Jaco Van Der Merwe

By Jaco Van Der Merwe

Head of Motoring

Frugal Toyota Starlet can save you a fortune at the pumps

The results of our little economy run in the hatchback left us speechless.

I wonder how many people know where the Kungwini Municipality is? To be brutally honest, I did not have a cooking clue myself until its Driving Licence Testing Centre threw up a few rare open slots for licence card renewals on the Natis online booking system.

A quick Google referral dampened my excitement as the venue in question was in fact Bronkhorstspruit, 113.5 km from my house. But with open slots as scarce as hen’s teeth and my licence card’s expiration date fast approaching, I had little other choice but to take a slot and make the 227 km round trip between Randburg and Kungwini.

During the recommended eight-week wait for the new licence’s card arrival, I had time to do a bit of math to try and work out what the actual total cost of my exercise will be. If you leave out what your actual time is worth during two 227 km road trips plus the time you spend in the queue during both applying and collecting, you are left with the R228 application fee, four N4 toll fees of R39 each and your cost of fuel. If your car’s fuel consumption is in the region of 10L/100 km, you are looking at forking out over R1 000 of your hard-earned cash for this exercise.

Seeing the application and toll fees are set in stone, the only expense you can save on is fuel and so it became my mission to try and see how budget friendly I can make my second trip to Kungwini to pick up my shiny new card. And I looked no further than our long-term Toyota Starlet 1.4 XR. It has showed it that it is a very worthy successor to the Etios during its three-month stay with us and needed a fitting swansong before going back to Toyota.

Powered by a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine sending 68kW/130Nm to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox, the Starlet’s claimed fuel consumption is 5.1L/100 km. With a car’s claimed fuel consumption very rarely owning up to real world figures, I set sail for Kungwini in the hope to try and match 5.1, which if possible, would have made the trip extremely economical.

The reason manufacturers’ fuel consumption claims are off the mark is the outdated means they test by. And even though carmakers like to sometimes shout the results of their economy runs from the rooftops, these particular exercises also don’t always reflect real world driving conditions. Weight is kept to a minimum, the windows are never opened, the aircon is switched off, the car hardly ever stops and speeds that are kept to a minimum are some of the typical things adopted during these runs.

So for my Starlet mission I tried to keep things as real as possible while consciously restricting speed and acceleration. Once on the highway, which makes up around 95% of the route, I set the cruise control to 100km/h. There was the occasional need to accelerate to 120km/h for overtaking, while we didn’t coast at all.

I wasn’t planning on not using the aircon, but as it turned out it was a rather cold and rainy day which saw the aircon used very sparsely for defogging purposes only, which no doubt contributed to better consumption. While maintaining 100 km/h the engine never worked harder than 2 500 rpm and therefore that became the golden number, with the aim of changing gears before the rev counter reach that figure.

Other occupants included my two primary school children, who’s combined weight roughly adds up to that of an average adult woman. While we had no luggage, a man and a woman commuting 227 km to work and back is a very real daily scenario on our roads. While my “experiment” can by no means be considered scientific and relying purely on feedback from the car’s fuel consumption indicator for the trip, the results nonetheless left us speechless.

We managed to cover the 227 km while achieving an astounding fuel consumption number of 4.1L/100 km! That is a full litre less than the manufacturer’s claim and equates to 24.3 km on a single litre of 93 octane petrol. Better yet, if you can manage to keep that consumption going for a whole 37-litre tank, you’ll manage to get close to 900 km.

These numbers mean that the Starlet only sipped 9.3-litres of petrol for the 227 km trip, which works out to R144 at the current fuel price of R15.50 and is R200 less than the trip would have cost in a car achieving 10L/100km. More importantly, if this trip is undertaken by two commuters, it will cost each just R77 on a daily basis.

With the petrol price per litre breaking the R15-barrier in February and speculation that we could cough up as much as R20 before the end of the year, many motorists might have to strongly consider making a concerted effort to save on fuel to make ends meet in an already tough economic climate. And the longer the distance, the bigger the saving will be if you already drive something frugal and more importantly, can manage to do that in a disciplined and patient manner.

The Starlet already offered a solid and well-made all-round package backed by the South Africa-adored Toyota badge, which saw the carmaker sell an astounding average of 1 042 of the hatchback per month in its first four full months since being rolled out in September. This number has the potential to only further rise once you start adding the extraordinary fuel consumption we managed to achieve to all the Starlet’s other virtues.

The Starlet 1.4 XR manual costs R263 700 and includes a three-services/45 000km service plan and three-year/100 000km warranty.

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