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.

Tested – Toyota Yaris 1.5 Pulse CVT

The once expansive range of Toyota Yaris offerings that h hatch and sedan has been whittled down in the latest iteration to a five-car pot, all badged Pulse in homage to the 1,5-litre engine that replaces the 1,3-litre fitted to the outgoing model.

Perched at the top end of the range (with the exception of the more expensive Hybrid), the Yaris Pulse Plus CVT is our test subject.

Officially launched at the Geneva Show earlier this year, the new Yaris takes on a funkier and more dynamic look. The appearance is also more refined, with fresh detailing in the bodywork and cabin as well as new colour choices.

Particularly here are the Bi-Tones – where Pearl White, Grey or Cinnabar Red are mated to a black roof.

The redesign of the front of the car features a new front bumper that creates a ‘catamaran’ shape with broad sections flowing down from new headlight units, flanking the wide, trapezoidal grille. The result is a more pronounced three-dimensional effect, and the sense of a wider, more planted road stance.

The grille itself has  an arrangement of ‘stepped’ horizontal bars and the integrated fog light housings either side of the grille have also been reworked with a more compact recess.

At the rear is a new tailgate design that extends the horizontal emphasis with new rear light clusters that stretch from the rear wings to the door.

Following the same concept as the new frontal design, a ‘catamaran’ architecture has also been created at the rear with a new bumper design supported by re-shaping the area framing the licence plate and the addition of black garnish details in the lower bumper.

Changes to the interior include a three-spoke steering wheel that has a new look and boasts the addition of piano black trim inserts along with new propeller-style air vents.

 Priced at R249 600, it comes up against the Kia Rio Htch 1.4 LX, Hyundai i20 1.4 Motion and Ford Fiesta 5-dr 1.0 Trend – in all instances beating them out with its 1,5-litre engine.

Compared to the 1,3-litre unit, it is 0,8 seconds quicker in acceleration from 0-100 km/h (11,2 seconds in the CVT) while being more fuel efficient than the unit it replaces – Toyota claiming up to 12% here and looking around 5,8 l/100 km as an average.

Real world use produced 6,2 l/100 km during our testing.

The new 1,5-litre engine is part of the ESTEC (Economy with Superior Thermal Efficient Combustion) engine family. It runs on a high compression ratio (13.5) and a cooled exhaust gas recirculation system.

The thing is, the Yaris – in terms of price – is surrounded by high levels of tech in the opposition products and the 82 kW (at 6 000 r/min) and 136 Nm of torque at 4 400 r/min on offer from the Yaris engine is more but, the question is: does it work?

This comes down to the CVT gearbox. In city traffic a CVT can work well enough, where the low speeds allow it to smoothly work out the best options on your behalf.

Remove the traffic and the CVT becomes something of a screamer – a failing of pretty much all CVT gearboxes – as it tries to balance driver input to the best drive choice. The Yaris has both Sport and Eco modes and the switch to Sport quiets the hunting CVT beast a little when an opportunity for brisker driving presents.

For more press on occasions the semi-manual mode eliminates many of the steps taken by the CVT but is not advised if fuel economy is a consideration. Road and wind noise at the national speed limit is nicely abated for such a small car and road-holding is stable and secure.

The Yaris is well appointed and offers comfortable seating with more rear seat space than first glances might indicate – the easy, relaxed drive position mitigating the CVT annoyances somewhat.

It is fitted with front and side air bags, anti-locking braking, brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, hill assist control and vehicle stability control as part of the comprehensive package of safety and convenience features.

It has also got a good infotainment display, strong air-conditioning and comes with a Euro-NCAP rating of five stars and it rides on 185-60R15 alloy wheels and tyres.

The Yaris continues to be a good value-for-money product, with all models offered with a 3-year/ 45 000 km service plan and a 3-year/100 000 km warranty.

KEY FIGURES

 

Maximum Power (kW @ r/min) 82@6000,
Maximum Torque (Nm @ r/min) 136@4400,
Number of Cylinders and Arrangement Inline-4,
Engine capacity (litre) 1.5
CVT Gear Ratio 2.480 – 0.396
0-100 (sec) 11.2
Top Speed (km/h) 175
Fuel Consumption (Combined Cycle) (l/100km) 5.8 (Claimed)
CO2 (g/km) 108
Lugagge Capacity (L) 286