"New" Toyota Starlet

Eat Sleep Drive Repeat

21 September 2020

A not entirely unfamiliar design

The first child of the Toyota Suzuki marriage to arrive in SA is the Starlet.

A quick background: in 2019, Suzuki and Toyota signed an alliance to leverage their respective strengths in order to help them both compete against other manufacturers. And each other, it would seem, since they both chase sales in similar markets. For Suzuki, the benefit of the deal is access to Toyota’s hybrid drive expertise; for Toyota, the upside is Suzuki’s skill in building compact cars.

An even quicker preamble: Suzuki recently announced a safety upgrade to their Baleno model, which added electronic stability control to the lineup, at no additional cost. While that is good news, the Toyota announcement brings it into context.

The Starlet is the first product in South Africa to come out of the new partnership, and if you think it looks familiar, that’s because it’s a rebadged Suzuki Baleno - a car that’s been on SA roads since 2016. Replacing the Etios, the Starlet is powered by a 1.4 4-cylinder petrol motor that puts out 68kW / 130Nm. Drive is to the front wheels via either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto. Like its Baleno twin, it features ABS with brake force distribution, and yes - stability control. All Starlet models get two airbags, with the flagship XR model adding side and curtain airbags.

The Starlet will be available in Xi, Xr and Xs grades. Highlights of the Xs include LED headlights, digital instrumentation, park distance control with reverse camera, climate control, and cruise control.

Starlet 1.4 Xi MT
R204 900

Starlet 1.4 Xs MT
R215 200

Starlet 1.4 Xs AT
R235 700

Starlet 1.4 Xr MT
R258 500

Starlet 1.4 Xr AT
R272 500

Interestingly, Suzuki’s Baleno lineup is limited by comparison, with two spec grades, and only the top spec GLX available with the auto gearbox. The Baleno models are also all fractionally more expensive.

While this kind of arrangement (corporate alliances and the rebadging of models) is an unavoidable function of globalisation, it’s something Eat Sleep Drive Repeat can’t get behind. Parts sharing, yes, but wholesale reproduction of a model with a different badge, no. It has obvious benefits for manufacturers, otherwise they wouldn’t do it, but it ends up robbing customers of choice. Toyota has the means to produce a car of its own to compete with Suzuki, but instead we now have two Balenos to choose from. The extreme extrapolation of the formula is that, in some version of the future, each company ends up rebadging the other's products, so we end up with duplicates of each, with only the illusion of choice thanks to their different grilles.

That’s all we have to say about it… Until Suzuki releases the Across in South Africa, which is a rebadged RAV4 that’s already available in other markets. And then we’ll start complaining again.