Toyota Starlet

For many years it has been a ding dong battle between Volkswagen and Toyota to dominate the small car market niche. VW have done particularly well in the affordable compact niche but Toyota now has a Starlet up its sleeve.

Years ago (starting in the 70’s) Toyota had a Starlet, which looked like an abbreviated Corolla of the day and was built for 21 years over 5 generations.

Toyota Starlet

Now we have a new Starlet, which replaces the Etios Hatch in our market.

It is based on the same platform as the Suzuki Baleno and built by Maruti Suzuki in India. In 2019 Suzuki and Toyota announced a new collaboration to further their earlier MoU in which Suzuki will build four small cars for Toyota, while the latter will supply Suzuki with electrified and mild hybrid technology.

Suzuki will supply Baleno (Toyota Starlet), Vitara Brezza (a small SUV) known as the Toyota Urban Cruiser, Ciaz (small sedan) and Ertiga to Toyota in Africa from Maruti in India.

Toyota will build electric Rav and Corolla versions for Suzuki.

So what is the Starlet?

The Starlet is a shopping car, mom’s taxi, weekender and generally practical smaller, but not cramped, family car.

I found it to be almost zippy – good power and acceleration, competent handling, a pleasant ride and good road holding. A nice, not too little, car.

With its 1.4-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine featuring Variable Valve Timing producing 68kW @ 6000 rpm with 130Nm of torque @ 4200 rpm you can expect fuel consumption between 5.2L/100km and just under 6 if you have a heavier foot. Two transmission choices are on offer, a 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic, all driving the front wheels. The Starlet will do 0-100km/h in 10.9s for the manual and 11.6s for the auto variant.

Toyota Starlet dash

The entry point to the Starlet range is the Xi model which is generously specced, featuring air-conditioning, electric power steering, dual 12-volt power outlets, electric windows, tilt-adjustable steering column, 60/40 split rear seats, power-adjustable side mirrors and remote central locking. The Xs model adds alloy wheels.

The flagship Xr models receive the full package, comprising chrome door handles and side mouldings, rear privacy glass, front fog lamps, LED + Projector headlamps with daytime running lights (DRL), side-mirror mounted indicators and a roof spoiler. The interior gets a digital speedometer with colour MID, leather steering wheel with telescopic adjustment, park distance control (PDC), reverse camera, climate control and push-start operation. Cruise control is also provided, operated via steering-wheel-mounted switches. Snazzy.

The car has a generous boot for this niche helped by a space-saver marie biscuit spare wheel, practical layout and effective if simple infotainment system with in the Xr model a feature-rich touchscreen audio system complete with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration for navigation, telephony and music-streaming services. Traditional USB, Bluetooth and MP3/Aux compatibility remains – offering the user a wide variety of in-vehicle entertainment sources. Reverse camera monitoring is also embedded within the infotainment system which is linked to the Toyota Connect telematics system which includes an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot and complimentary 15Gb.

As with the new Suzukis safety is top notch which include active electronic aids such as ABS, EBD, Brake Assist (BA) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). Automatic transmission models also include Hill Assist Control (HAC). The Xr model gets additional Curtain and Side airbags.

Toyota Starlet rear view


It is a good size car.

The interior feels spacious and the layout works well. The chunky steering wheel houses the cruise control and audio buttons. The trip computer between the rev counter and speedometer is quite advanced and can display fuel and range data, engine and mobility data like power, torque, acceleration and braking, time and even G-forces.

The model line-up and pricing is as follows:
1.4 Xi MT – R204 900, 1.4 Xs MT – R215 200, 1.4 Xs AT – R235 700, 1.4 Xr MT – R258 500, 1.4 Xr AT – R272 500.
If you just want a basic runabout the base model will be fine. If you want a ‘proper’ car I recommend the Xr AT. It has just about all the bells and whistles you need in a car. The complete compact package.

All Starlet models are sold with a three service or 45 000 km service plan, with 15 000 km service intervals. A 3-year/100 000 km warranty is also provided. Customers can purchase an additional service plan and warranty extensions from their local Toyota dealer.

You may be wondering what the alternatives are. Clearly the Suzuki Baleno on which it is based, but also the VW Vivo, Ford Figo, Hyundai i20, Kia Rio, Renault Sandero and Clio, Suzuki Ignis, Mazda2 and Honda Amaze.

Karoo to Karoo

Gecko Rock Lodge is a very special place if you are the outdoorsy type. 

The lodge is hidden away in a valley of its own in the Central Karoo near Touwsriver. Nestled in the Nougaskloof Valley is Gecko Rock Private Nature Reserve complete with three trails, cottages, cabins and two 8-bed houses as well as two campsites.

Echo Camp at Gecko Lodge

We stayed in the very rustic Echo Valley campsite. For amenities it offers a hot shower, toilet and a kitchen area. That’s it. No power, water, mobile phone signal. Just you and nature.

The trails on offer range from a pleasant drive which you could manage with a softroader to the very challenging 4×4 Seattle trail, best tackled with more than one vehicle and with a guide if you are not experienced.

Gecko Rock also offers a number of walking and MTB trails.

We took the longer route via Bonnievale, as I wanted to buy wine from the cellars and cheese from Mooivallei Dairy which makes the most sublime mature Gouda. This route is 250 km but budget 4 hours as you will stop to admire the views, especially at Langdam.

Mahindra S11 Karoo

The Mahindra Karoo is an excellent choice in this context. Its a comfortable cruiser with the little luxuries you want on a longish trip.

Mahindra’s double cab 4×4 bakkie in S11 trim is badged Karoo and it fits the vehicle.

I found the S11 pleasant to drive and very capable in the bush. It is a truck, built to work in tough conditions, but the rough edges have been softened. It is no Amarok or Ranger when it comes to handling or interior design but it is very functional with a high level of standard equipment at the price. Nifty little luxuries like follow me home lights, light sensing headlamps, rain sensing wipers and start/stop function are all standard on the S11.

Mahindra Pik Up Securideck

The bakkie we drove came with a rubberised loadbay and a rollertop cover, which is neither rain or dust proof but does provide good security.

It is well equipped with front fog lights, dual projector headlamps, heated rear window and more.

The leather covered steering wheel has cruise control and audio function controls.

The roomy cabin has got a touchscreen infotainment centre, integrated audio system with USB, Aux and Bluetooth as well as Satnav and a rear camera. It has a proper climate control system, trip computer and electric windows. I thought the door handles were a little flimsy and it just does not have the storage space of the newer bakkies. I also missed a grab handle on the A pillar for the front passenger.

The S11 has nine safety features including ABS and EBD, two airbags and collapsing steering column.

The steering is a little mushy at speed but once you leave the tar its just fine although it is a challenge to park.

Expect fuel consumption to be just under 10L/ 100 km.

The Mahindra S11 automatic, especially in Karoo guise, is a successful development and enhancement of the original Pik-Up. The 2.2 turbodiesel and the six-speed auto box work well together delivering just what you need and lifting the bakkie to a new level.

The S10 and S11 trim bakkies are really good value for money. The S10 costs R394 499, while the S11 as tested here costs R429 900.

The warranty is for 4 years or 120 000 km and the service plan is for 5 years or 90 000 km.

If for some reason you don’t like the Karoo take a look at the GWM Steed and Nissan NP 300 (Hardbody).