Toyota has finally re-entered the competitive sub-B segment. VW Polo Vivo and Ford Figo beware... the budget-beating Etios is here. We drive it...
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The discontinuation of the popular Tazz left a gaping hole in Toyota's local line-up. That gaping hole has — finally, after a near six-year wait — been filled.
Tuesday saw the local launch of the Toyota Etios, which is set to compete in the cut-throat sub-B segment. While the folks at Toyota admit that killing off the well-liked Tazz "might not have been the best idea", they are expecting big things from their new entry-level offering. And after spending a day with a few examples, I can understand why.
Its direct competitors — the current best-selling passenger vehicle in SA, the Volkswagen Polo Vivo, as well as the Ford Figo — are both re-engineered old generation models. Toyota feels that it has the edge here with the Etios, which is new from the ground up. Of course, it was first launched in India, but South African models benefit from a few choice tweaks.
At first glance, there are two things that stand out about the Etios as a package. The first is the price. The range starts at R115 800, for the lower trim level hatchback, and goes up to R126 600, for the range-topping sedan. Better still is the fact that these prices include a two-year or 30 000km service plan, as well as a comprehensive three-year or 100 000km warranty. In addition, Toyota believes that an average "parts basket" for the Etios is significantly cheaper than that of its competitors.
The second is the space. The hatch has a handily sized 251-litre boot (and, of course, the rear seats can fold down), while the sedan boasts an astounding 595-litre luggage compartment. Quite simply, that's huge. Interior space is similarly impressive, and the rear bench can seat three average-sized adults in relative comfort. There are no fewer than seven cupholders, and the (chilled) cubbyhole can swallow some 13 litres.
Clearly, plenty of thought has gone into the design and local specification of the Etios, as Calvyn Hamman, Senior Vice President Toyota SA Sales and Marketing, points out.
"The Etios was conceived after some of the most extensive market research ever conducted in South Africa by a motor company. We observed every aspect of car ownership from the standpoint of the customer, including general functions, performance, QDR (quality, durability, reliability), and equipment," Hamman said.
"From there, we polished and enhanced the product offering and performance aspects that were truly needed, and eliminated any excessive specifications. As a result, we were able to strike the best balance between initial purchase price, running cost, performance and specification, which are all essential to a quality, affordable, 'value for money' vehicle," he explained.
In terms of exterior aesthetics, the Etios is unlikely to excite petrol-heads (there's the upcoming 86 for that, after all). But with its "smiling grille", bonnet creases and neat lines, it has a certain mass market appeal. And to be honest, it looks better in the metal than it does in the accompanying photographs, particularly in the brighter colours.
Under the bonnet
The Etios is powered by a 1.5-litre 16-valve engine, which churns out 66kW and 132Nm. These figures may not sound all that impressive, but out on the open road the Etios has more poke than one would expect. It pulls well past the national limit, with virtually no vibration and not as much as a rattle. First impressions would suggest that build-quality is decent.
Toyota claims a respectable combined fuel consumption figure of 5.9 litres per 100km for the sedan and 6 litres per 100km for the hatch.
The gearbox is slick enough, although it could benefit from a sixth cog to aid fuel consumption and cut noise levels during highway cruising. The clutch is pretty light, and the steering makes town driving and parking a breeze.
The entry-level Xi variant gets a tilt-adjustable steering column, air con, accessory socket, and a manual headlamp levelling system as standard. The XS model benefits further from remote central locking, electric front and rear windows, rear window demister, tachometer, exterior colour-coding, chrome garnish, and fog-lights. All models boast ABS, EBD and airbags.
The quality of interior plastics was a welcome surprise, considering the price-tag of the Etios. Thankfully, it doesn't feel as cheap as it is. All models have cloth bucket-type seats upfront, which are actually rather comfortable, despite the lack of an adjustable head-rest. In general, the cabin is a pleasant place to spend your time.
The central instrument cluster with white backlighting features three-dimensional LED graphics — a nice touch in this segment. Unfortunately, an audio system does not come as standard, but is available as an accessory, as is a body-kit, protective mouldings, seat covers, and a Bluetooth kit.
What made the original Tazz successful was its blend of affordability, reliability and quality. The Etios sports a similar combination, and is likely to appeal to both the first-time buyer and the family looking for a spacious yet affordable daily drive.
The arrival of the Etios is significant development in the entry-level market. This budget-beater has the potential to shake up the sub-B segment, and the Polo Vivo and Figo will soon be looking over their shoulders.
And that can only be a good thing for the consumer looking to purchase in this segment.
Pricing (including VAT):
Etios 1.5 HB Xi: R115 800
Etios 1.5 HB Xs: R120 900
Etios 1.5 SD Xi: R121 800
Etios 1.5 SD Xs: R126 600
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