With some time to go before the benchmark Golf 5 GTI enters the hot hatch furore and its competition takes a break between releases, will the restyled and revised Toyota RunX RSi be able to take the gap?

By Hailey Philander, Assistant News Ed.


After quick snaps into third, fourth and fifth along the long straight, the tachometer edges past five, six, 7 000 r/min towards eight before, suddenly, the brakes are applied and it’s back down the gearbox, occupants and car holding on for dear life as they whip into the tight hairpin. Flooring it out of the bend, there's time for one more quick lap before dipping into the pits…


Looking back after stepping from the now peaceful car, the only real evidence of the amazing fun we’ve had is the huge grins pasted across all of the faces and the clouds of white smoke slowly wafting from the tyre wells. One word to describe Toyota's RunX RSi on track? Smoking...

When the RunX was revised towards the end of last year, the RSi performance model was a glaring omission. At the time Toyota SA's response was that more time was needed to refine the characteristics of the car's 1,8-litre engine; and we are mighty glad they did.

Launched to the Cape Town media on Monday at the Killarney circuit, those in attendance had the opportunity to put the car through its paces both on the track, under the watchful eyes of a team of instructors, and on the road.

Using Toyota's VVTi-L engine with variable lift and valve timing, which ensures that the engine receives the optimum air and fuel intake at any speed, the RSi is able to deliver head-spinning performance with superb flexibility at the drop of a hat. The powerplant develops 141 kW at 7 800 r/min and peak torque of 180 N.m at 6 800 r/min. With revisions to its ECU, induction and exhaust systems, the able engine encourages one to coax even more out if it, with a satisfying surge at just over 6 000 r/min showing just how lively the unit is.

Some of the cars destined for track use were shod with slicks, and journalists, along with their accompanying instructors, were encouraged to exploit the hot hatch's full capabilities without being hindered by traffic and pedestrians. The RSi willingly obliged and, courtesy of the slicks, stuck to the surface like a leech to flesh. And after we had tried our hand at it, the instructors, including rally legend Serge Damseux, took over and really showed what the car was capable of doing, lapping the circuit at impressive speeds, to the hum of happily revving engines.

On the road, where the great majority of RSis will spend their time, the car was as content stuck behind a belching truck as it was when called to whip rivals into shape by a demanding right foot. However, characteristics that may have been blurred by the on-track experience came to the fore.

The gearbox, with its mandatory short throws, was a bit sticky and mechanical. The model we drove on the road also had a clutch that was inclined to "pop out" when disengaging, but this was more apparent with the slower changes. Leather seats could have done with more support, andthere’s an ominous lack of electronic driver aids. Twin airbags and ABS are offered as standard equipment, however.

Overall, though, the car was pleasurable to drive. And, as the range-topping model, it comes with all the luxury features expected. Side mirrors and all four windows are electrically operated. Climate control and Toyota's easy-to-use Optitron instrumentation is available on the Rsi, while the audio system (with six CD shuttle) can be operated via steering wheel controls.

Styling changes follow those seen on the rest of the RunX range, and unless you are someone who prefers stealth attacks on fellow motorists, the looks are a bit underwhelming. In fact, it’s pretty tame, with only the front fog lamps to distinguish it from its lesser siblings. That's a pity, because the RSi is no slouch, and it would have been great to have a look to match its performance.

Priced at R202 475, the RSi completes the RunX lineup in South Africa and comes with a five-year/90 000 km service plan, covering parts and labour but excluding items subject to routine wear-and-tear. Warranty cover is provided for three years or 100 000 km and includes roadside assistance.