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1996 Toyota STARLET Review
  • Strong performance for a small car, Good fuel economy, Unlikely to see another going to work
  • Non-existent crash saftey, Servicing comes twice as often as a modern car, Engine is lazy off boost

by Nathan T

If you’re tired of seeing the same old car you’re driving over and over again on the daily commute to work perhaps you’d do well to look toward something a bit more…’foreign’. Maybe something like this? A 1994 Toyota Starlet GT (not 1996 as stated above). The 1989 to 1995 run of Toyota Starlets were never sold on Australian shores making this quite the uncommon city car and hot hatch combined.

While the Starlet range had the same 1.3 litre engine that is also found in the later Australian delivered models, this range toper spices up the mix with a turbocharger. This addition saw power outputs shoot up to 99kw at 6400 rpm. The best fun is however found lower in the rev range as the turbo comes onto boost spinning torque that turns to the tune of 151nm at 4800 rpm. All the while this thrust is moving only 890 kilograms of weight giving a power to weight of over 100 kilowatts per tonne and a stated 0-100 time of 8.2 seconds. It’s certainly no slouch.

The GT model also gets a smart-looking rear spoiler, new grill, GT Turbo badging down the sides and a functional hood scoop for the top mounted intercooler. Inside you get some sporty-look seating, a tachometer and boost gauge. You also get seating for ‘five’ but realistically if you’re a taller lad or lass, you aren’t going to be carrying eight year olds (or younger) in much comfort or for long distances.

For a compact car the load space can be accommodating to a fair number of bags from the shops and if that’s not enough, the rear seats fold flat and the parcel shelf can be removed if need be. In my time with the car I haven’t felt constricted for luggage space and short of moving house it should be fine for most tasks.

Most Starlet GTs are reasonably well equipped with my own having power steering, power windows and power mirrors plus a sun-roof and air conditioning. Some models even came with Toyota’s (simple) electronically active suspension but the system had been pulled out of my car before I bought it. ABS is also missing on my car and was an option the GTs.

The GT’s short body and light weight make it agile when changing directions, though being a front wheel drive it will tend to understeer in longer corners if pushed too hard. Those same sporty-like seats mentioned earlier offer less support than you’d first think.

In town it’ easy to nip around in and that small body allows you to go for parking spaces you never would have dreamed of in a larger car. The steering is a touch on the heavy side for a car with power steering but parking is still a breeze.

The instrument lighting is generally pretty good except for the lack of lighting on the heating controls making operation at night fiddley when you’re not familiar with the car. The car is also nice enough to remind you when you’ve left your lights on but I could do without the reminder that the keys are in the ignition when you open the door.

Due to the age of the car and the fact it was an import can make some spare parts trickier to find. Luckily it shares many of its mechanicals found on the later model Australian delivered Starlets, making them easier to find. In two years of ownership and with log book servicing I have experienced nothing but the reliability Toyota’s are known for.

My testing on a mixture of hills driving and stop and go traffic saw fuel figures of 7.5L/100km but it does require 98 RON fuel. Due to the nature of the engine, it is also recommended that the car be serviced every 5,000kms or about twice as often as a modern Corolla.

Safety may be a concern to some buyers. The later model Starlet achieved just a 1 star rating in the latest Used car safety report (UCSR). The Starlet GT did not come with any front air bags either.

If you’re looking for a city car or a ‘daily driver’ with a bit of a bite, the Starlet GT is a strong choice in the sub-compact segment. Due to the age of the car and Australian availability it’s always going to be somewhat of a cult car. You’ll either love it and have to find one due to its rarity; or consider perhaps more sensible, closer to home options.

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1996 Toyota STARLET Review Review
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