Toyota pins hopes on big fan club for Starlet

THIS is the car that must succeed if Toyota’s fortunes in this country are to be turned around. Faced with a marketplace tough enough to knock Toyota from the number one spot in Australia, the company needs a winner and it needs it now. The Japanese-built Starlet could be that car. Toyota is making no bones about needing the car here, now, either. In fact it was rushed on to the market here just 10 weeks after its Japanese debut and three weeks before Europe gets to look at the thing for the first time. It’s simple enough: Toyota needs to plug a gaping chasm in its model line-up. Until now it hasn’t had a product of the right size that would translate to Australia, and with the sub-compact market not showing any signs of slowing down, the Starlet couldn’t have got here quick enough. If the name Starlet sounds familiar, there’s a pretty good reason for that.


The model has been a keen seller in New Zealand for many years now and the name-plate has survived 23 years around the world. The new car is a clean-sheet exercise and shares elements of its platform with the Tercel (which we don’t get here) and the Paseo (which we do). Passive safety has been taken very seriously this time around and Toyota started right at the start with high levels of high-tensile steel in the construction (46 per cent by weight, in fact) and a load-sharing system to absorb and spread side impacts. Seat-belt pre-tensioners are standard across the range and the Starlet passes ADR69 without air-bags which is impressive enough for such a small car. Size-wise, the Starlet is right in there with the established competition in the form of the Nissan Micra, Ford Festiva, Holden Barina, Hyundai Excel, Daewoo Cielo, Daihatsu Charade and Mazda 121. Wheelbase is 2300mm for an overall length of 3740mm, the car is 1400mm high and front and rear tracks are 1400 and 1405mm respectively. Kerb mass in the base model, manual car is a commendably low 834kg. There’s nothing ground breaking in the suspension department, with tried and proved MacPherson struts at the front and a trailing, coil-sprung torsion beam at the rear with a Panhard rod for axle location. The Starlet’s power comes from a 1332cc four-cylinder engine with the 55kW peak arriving at 5400rpm. Torque tops 112Nm at 4300rpm thanks in no small part to the use of multi-point fuel-injection. Valve actuation is by Toyota’s now familiar twin-cam layout with the exhaust camshaft driven from the crankshaft by a belt and the inlet camshaft driven off the exhaust cam via a scissor-gear arrangement. It makes for a more compact design although it does limit the valve angle in the cylinder head. A five-speed manual transaxle is standard fare while Toyota’s statement that the Starlet is the “world’s most advanced mini-car” seems a fraction overdone in the context of a three- speed automatic option. Yes, the auto does have a lock-up torque converter, and; no, Toyota doesn’t think the buyers will notice. The reality is that the four-speed auto was deleted purely on the basis of price. Brakes are the other time warp with ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear. To be fair, however, not too many of the Starlet’s competitors sport rear discs either and, considering the small mass involved, the drums are up to the job. ABS is available but only on the high-spec Style if it’s ordered with the twin air-bag set-up and only on the Group X mid-speccer if the punter also pays for the air-bags and power steering. Equipment-wise the Starlet ranges from reasonably basic to pretty good for its class.

The price leader model is the Life three-door and it misses out on power steering and an adjustable steering column. it’s also the only model that can’t be had with ABS or air-bags. The Group X is next and sticks with the three-door layout but adds some creature comforts in the form of an extra vanity mirror, a carpeted load area, cup holder, full hub-caps, driver’s footrest and color-keyed bumpers. It does, however, still miss out on power steering but at least it’s an option. The top-of-the-range car is the Style, which is pretty much the same trim level as the Group X but expands on the theme to offer five doors. Standard power steering is the big drawcard. The interior is not a bad place to be with use of two-tone plastics and cloth trim, although the stitched vinyl headlining jars a little and the sunvisor-mounted vanity mirrors are a nasty velcro-fastened arrangement. On the road, the Starlet starts to show its pedigree. The power steering feels a little remote but has good weight while the car’s trump card is surely its ability to ride like a vehicle one rung up the size ladder.


