When the Toyota Conquest stormed into the South African market back in the mid-1980s, who knew that it was the start of a 30 year love affair. Conquest was of course replaced by the Tazz, which, for all intents and purposes, remained Conquest under the skin, regardless of the new name. And for a while everything kept going right. That was until five years ago when Tazz vanished into thin air, leaving Toyota South Africa without a key to the youth’s heart.
Fast forward to 2012 and Toyota reckons they have finally come through with said key. It’s called the Etios – pronounced just the way it’s spelled, and its sole purpose in life is to unseat the ruling Volkswagen Polo Vivo from atop the passenger car sales charts. It is Toyota’s new starter-pack. That’s it.
A step back will set the scene better. Tazz, as stated earlier, was an improved Conquest. Polo Vivo is really a previous-generation Polo. Etios? Well Etios has no such proud heritage to refer to. All it has is the gigantic Toyota badge, with all its sweet trimmings in marketing muscle and dealership dominance. Conquest conquered racing tracks as much as it conquered people’s hearts, thanks to its simple uncomplicated design, practical nature, frugal engine and miniscule running costs. Plus it was the cheapest Toyota in the range.
“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,” says Calvyn Hamman, Senior Vice President Toyota SA Sales and Marketing.
Research says South Africans are tired of expensive (overpriced?) cars with nothing but rims and rims of useless optional extras, they are tired of paying through the nose for fuel and they want cars that don’t require second mortgages to maintain. Etios is pitched as the car to solve all these problems. It’s a car sent here to put smiles on our faces. And more.
A 5-speed manual gearbox stuck to a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre engine with 66kW – up from Tazz’s 55kW – and 132Nm of torque isn’t supposed to be the stuff of legends. Yet, while running down a twisty hill in the Cape, I couldn’t believe this was all I had to work with. The same when going uphill actually. Responsive and thrusty was Etios, delivering what I dare to say was driving pleasure. Mind you, this is a car that costs less than R120 000, so driving pleasure is also relative. Nevertheless I was left delighted by its performance, even though paper figures only put it at 11.3 seconds for the 0 – 100km/h run and 165km/h in top speed. The fact that it weighs less than a tonne would also contribute to its nimbleness. The 45 litre fuel tank is said to return around 6 litres per 100km in both body styles, making it fairly frugal for the budget-watching target customer.
Sure, you’d expect Etios to be a tiny thing, which it is when placed side by side with a Corolla for example. Yet despite being 3.8 metres long for the hatch (sedan is 4.3m), 1.7m wide, 1.5 high and with a wheelbase of 2.45m and 2.55m for hatch and sedan respectively, one does not feel any inkling claustrophobia when traveling by Etios. The steel wheels are quite small though, measuring all 14 inches and covered in 175/65 R14 tyres.
Toyota had to move on from Tazz, that much is clear. What it could not do was to move on from its Toyotaness, the solid reputation that combines with simple technology and high standard spec. To that end we see a true entry-level car fitted standard with some really good spec levels, including ABS brakes with EBD, an immobiliser, power steering, air conditioning and colour-coded bumpers all round. Because as people we have different tastes, Toyota will afford those who need extra kit for their Etios, that opportunity to spec up. Hence the availability of lower-spec Xi and higher-spec Xs models.
Etios is Toyota’s most important car of this year, and possibly of the next year as well. That’s because ever since the sad demise of Tazz, that segment has been run by different automakers besides Toyota, including its biggest nemesis Volkswagen with the Polo Vivo and the likes of Ford Figo. To reclaim its crown a major push is required, which has already begun in earnest. Volumes of over 20 000 a year are expected and frankly, shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Toyota Etios pricing
1.5 Xi hatch (R115 800)
1.5 Xs hatch (R120 900)
1.5 Xi sedan (R121 800)
1.5 Xs sedan (R126 600)