Toyota South Africa's marketing suits have given the cash-strapped lower end of the local car-buying public reason to smile with the introduction of its entry-level Etios which they hope will step into the popular shoes worn out by the charismatic Tazz.
Even though it is an all-new model it does have an aura of Toyota familiarity about it.
The demise of the Tazz about six years ago left a gaping hole in the brand's local presence in the pikkie segment and this gap was quickly populated by now well-established contenders such as Hyundai i10, VW Vivo, Chevrolet Spark, Kia Picanto, Nissan Micra, Renault Sandero and the Ford Figo leaving loyal Toyota fans no other choice than go elsewhere or to look at other, more expensive Toyota options.
The smaller-engined Toyota Aygo tried hard in a funky sort of way to recapture the appeal of Tazz but it just hasn't quite succeeded in pulling it off and now Toyota is hoping that its made-in-India Etios, with its fairly competitive pricing of between R115 800 and R126 600, is going to be the one to creep back into the hearts and wallets of the lower end of the market.
A little bland, but fresh, friendly in an eco sort of way, and well specced
After spending a week in one of the brand's latest offerings I think Toyota has enough reason to be optimistic. Perhaps not time to break out the bubbly yet but their little budget sub-B market contender is fresh, economical, eco friendly and well-specced even though it does look a tad bland. But then hey, how many sexy cars do you find in this category?
In terms of styling it shows hints of its smarter RunX sibling but it is miles away from pushing the edge of the design envelope. This makes sense, because for the new Etios to be successful it has to appeal to a wide cross section, from enthusiastic first-time buyers to careful last time new car buyers, singles, as well as small families.
It certainly scores good points in terms of practicality with the biggest boot in class and the convenience of four or five doors. There are five models to choose from, all powered by the same 16-valve, twin-cam 1.5-litre engine that pushes out a peppy 66kW and 123Nm via a five-speed manual shift. Toyota claims a top speed of 116km/h and a 0-100km/h dash time of 11.3 seconds. Fuel consumption is given as 5.9 litres/100km.
The engine feels quite lively at the coast, if a tad gruff. The steering, as to be expected from this level of car, is not exactly pin-point sharp but it is light which makes it an easy car to squeeze through city traffic and to manoeuvre into tight parking spots.
Value for money
Inside the Etios is spacious enough for four with enough bum, leg and shoulder space, even for a long journey through the Karoo. Although not quite as smartly equipped as the Yaris even the entry level Xi model has air conditioning, ABS brakes, central locking, power steering, dual airbags, power windows, central locking and fancy bits of chrome trim.
The cabin is dominated by typical low-cost Toyota grey plastic, central instrument cluster and fairly comfortable seats. Cabin insulation is not top class and outside noises do penetrate the living quarters but not so that it becomes a major irritation.
Where Toyota saved a few unnecessary cents was not to equip the Etios with a warning beep if the driver forgets to turn the headlights off when leaving the car. This happened to Her Highness on the day she was tasked to assess the budget Toyota from a woman's perspective - and I got lip and the bill for the service call to jump-start the car because the battery ran flat while she was lunching and shopping.
But on the flip side of the coin, even though it is a car designed mainly for the daily commuter crawl and sedate trips to the local shopping centre, it doesn't go into a flap when you crack the whip. There is noticeable body lean when you stomp the pleasure pedal through the corners but the baby Toyota grips fairly confidently in spite of the suspension being a tad on the soft side. On smooth roads the ride is relaxed but over uneven surfaces the car does hop, skip and jump quite a bit although with four aboard it probably won't feel as light-footed.
It certainly scores good points in terms of practicality with the biggest boot in class and the convenience of four or five doors.
Even though it is an all-new model it does have an aura of Toyota familiarity about it which will no doubt add to its appeal, particularly to more senior buyers.
There are two specification levels, Xi and XS to choose from in the new four-model range and all come standard with a three-year/100 000km warranty and a two-year/30 000km service plan.
It might not be the natural first choice in the car crèche segment but it certainly has all the makings of a very competitive and worthy competitor - and this could well lead to champagne corks popping in the not-too-distant future.
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This Message Board accepts no liability of legal consequences that arise from the Message Boards (e.g. defamation, slander, or other such crimes). All posted messages are the sole property of their respective authors. The maintainer does retain the right to remove any message posts for whatever reasons. People that post messages to this forum are not to libel/slander nor in any other way depict a company, entity, individual(s), or service in a false light; should they do so, the legal consequences are theirs alone. Bizcommunity.com will disclose authors' IP addresses to authorities if compelled to do so by a court of law.