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Toyota Starlet review – Style and sportiness on a budget

The newly updated Toyota Starlet delivers great performance while boasting a number of appreciable features – making it a compelling entry into South Africa’s popular hatchback market.

TopAuto was given the opportunity to take ownership of the top-of-the-range XR model for a week to see what the revised Starlet has in store for its owners.

Small but sporty

While the Starlet doesn’t exactly classify as a hot hatch, that’s not to say its performance is lacking in any way.

Taking it on the highway revealed that the 77kW of power stored in the Toyota’s 1.5-litre engine is more than enough, managing overtakes at 120km/h with ease.

Even more impressive is the 138Nm of torque, which effectively translated to impressive speed on demand when considering the league that the Starlet plays in.

The 0-100km/h time is listed at 11.2 seconds, but the acceleration is satisfying to the point that it feels faster – especially from 0-60km/h – and the engine isn’t too noisy while doing so.

Officially, the Starlet has a fuel consumption of 5.7l/100km, though in reality, I was averaging closer to 7.1l/100km. This is still frugal by many standards and it’s likely that day-to-day commuting will yield results between these two figures, as the higher consumption can be attributed to my rather zealous testing of the Toyota’s performance.

The four-speed automatic gearbox also includes low and two-gear settings to help with steep hills, though frankly, the car handled any incline it came across just fine and I never felt the need to use these drive modes.

Kitted interior

As the top-spec model, the XR comes with a good number of features including a leather steering wheel, cruise control, automatic climate control, keyless start, and a 9-inch infotainment system with smartphone pairing and a reverse camera.

The reverse camera is an appreciated addition, especially when it came to reversing out of a parking bay while flanked by two large SUVs.

In practice the climate control functioned more like a standard AC system, blowing intense bouts of air rather than gradually bringing the cabin temperature to the desired level, though it still got the job of cooling or heating done just fine.

Android Auto also made using Google Maps much easier, though the wired connection highlighted a lack of surface space to store one’s phone.

The clarity and volume of the six-speaker sound system found on the XR did not disappoint, either, and there was added convenience coming from the multifunction steering wheel’s controls.

Setting the cruise control, meanwhile, often resulted in heavy acceleration and rather high engine speeds from the Starlet – even on minor inclines.

In terms of physical features, the Toyota offers a generous boot space of 314 litres, and the top-end model’s chrome accents, LED lights, and 16-inch alloys go a long way to make the Starlet stand out in any parking lot.

In my view this new design is much better looking than the previous generation, while it also brings just enough differentiation to make it recognizable as a Toyota when standing next to its half-sibling, the Suzuki Baleno.


The Toyota Starlet finds itself in the entry-level to mid-range pricing bracket in terms of hatchbacks in South Africa.

The entry-level Xi is cheaper than the VW Polo Vivo at R226,200, while the top-of-the-line XR variant puts it in the same ballpark as the VW Polo as far as pricing is concerned at R313,300.

It’s also very similarly priced to the Suzuki Baleno which launched at roughly the same time and uses the same powertrain as the Starlet.

In this regard, the Toyota Starlet compares favourably in the hatchback segment with its good performance, decent specification sheet, up-to-date design, and badge that most South Africans love.

Toyota Starlet XR

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