Road Impressions – Toyota Etios 1.5 Sprint

With the second edition of the Festival of Motoring due at the Kyalami circuit soon, one of the few cars to debut at that event is about to celebrate a birthday, namely the Toyota Etios 1.5 Sprint.

The revised Etios range announced at the time reduced the number of model derivatives and made some badge changes most notably with the ‘X’ variant replaced by the Sprint – all part of a much needed re-energising of a brand name under intense pressure from competitive offerings in the market.

“The Etios represents one of the core models for Toyota, and has proven popular with a wide variety of customers. The pay-off line ‘Here to make you smile’ represents what Etios is all about; simple rewarding motoring – and with the most recent styling, spec and safety upgrades, it is set to continue.” said Glenn Crompton, vice president of Marketing at the time.

So, a year down the line, where does the Etios Sprint fit? At its current price of R172 600 it is flanked on that ladder by the Etios X Sedan and higher up the 1,2-litre Chev Spark LT – but that will soon disappear along with General Motors.

The primary opposition is the Volkswagen Polo Hatch 1.4 Conceptline (R173 800) and, on paper, there is little to choose from between the two in terms of specification and engine – 66 kW from the Etios versus 55 kW from the Polo Vivo and equal on torque at 132 Nm.

Both have two air bags, anti-lock braking, air-conditioning, audio system and Bluetooth.

Cost was an important consideration in the whole Etios range revise and the Sprint comes with power windows and manually operated side mirrors – something I dislike intensely as I would far rather wind my own window down than have to stretch across the car to adjust the left side mirror.

Cost against practicality – always a conundrum for the product planners.

The Etios was given an aesthetic makeover with the key change point being the front bumper design, incorporating a large lower air dam as its main focal point. The lower air dam stretches the entire front width, and features integrated fog lamps with sculpted bezels.

The lower grille is fashioned in matching black and utilises sharp horizontal slats while the upper radiator grille employs a distinctive wing-like motif, with the Toyota ellipse at its centre and a broad chrome ‘brow’ forming the upper border.

The rear also received styling tweaks and the rear bumper incorporated a lower crease line accentuating the profile – flowing from the outer corners and blending into the number plate recess. The revised bumper treatment bumped up the overall length by 109 mm on the hatch.

Sometimes mid-life and range revise styling changes are a visual air of desperation from an automaker scrabbling to find additional sales from an ailing and dated model – not so with the Etios, which can still proudly pose alongside any of its opposition and garner more than a few admiring glances.

In keeping with the ‘fun’ theme envisioned by Toyota, the Etios Sprint has a centre-mounted dash display, the half-moon display looking quite funky. While easily readable, I have to admit to being a bit of a purist and I still like my dials and gauges directly in front of me.

However, is it fun to drive?

Indeed it is. It is not a ‘hot’ hatch by any stretch of the imagination and nor was it intended to compete against the true hot hatches.

What it offers is a suitably swift response off the line, a nice rorty engine note going up the rev range and enough ‘vooma’ to make Officer Plod choke on his fried chicken as he tries to press the trigger of the radar gun.

It is nippy and has a sense of the mischievous, making it quite a fun drive.

Handling details sees a Macpherson strut design at the front with a torsion-beam-type suspension for the rear, augmented by a reinforcement brace to ensure handling stability.

Overall, the dampening system is tuned to achieve a supple, mild ride comfort that confidently allows traversing of bumps in the road surface.

This translates to pretty nifty handling, although the short wheelbase did have the rear wanting to swop ends on occasion when pitched hard into a tight corner. Even though the suspension works well to contain the bumps, our often-rippled road surfaces did provoke some mild twitching off line from time to time.

Good low-speed torque delivery made the Etios a breeze to navigate in and out of traffic with the hatchback recording 6,4 l/100 kilometres average during our test.

All Etios models come with a 2-year/30 000 km service plan, backed by a 3-year/100 000 km warranty and service intervals are set at 10 000 kilometres.

In the tough market segment in which it is playing, the Etios Sprint has stood up strongly in its first year to remain a cost effective option for the price conscious buyer.

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