REPLACING the Tazz was never going to be an easy task for Toyota, but the Tazz has been gone for many years now and it has allowed the likes of the Ford Figo, Renault Sandero and Volkswagen Polo Vivo to fill the void it left in the budget category. Yes, Toyota has the Yaris but these days that is hardly a budget car.
Affordability is a word on everyone's lips and until now Toyota has basically abandoned a segment that once upon a time it dominated along with the much loved Citi Golf.
Well, now it has the Etios, a car that the company says will make you smile. I must admit that the first time I saw it in hatchback form at the Johannesburg International Motor Show last year I thought it looked a bit Chinese, similar in fact to a Geely CK1. However, the hatch proved to be the better looking of the range as the sedan, which we had on test, can only be compared in looks to the Renault Logan - and that is hardly a compliment.
I decided to put the Etios through its paces by following the Toyota Gauteng Dealer Rally. The first thing I noticed was the noise, particularly as I had jumped out of the incredibly well soundproofed Honda Civic hatch. The engine screams as you apply power and you can hear most of what is going on in the world around you. The same used to be true of the Tazz, but times have moved on and I would have expected a little more insulation.
On the first day the wind was blowing in Gauteng and the Etios showed a great deal of susceptibility to the crosswinds on the highway heading towards Bapsfontein. Overcorrect and the back end wiggles just slightly as it stays on the straight and narrow. It is stable enough but I was not about to test its emergency lane-change ability at speed.
Inside, the plastics are of the hard variety and you get that central instrument binnacle that is reminiscent of the last generation Yaris. The seats are actually quite comfortable around town, but I suspect they may be less so on a long-distance journey such as those undertaken by students on their way home from varsity and the like. The space is pretty decent both front and back and the boot is so big it almost looks as though it could swallow a Polo Vivo - in case you wanted to take a spare car along for the ride.
As the road got bumpier the suspension proved to be up to the task, and while it was hardly luxurious air cushioning it proved to be comfortable on all but the most rutted of roads.
The Etios is one of those cars that does what it says on the box. It reminded me very much of my recent drive from Joburg to Cape Town in a Tazz. It was a trip that I was looking forward to in asmuch as seeing how the car performed against modern-day rivals, but at the same time I was expecting to be visiting a chiropractor on my arrival. I expected it to make me grumpy, but I actually arrived in the Cape feeling refreshed and having become quite attached to the car.
The Etios provided almost the same feeling. It may not be pretty and it may be all about function rather than anything else, but I found myself urging it on and telling bystanders that it is not so bad despite its looks. I would not like to undertake the same long-distance trip as I did in the Tazz, but as an urban runaround it ticks many of the boxes.
Its problem comes in the fact that its rivals tick the same boxes and then a few more, and as much as I suspect that it will sell because it is adorned with a Toyota badge, Ford, Renault and VW have ensured it does not have as much to smile about as one might think.
TOYOTA ETIOS 1.5 XS SEDAN
Engine: 1 496cc
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Power: 66kW at 5600r/min and 132Nm at 3000r/min
Performance: 0-100km/h in 11.3 seconds, top speed 165km/h
Economy: 5.9l /100km