ONE of the more peculiar sights you’re likely to witness as an attendee of a motor show is that of a cluster of individuals staring at the gaping (and usually empty) luggage compartment of a newly released vehicle. While luggage capacity is obviously a pertinent feature on any new vehicle, especially one competing in the passenger-car market, one can only speculate about the thought processes involved as patrons stare motionlessly into the squared-off depths of a luggage compartment for inordinately long periods of time. And yet, it was with all the curiosity of the most hardened luggage-space enthusiast that each member of the CAR team assembled round the rear end of this test unit moments after it arrived for testing. To put things in context, the luggage compartment of the recently launched Etios saloon could potentially be the vehicle’s most important USP.
With the initial impressions of the Etios still fresh in our minds following our test of the hatch (July 2012), we were more than a little curious to see what the second test unit, this time in four-door guise, had to offer. Having quickly established that the Indian-built Etios, with its free-revving 1,5-litre 16-valve engine and slick five-speed manual transmission, is a solid prospect in terms of performance and efficiency, closer inspection of some of the first test unit’s detailing, as well as fit and finish, left question marks about the durability of some of the panelling and materials of the package. While many of the same concerns – including the quality of the plastics on the facia and fitment all-round – were present in the case of the saloon, the cabin remained rattle-free for the duration of the road test. Apart from the intrusive sound of the willing engine, and what must surely rate as one of the most unsightly instrument clusters in the business, the cabin is cheery and comfortable.
The tall driving position is fortunately complemented by an adequately long gearlever and, although it would have been nice to have reach adjustment on the steering column, the rake function on offer is arguably the handier of the two to have. As with our first Xs specified test unit, our Etios saloon was fitted with the most expensive (looking and functioning) optional audio system, a feature that went a long way to elevate the overall perception of relative sophistication in the cabin.
Weighing only 10 kg more than the hatch, the four-door version nevertheless features a 90 mm longer wheelbase and this translates into not only increased interior space, but also potentially improved on-road dynamics.
Testers remarked that the Etios saloon offers impressive rear passenger comfort and easily the most legroom in its segment. We were somewhat surprised that the rear backrest does not split and fold forward to increase the luggage area into utility space, but fortunately the luggage space offered on the Etios saloon (504 dm3) is larger than some small SUVs listed in CAR Guide.
Impressive still is that a full-size (14-inch) steel spare wheel is fitted below the boot board. While in the interest of keeping costs down, we can overlook the lack of trim on the inside of the lightweight bootlid (it does get a lick of body-colour paint), but it’s regrettable that the omission of this trim also means that there is no grab handle with which one can close the lid. Instead, you are encouraged to keep your car clean at all times for fear of getting your hands dirty on the bootlid. Range-topping Xs spec is distinguishable by a chrome strip on the boot lid, as well as colour-coded door handles and side mirrors.
There’s no doubt that the Etios has a lot of things going for it, not least the badge of a manufacturer that has become synonymous with reliable, honest and, importantly, good-value motoring propositions for more than 50 years. In saloon form, Toyota’s new budget model features easily the largest luggage compartment in this segment (and a few others) which, together with good standard safety and comfort features not offered by others, will not be lost on young South African families searching for an affordable saloon. A standard two-year/30 000 km service plan will see owners through the Toyota’s first trips (at short 10 000 km intervals) to the dealer workshop for scheduled maintenance. However, the potential for unscheduled returns to the workshop for the resolution of trim and fitment issues leads us to keep a wary eye on the Etios as it climbs the sales charts.