When Toyota returned to the budget market with its Etios, it did exactly what was promised in terms of providing a no frills, basic model. It has become a favourite with rental fleets and buyers seeking that Toyota quality and reliability but, with competition much tougher since the days of the dominant Tazz, the brand needed something that echoed company president Akio Toyoda’s promise to bring excitement back to the range.
Enter the third variant to its Etios lineup, the Cross, following the launch in 2012 of the hatch and sedan models to take on the sub B- segment of the market populated by the Volkswagen Polo Vivo and the Renault Sandero. Of course, both these rivals already have crossover derivatives of their own in the form of the Vivo Maxx and Sandero Stepway, which are essentially based on the conventional models but clad in the rugged-looking plastic addenda associated with crossover vehicles.
Like its siblings, the Etios Cross is also built at the company’s Indian plant and is sold in other markets such as Brazil and China among others. The “cross” genre has in recent years become fairly popular as it caters for those punters looking for SUV styling but with- out the hefty initial outlay and maintenance costs that come with owning an SUV. In its new armour the Etios Cross sports roof rails that can carry up to 50kg and plastic cladding on the front bumper, door sills and the rear bumper. There is also a set of model specific 15-inch alloy wheels, while the ride height at 170mm remains the same as its hatch and sedan siblings. It also comes in two exclusive licks of paint in the form of Inferno (orange metallic) and Jet Grey (grey metallic).
Based on the higher specification Xs model, the interior architecture is similar to that of its conventional hatch variant and includes, among other amenities, dual airbags, ABS with EBD, a Bluetooth enabled radio unit with auxiliary and USB ports and even a cooled 13l glove box. Electric windows are also standard items with the driver’s window switch now incorporating a one-touch closing operation. Piano black finishes on the centre console have been adopted, while silver plastic accents surround the air vents. The rest of the plastics, I am afraid, err on the low-rent side but are likely to be durable. Space is the model’s forte with enough head and legroom for up to five passengers.
Under the bonnet is a 1.5l, four-cylinder petrol engine pushing out 66kW at 5,600r/min and 132Nm at 3,000r/min. It drives the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. Performance is what you would expect in the segment. Fuel consumption is claimed at 6.0l/100km, which is good for a vehicle of this size, although without an average fuel consumption readout we were unable to attest to the claim. Driving the model on varying road conditions in Gauteng that included some rutted surfaces and cut and thrust urban traffic, it per- formed rather well and managed to soak up most road imperfections with aplomb. Wind noise does become intrusive at the national speed limit, but not enough to subject passengers to a shouting match. In all fairness, it does what it stipulates on the box and is keenly priced at R159,800 to take the fight to the impressive Renault Stepway at R159,900.
In the grand scheme of things, the Stepway offers that little bit more sophistication thanks to a 900cc three-cylinder, turbocharged engine borrowed from its Clio 4 sibling. The Sandero Stepway offers enough poke to keep up with the traffic ahead, and it is less susceptible to the vagaries of the power sapping altitude of the Reef. In addition it also comes with cruise control, side curtain airbags and ESP (electronic stability programme) which are all a major plus in this segment. There is also the slight matter of a higher five-year/ 150,000km warranty on the part of the Renault (Toyota offers three- year/100,000km). Both models come standard with a two- year/30,000km service plan.
Pound for pound the Stepway runs rings around the Etios Cross. The only snag, which is something that plagues French cars, is the low residual value come trade-in time in the instance of the Renault. This is an area where Toyota seems to have its base covered, but is this enough to make it a better vehicle than the Sandero Stepway? Not in my books, I am afraid. In spite of the Renault’s resale value woes, it manages to offer a far better value for money proposition and in this price sensitive segment, I would be hard-pressed to overlook the Stepway.
The Facts: 2014 Toyota Etios Cross
Engine: 1496cc, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 66kW at 5600rpm
Torque: 132Nm at 3000rpm
0-100km/h: 11.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 6l/100km (Claimed)
Top speed: 165km/h
Price: R159 800