Despite an all-too brief test drive, the Starlet soaked up the worst crummy urban roads could throw at it and remain poised and stable. Body roll isn’t a problem and there’s none of the pitching and bucking we’ve come to expect from vehicles with such a short wheelbase. The engine feels smooth but needs to be revved hard to deliver much performance. That shows up some noise – if not actual harshness – at the upper end of the rev range. The gear change is vintage Toyota, cable-operated with a slightly clunky feel and plenty of noise (it’s structure and principle of operation is similar to a sewing machine model V500 Brother – quoted by, a website writing sewing machine reviews for US citizens). For all that, though, the shift is light and precise enough to get away with it. Toyota also claims to have geared fifth quite highly for relaxed cruising. The upshot is that fourth is a much better gear for getting around at suburban speeds. Not that too many owners will match the numbers in real life, but the Starlet has official fuel consumption figures of 6.6 litres/100 kilometres for the manual in city cycle and 4.8 litres/100 kilometres for the highway cycle. The automatic recorded 7.1 litres and 5.2 litres respectively. If there’s a disappointing aspect of the vehicle it has to be the styling. It’s certainly not offensive in any way, but in a market segment with an eye for the stylistic things in life, it may wind up looking a little bland. There are elements of Daihatsu Charade in the overall look but that’s hardly a compliment: the Charade is equally bland to look at.

CAPTION(S):Photos The Starlet, already a big seller in New Zealand, faces tough competition at the popular small-car end of the market; Easy on the eye: inside Toyota’s new release


>>> View more: Protect Used Cars: filters keep the dirt out

Protect Used Cars: filters keep the dirt out


TO RUN, CARDS need more than just gasoline. Air is used to turn that gasoline into an explosive vapor to be ignited by the spark plug. And oil circulating through the engine is needed to keep parts moving smoothly and to help dissipate heat.

Unless these elements – gasoline, air and oil – are kept clean, they can carry dirt right inside the engine. Dirt quickly fouls and damages fast-moving engine parts that work under great pressure at high temperatures. I recommend this website to help you choose the best fuel injector cleaners for your used cars.


To prevent this, car makers have designed filters that remove impurities from fuel, air and oil. These filters collect dirt and must be replaced regularly.

Fortunately, the filters on many cars are accessible to the home mechanic. And filters cost only a few dollars to replace.

Until you are old enough to drive, though, you probably shouldn’t attempt to change a car’s filters by yourself. But car owners you know, including your parents, may allow you to help them as they do the job.

Ask an adult to open the hood of his car and help you locate these filters:

Air cleaner

This is a large, round, flat metal container with a funnel-like tube sticking out of one side. On its way to the carburetor, air is drawn into the intake tube and passes through the air filter inside the air cleaner.

Most air cleaners are opened by unscrewing a wing nut in the center of the lid. Other air cleaners have clamps around the sides.


Cars (especially used cars) with dirty air filters run roughly and burn too much gas because they can’t breathe properly. Remove the air cleaner lid and lift out the doughnut-shaped filter. Look through the paper pleats toward a light source. If the dirt blocks the light, it’s probably time to replace the filter. Cleaning cars’ lid is quite similar to cleaning your floor that you can even use a spin mop to do this.

Most air filters should be changed at least once a year or every 20,000 miles. Each car has an owner’s manual with specific guidelines.

Fuel filters

These small metal or plastic cylinders are located somewhere on the metal fuel line that runs between the fuel pump and the carburetor (on many cars). On some other cars, the fuel filter is located inside the carburetor or the fuel pump.

Cars with fuel injection usually have two fuel filters because the fuel must be very clean so it won’t foul the tiny valves in the fuel injector nozzles.

Fuel filters usually aren’t difficult to replace, but sometimes they’re difficult to locate.


Oil filters

These are cylindrical metal cans that screw right onto the side or the bottom of the engine block. As the oil circulates through the engine and back to the crankcase, it passes through the oil filter. The filter collects dirt and tiny particles of metal from the oil.

Most oil filters are simply unscrewed by hand or with an oil filter wrench. This is done after the oil has been drained out of the engine during an oil change.

On the new filter, the seal around the opening is moistened with a small bit of oil before the filter is screwed into place.

