mid-tier Xs adding only alloys), the flagship Xr seen here offers a myriad of equipment. The standard features list includes items such as a touchscreen infotainment system (Suzuki’s but with a Toyota graphic on start-up), rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, cruise control and climate control. This variant furthermore upgrades from two airbags to six.
So, why would anyone buy the Toyota version over the Suzuki original? Well, considering specification levels appear pretty much equal on comparable variants (Toyota offers five derivatives compared with Suzuki’s three), the Starlet is quite clearly the cheaper car at launch – by as much as R17 000 in the case of the base model, though by a mere R1 400 when it comes to the manual-equipped flagship.
In addition, Toyota SA Motors rightly points out that it probably has the largest dealer network in Southern Africa and suggests that models wearing its badge, benefit from superior resale values too.
The buying public is already leaning heavily towards the Toyota, with the 178 units registered across South Africa in the final 10 days of September 2020 trouncing the Baleno’s effort of 55 units for the entire month (Suzuki customers prefer the Swift, which managed a strong 533 units, it seems).
As much as Suzuki Auto SA might feel a little (well, very) hard done by under this global arrangement, there is no getting away from the fact that the typical, pragmatically minded buyer in this segment will favour the Toyota for the reasons outlined above. It certainly helps that the Starlet’s a markedly more polished product than the Etios, too. In short, Toyota has gained plenty here.
Toyota, to distinguish between the trim levels, named the Starlet models Xi, Xs and Xr. Xi and Xs derivatives feature a double-DIN (two-tier) audio system with CD/Bluetooth/USB/ AUX functionality, while high-spec Xr models come with an Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integrated touchscreen. Xr Starlets also have a reverse camera linked to the touchscreen.
All Starlet models come equipped with the Toyota Connect telematics system which offer in-car Wi-Fi (through a hotspot) with 15Gb of data compliments of the manufacturer, or in this case, the seller. I am not sure whether these will be applicable to the Zimbabwean market once the vehicle is launched locally.
As a result, the rebadged model will surely – and rather unusually, it must be said – easily outsell the original, any cynicism around badge engineering notwithstanding.
The Starlet is a solid car and Toyota Zimbabwe is likely to offer it at a very good price.
It outshines many direct rivals from other brands. I will even go as far as saying the Starlet is a better proposition than Toyota’s own Yaris which sits above it in its brand’s line-up.
If you look at everything available in the South African market in this category and price range, the Starlet is SA’s new budget superstar! Expect the same in Zimbabwe too
Model: Toyota Starlet 1,4 Xr
Engine: 1,4-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 68 kW at 6 000 r/min
Torque: 130 N.m at 4 200 r/min
0-100 km/h: 10,9 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 180 km/h
Fuel consumption: 5,1 L/100 km (claimed)
CO2: 120 g/km
Transmission: Five-speed manual