Back in 2016, Toyota began its collaboration with Suzuki. With both Japanese manufacturers at the forefront of their respective automotive technologies, fusing their expertise would mean sharing research, development costs, platforms, engines, and even cars. The first baby to come out of this newfound relationship is the Toyota Starlet, which is almost identical to the Suzuki Baleno.
It is based on the Baleno and has the same engine and dashboard layout, but its design has been tweaked a little somewhat to look more Toyota-esque, so to speak. But next to the Baleno, it is only the grille and badge that makes the Starlet look a little different.
However, Toyota brings some of its own attractive goodies from their tech department into the Starlet’s interior, such as Toyota Connect Telematics system; in-car Wi-fi and the My Toyota App. You also get 15GB of data mahala when you purchase the Starlet. This is standard across the board.
The Starlet is aimed at young and trendy connected urbanites, but after driving the near-identical, peppy Baleno a while back, I’m of the opinion that it would suit anyone who’s looking for a practical, spacious and reliable car that’s cost-effective to run. Toyota claims fuel usage of a mere 5.1 litres per 100 km, which isn’t too far from the truth on a day-to-day basis. We’ll be getting the new Starlet on test soon, but can read our review of the Baleno in the meantime to get a better idea of what we’re talking about. Just bear in mind that our review is of the pre-facelift 2017 model without stability control and many of the latest mod-cons that the new Baleno models have.
Over the past few weeks, Zimbabweans were introduced to a new arrival in Toyota’s local arsenal, the Starlet. And if the car looks awfully familiar, it’s because it is. Based on the Suzuki Baleno – a mighty impressive car, we might add – the Starlet picks up where the Etios left off. The car shares everything with the Baleno: it’s design, interior, as well as the drivetrain.
Reliable information says it has already sold more than 20 units in a few weeks
The Starlet can be somewhat misleading, in a good way. Coming in at just under 4 metres, one would think that space would be on the limited side, but it’s not. A 1.8m tall driver can sit comfortably, while the passenger behind him/her does not have to worry about being cramped for space. Rear legroom is more than sufficient, without the need to adjust and alter the front seats a million times.
The dashboard is a very user-friendly space (à la Baleno), and everything is easy to understand. The dials, with which to operate the climate control, is decked with easy-to-read buttons, and the radio has a playful, yet engaging, feel to it. What may be an issue to some is that you can only connect your phone while the car is stationary? Yes, this is with road safety in mind, but there are systems on the market that allows quick and easy connection while the vehicle is in motion. Perhaps this is something Toyota could consider when the facelift comes about.
Compared to the Baleno, the boot is slightly smaller at 345 litres, but with the rear seats folded down, space increases to 1 075 litres. The Baleno is about 10 litres bigger in both instances.
Toyota also made provision for the Starlet to be equipped with an (optional) tow bar. When fitted, the car can pull a trailer with an un-braked towing capacity of 400kg.
The engine and gearbox have been carried over from the Baleno, thanks to the partnership between the two Japanese automakers that came into play in March 2019.
The engine, a naturally aspirated 1.4-litre motor, produces 68kW and 130Nm, with power being sent to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox (like our test unit) or a four-speed automatic. Gear changes are solid, with a surety that the next gear will be hooked without issue. What we picked up on, though, is that the engine must be driven-in for both performance and fuel consumption to turn a positive page.
Upon receiving the Starlet, the car had few kilometres on its odometer. Fresh off the truck, the Starlet had that new-car smell and prodding around town highlighted the relatively high consumption. On the national roads and running at 120km/h, the gearbox had to be worked for the car to maintain momentum on most inclines. Cruise control played its part to a degree, but was overridden most of the time as fourth gear had to be engaged.
Admittedly, we think the Starlet will offer far better performance once the engine has been “broken” in.
It has a host of features that will make the Vivo hide its head and the Baleno ask itself “Why do I cost this much?”.
The entry-level Starlet comes in at $19000. Warranty and maintenance
All Starlet models are sold with a three-services/45,000 km service plan – with 15,000 km service intervals. A three-year/100,000km warranty is also provided.
Book a test drive today with Toyota Zimbabwe on 08677 067067