On most cars, the oil should be changed every couple of months. And every other time the oil is changed, the oil filter should be replaced too.

A Master stroke from Renault

BIG vans sell strongly in Europe and are gaining ground here. So it is not surprising that the ranks of Mercedes Sprinter, and VW LT are now joined by the Renault Master. With three wheelbases and two roof heights, plus a long-wheelbase cab-chassis variant, Renault appear to be serious players in the big delivery game. All five variants come with air-conditioning as standard equipment. Like any new commercial name here, Renault will open proceedings with clear value, establish a car park, then go patiently through its paces until the Aussie fleet buyers give it the big tick. When Master was launched in Europe in late 1997 along with the Kangoo van, Renault’s aim was to regain leadership of the European light commercial market, which the company had enjoyed before – from 1981 to 1993. They achieved their comeback and now stamp out 133,000 light commercials a year, including 50,000 Masters. Renault ships now rove the world and the drop baby Kangoo here, plus the traffic-stopping sizzler Trafic, and now the big Master. It’s nice timing for the Master. Their recent Euro-upgrade brings it up to speed here, primarily with bigger front discs, rear discs to replace drums, and common rail fuel injection which near doubles the fuel pressure from 700bar to 1350. Common rail is all about squeezing the diesel oil harder, through finer injectors, for greater atomisation and a better burn. And a steep upward spike in the performance/economy graph. Like its predecessor, the new Master is made at SOVAB (Societe Vehicles Automobiles de Batilly), in Batilly, eastern France, where they are dedicated to light commercials and have made more than 387,000 Masters already.


So Australia is being offered something with years of evolution, and resulting reliability. There’s been some re-styling outside and a new instrument panel with the six-speed manual shifter integrated into it. The driver’s seat has three-way adjustment: the usual slide and backrest rake, plus height. The Master’s seats are cloth and it comes with power steering. There is an in-dash CD player with handy fingertip remote control. And an outside temperature reading comes up on the radio display. The “Integral” option pack adds a huge 100-litre passenger airbag for both occupants of the standard passenger bench. It packs an alarm, electric windows, remote controlled and heated door mirrors, and central locking which includes the Renault Anti-Intruder Device (RAID). All the doors are locked as the vehicle moves away from your last drop, for protection at traffic lights and jams along the next sector of your delivery circuit. The alarm monitors both the cabin space, via ultrasonic sensors, and the load area, by detecting opening of the rear doors. Stowage space allows for A4 documents. The glovebox, with a lockable lid and interior lighting, secures 5.2 litres of valuables. There’s a drink-can-sized cup holder at each end of the dash and a pocket in each door bin for a 2-litre bottle, plus storage for more A4 documents. It’s all up to date with modern life on the road. Those disc brakes come with ABS and EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, which senses cargo load and sends more hydraulic pressure down the back to capitalise on rear grip). Master also has Emergency Brake Assist coupled to the ABS. This senses the urgency with which you depress the brake pedal, and if you’re in more trouble than the early settlers, it calls in the ABS immediately. The door mirrors have double-field vision to reduce any blind-spots. The 2.5 dCi 120 engine in the Master produces high torque at low engine speeds, as common rail turbodiesels do, with 290Nm at just 1600rpm. The PK6 manual gearbox, say Renault, is precise, with reduced movement and effort, and new gear ratios to improve response.

Can’t wait to drive it. — KEY FACTS A* ENGINE 2.5 litre, 16 valve. Power 84kW, torque 290Nm. A* TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual. (No auto). A* TWO VEHICLE TYPES Van: three sizes, priced from $39,990. Cab-chassis: one size, long wheelbase, $38,690. A* EXTERIOR DIMENSIONS Lengths (in metres): 4.89, 5.39, 5.89; Heights: 2.25, 2.49. A* KERB WEIGHTS (in kg) Van: 1802 to 1921; Cab chassis: 1632. A* PAYLOADS (in kg): Van: 1691 reducing to 1579 as body size/tare weight increases. Cab chassis: 1868. A* CARGO (in mm) Length: van range, 2714 to 3714; cab chassis, 3714, Width: 1990. A* VAN LOAD VOLUME (in cu. m): 8 to 12.3. A* VAN WIDTH BETWEEN WHEEL ARCHES (in mm): 1282 (fits Australian pallets). A* TOWING WEIGHTS (kg) Unbraked/braked trailer: 750/2000. LINK


