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Some cars come on to the market and cause much confusion, especially if they are, in essence, a rebadged existing car. This is the case with the Toyota Starlet. You see, it is a Suzuki Baleno, with a Toyota badge on the front. But when you consider the business side of things, you soon realise that this is perhaps a stroke of genius … certainly on Toyota’s side.

WHAT DO I MEAN, EXACTLY?

Manufacturer collaborations are nothing new. They’ve been in existence for decades. Just last year Toyota teamed up with BMW and brought us the Supra, which was based on the Z4. It makes sense to join forces. Sharing expertise and all. The collaboration between Suzuki and Toyota means that Toyota benefits from Suzuki’s knowledge of compact cars while Suzuki benefits from Toyota’s expertise in hybrid technology and autonomous driving.

IS THE STARLET A NEW CAR, THOUGH?

Well, yes and no. It is primarily a Suzuki Baleno, but a few tweaks make it a new car offering from Toyota. It replaces Toyota’s well-known Etios that, until its departure, enjoyed an average 22% share of the sub-B segment over its lifespan. The Starlet’s design follows the classic hatchback profile, with a short, downward-sloping nose and rounded-off rear end. A V-shaped front grille (in Toyota-specific finishing) boasts centrally-mounted Toyota insignia. It also sports alloy wheels (model dependent) with the flagship Xr models showcasing chrome door handles and side mouldings, rear privacy glass, front fog lamps, LED headlamps with daytime running lights, side-mirror mounted indicators and a roof spoiler.

Interestingly, the Starlet name is not new; it dates back to 1973 and has adorned Toyota’s sub-compact hatchback in the Japanese domestic market for five generations. But it is the first time we are seeing this name here in South Africa.

STEP INSIDE

The interior of the Starlet is closely resembles the Baleno, but there is a difference when it comes to the model line up. Toyota offers three trim levels as opposed to Suzuki’s two. The Starlet is offered in Xi, Xz or Xs guise with the Xi being the entry-level model. The Xr, being the top of the range, sports standard features such as electric windows, air conditioning, remote central locking, and a 60/40 rear split bench, as well as park distance control, a reverse camera, climate control, push-start and cruise control. The touchscreen infotainment system is complete with Android Auto and Apple Carplay. All Starlet models are also equipped with the Toyota Connect telematics system which includes an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot and complimentary 15 Gb data.

GET BEHIND THE WHEEL

The same engine that powers the Baleno is found in the Starlet, it is the 1.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine. Power outputs sit at 68 kW and 120 Nm. The Xr is available in either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The only reason you might opt for the auto is for convenience sake; in other words, if you spend a lot of your time sitting in traffic. But the manual is smooth-shifting and gets the most out of the engine and so would be my pick, especially when you consider the torque figure, you will need to work this engine quite a bit if its overtaking manoeuvres you want to perform. It’s a typical city car, so don’t expect a lot from it on the highway. With that said, the drive is very comfortable, even if you are cruising the open road. The fuel consumption is claimed at 5.1 l/100 km and one is able to achieve quite close to this figure. Which you will be grateful for, especially with fuel costs constantly rising.

STARLET VS. BALENO

It is a tough call to make, but I can only assume that many will go with the Starlet, especially when you consider it comes in ever so slightly cheaper than the Baleno, not to mention Toyota’s reputation for reliability and its dealer footprint. It has a slightly shorter service plan and warranty than the Baleno, however, at three-services/45 000 km (service plan) and three-year/100 000 km (warranty). Either way, whether you opt for a Baleno or a Starlet, you will find yourself in a comfortable, solidly built and likely reliable budget hatch.

PRICING

Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xi MT: R204 900
Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xs MT: R215 200
Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xs AT: R235 700
Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xr MT: R258 500
Toyota Starlet 1.4 Xr AT: R272 500

About the Author: Juliet McGuire
Motoring journalist. Presenter. YouTuber. Podcaster. Voice artist. And everything in between.