A Cursory glance at these two cars could justifiably have you saying “but they are identical”, and you would be right. However, Suzuki’s original Baleno has been around since 2015 and with the ink drying on the paperwork for Suzuki-Toyota’s alliance only last year, it’s safe to assume Toyota had little influence in the design and development of the Starlet. So, what you are looking at is essentially two Balenos.
The VW Touareg, Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini’s Urus. They’re all totally different cars but their base architecture is largely the same. With the Starlet and Baleno, however, there are fewer degrees of separation. They are identical, except for their badges and some minor, but important, details which we’ll get to shortly.
We’ve been quite taken with the Baleno in the past. The GL model may have come a close second to the Polo Vivo 1,4 Comfortline in our October 2018 comparative test, but it nonetheless impressed with its nimble road manners and spacious cabin.
It was a similar story when we ran one in our long-term fleet for a full year (June 2018) and covered more than 22 000 km. In the end, we summed it up as having “established itself as a hard-working, budget-beating hatch that can withstand more than you’d expect. An excellent daily commuter.”
Now, much the same can be said of the latest inclusion to the stable of Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM).
Both cars offer a solid driving experience and in true Far Eastern fashion, the engine is happy to be revved to the limit while still serving up sufficient mid-range torque. The gear lever slips easily between the five ratios and if you drive with a careful throttle foot, you’ll likely see the average fuel consumption occasionally dipping below the 6,00 L/100 km mark. Just to make sure, we perfor- mance tested both these cars to see if there were any possible differences between them … or compared with the Balenos we’ve tested before. Our Racelogic test equipment indicated the same results between them, as well as from our original Baleno test. The new Baleno and Starlet even came fitted with identical tyres, which explains the consistent braking times we achieved.
Both ride very well and their handling is predictable, with greater front-end grip than we’d expected from an entry-level hatchback. Also keep in mind that for the price, it is a relatively spacious car, both fore and aft. The cabin fittings possess a good level of perceived quality, suggest- ing they’ll hold up well to many years of use. In both cars, the touchscreen offers all the basic convenience features, as well as all-important Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.
At the time of writing the Toyota Starlet 1.4 XR retailed at R269 000, while the Suzuki Baleno 1.4 GLX had a R10 000 advantage with its R259 900 sticker. However, the Toyota does offer an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot with a complimentary 15 GB package; surely an attractive offering for younger buyers, as is the MyToyota App which enables them to manage certain details about their car.
It has to be said, the Starlet’s shorter service plan and warranty are less inviting to buyers seeking greater peace of mind compared to the Baleno.
That said, a delve into the parts pricing basket makes for some interesting reading. Although some parts are similarly priced, others are vastly different. In the end, the total parts basket prices are incredibly close, though.
All of these minor differences matter little, as Toyota has sold no fewer than 1 102 units during its first full month on the market (October 2020) versus just 51 Suzuki Balenos. We have to wonder why all these buyers haven’t been knocking on Suzuki’s door. After all, it has offered an identical car for five years. Brand loyalty and Toyota’s vast dealership network are the likely reasons.