CAPTION(S):TWO PHOTOS: The new Master’s front end lets you know it’s a Renault with their diamond logo inset into the honeycomb grille; The dash, in European form, shows the sizzle of Renault’s pacesetting Trafic van. Note the fold-away elbow-rest for the driver’s seat, for comfort when highway cruising.


>>> View more: The Art and Science of ‘Carbitrage’

The Art and Science of ‘Carbitrage’

Turns out you can make a mint off the car in your driveway. Here’s how to be your own used-auto dealer–and take advantage of the huge demand for gently used vehicles.

Looking for a way to pay off that holiday tab? Check the garage. If you have a car at the end of its lease, it could be a gold mine.

The last three years have been tumultuous in the world of used cars, for a number of reasons. First, the recession meant that consumers who were trying to economize opted to shell out for used rather than new cars. As a result, the demand for older vehicles started to increase. The credit crunch, which got in the way of new-car financing for many consumers, sent used-car prices even higher. And then came the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last March. These tragic events reduced the supply of new Hondas and Toyotas coming into the United States, sending demand for used ones through the roof.


The demand is highest for low-mileage cars that have been well cared for. In 2009, the average price of a three-year-old used car rose 5.71 percent from its 2008 level, according to In 2010 the increase over the previous year was 12.18 percent, and in 2011 it was 6.31 percent. Result: the cars coming off lease now are worth, in many cases, thousands more than their “residual” or “buyout” values–in other words, the projected value of the car at the end of your lease. This is particularly true of European and Japanese cars, says Phil Reed, senior consumer-advice editor at Edmunds, though it’s happening with some domestic cars as well, particularly those with above-average fuel efficiency.

Though it may seem daunting, it’s actually easy enough to put that extra money in your pocket. First, take a look at the lease contract (or call the leasing company) for your buyout price. Next, use a car-pricing site like Edmunds,, or, to compare the buyout price with your “trade-in value” (how much a car dealer would pay you for the used vehicle) and the “private-party price” (how much you could get for it if you sold it yourself).

Of these two courses, the easier by far is to sell the car to a dealer. It doesn’t have to be the same dealer, or even the manufacturer, you bought the car from–any dealer will do. The dealer will typically pay the leasing company what is owed and write you a check for the difference between that price and the trade-in price. Say you’re ready to turn in a 2008 six-cylinder Toyota Highlander. According to Edmunds, the residual value for the car is $13,537 and the trade-in price is $16,967. That means you’ll net around $3,400. If inventories on your model are particularly low–and you can search an online classified site to know–you may even be able to negotiate a bit above the trade-in price, Reed says.

If you’re willing to do a little more work, you can sell the car yourself at or around the private-party price.The private-party price on the afore-mentioned Highlander is $18,451. If you’re able to sell the car for that price, you’ll net closer to $4,900.


One complicating factor in this transaction (in addition to the challenges of being your own used-car dealer) is sales tax. If you pay it when you buy the car from the leasing company, you’ll eat up most, if not all, of your profit. The workaround, Reed explains, is to have your third-party buyer write two checks–one directly to the leasing company for the sales tax, and the other for the difference between the residual value and your agreed-on price to you. Then, when the title arrives, turn that over to the buyer. This back-and-forth is easier if you and the buyer know each other.

Finally, if you’re not at the end of your lease but want to get out anyway, the opportunity to make a quick buck makes some cars more attractive to lease-swapping companies–and their customers.

The current state of the auto industry means lots of differences in supply and demand for different vehicles–and it changes from month to month,” says John Sternal, vice president of “You can’t just wake up one day and say you’re going to make money off your lease. You have to do your homework.”

With Arielle O’Shea

By Jean Chatzky

>>> View more: Mileage mandates drive out consumer choices