1 Apr 1996
Toyota’s first real light car to be sold locally since the 1960s 700 crashed the burgeoning segment a decade late after stalwarts like the Holden Barina and Daihatsu Charade helped define it, and 23 years after the nameplate’s Japanese debut.
The Starlet suffered from indifferent styling and high prices, but when the latter was rectified after Toyota entered the infamous cutthroat price war with the Hyundai Excel and Ford Festiva, sales soared.
Against its cheap South Korean rivals, the Starlet offered lively performance from a 55kW 1.3-litre 4E-FE fuel-injected twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine, high levels of refinement, frugal fuel economy, dogged durability and a relatively strong body.
The base three-door hatchback Life enjoyed the lion’s share of the sales, but there were other models too available at launch: the sporty three-door hatch Group X and well-specified Style five-door hatchback.
All offered a three-speed auto as well as the standard five-speed manual gearbox. Dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes and power steering were desirable options.
In July ’97 the range grew with the arrival of a five-door hatch Life model while the Style gained central locking and a tachometer.