Toyota Etios : Detailed Review

A quite revolution of a very pleasing sort will hit Indian roads on December 1 in the form of the Toyota Etios, the first mass market sedan from the Japanese numero uno. Impressive in its build and make-up, Adil Jal Darukhanawala was at the wheel as we put it to the test on our varied terrain to see whether it stacked up well in dynamic ability as well as in the overall drive experience.



The Japanese are circumspect in most things, not to mention the term fastidious and it shows in their approach to automobiles in India. Toyota is renowned for not letting much out of the bag, infuriatingly so but the unflappable Japanese giant dismisses this with a smile hiding the steely resolve underneath it all. Many a time this has been masked under the "we take the step-by-step approach" and while it might sound a bit presumptuous trust me when I say it is anything but that for this is how Toyota plays the game.

The new Etios is a step the Japanese car maker should have taken at least three to four years ago but many a circumstance delayed it and that allowed many a carmaker, local and multi-national to establish their small car credentials and garner the spotlight. The time taken was not to delay but to rethink the very manner in which Toyota goes about conjuring up a new model series from concept to design to engineering and on to manufacture and marketing. Toyota needed to think out of the box, especially in terms of trying to meet aspirations of a new vibrant segment of Indian society wanting to acquire a car in keeping with their worldly wise aspirations.

This thought process of trying to undo certain Toyota tenets without compromising build integrity and minimum performance standards took some effort but it began to show in stark contrast to previous Toyota new model launches. Toyota took the wraps off the Etios concept almost a year ahead of series production – at the 2010 Auto Expo in Delhi this January. It wasn't a mock-up or such but two fully engineered prototypes of the sedan and hatchback were the highlights of the show. What wasn't so very well taken in was that their make-up and build were the result of thousands of hours of diligent customer research. If that wasn't all, Toyota's product planners and engineers brainstormed with customers at specially organized clinics where the company benchmarked many a rival car, both within the segment and also those which straddled it, to come up with a product that we managed to drive for the first time at the Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway in Japan in late October this year.

Not much seems to have changed on the exteriors since the unveiling at Auto Expo but now we have most of the details of what is truly the biggest challenge for Toyota ever, not just in India but also as a template for other demanding markets of a similar order elsewhere in the world. The basic floorpan was tooled to be flexible enough to do duty not just as a hatchback and a sedan but could also be employed to make a panel van or an MPV or also a mini-soft-roader. Both the sedan and the hatchback will see the light of day on December 1 when none other than Akio Toyoda, president and CEO, Toyota Motor Corporation, gives the symbolic green light to commence roll-out from the new manufacturing facility. This new unit has been set up at Bidadi itself and will have an installed capacity to build 70,000 units per annum. Of course production ramp up will be in stages and that is the reason why Toyota will first begin selling the Etios saloon with the hatchback following suit around February-March 2011.

The Etios sedan is a pure and simple no-nonsense offering and it doesn't heighten peoples' expectations as much as it reinforces the belief in a product that will be right, in consumers' minds. What to many looked more like a Logan-proportioned and styled outfit remains the same but overall the fit and finish is top class. Much work has gone into making the monocoque as light as possible without sacrificing structural integrity and knowing how weight is the bugbear of fuel efficiency, performance and emissions, Toyota's engineers have got this aspect sussed just right.



Toyota Etios: External shots




Mechanicals: Spot on!





The Etios sedan tips the scales, depending on the trim and equipment levels specified anywhere between 900kg at the base end to 930kg for the top line offering. This has to rank as one of the lightest cars there is in the country but also one of the most sprightly to drive. The 1496cc dohc, 16-valve four-cylinder engine is all new as is the smaller 1.2-litre mill, both engines sharing virtually the same head gear. The Toyota engineers rewrote the book on the ancillaries for this engine wherein they have cut off the over-engineered approach in terms of extreme operating ability and kept costs and sophistication down to normal Indian conditions. A case in point is the operational range of the alternators. Where Toyota normally engineers them to operate from temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees centigrade, in the Etios these would operate from about minus five degrees centigrade. Much effort went into unshackling their rigid standards but without compromising on the reliability, overall performance or the quality thereof.


The 1.5-litre engine (an all new unit designated 2NR-FE) isn't one to burn rubber but 90PS of power at 5600rpm is more than enough to endow the sedan with enough thrust. The 132Nm of torque though is ample enough to move a full complement of five plus luggage in absolute splendor without in anyway cutting down on the fuel efficiency. This engine is an absolute beauty, and not just because of its long stroke under-square cylinder dimensions (bore and stroke measuring 72.5mm x 90.6mm) but the fact that it runs unstressed over its entire operating range and secondly the five-speed transmission is also a completely new unit with perfectly matched ratios for our operating environment. The five ratios in conjunction with the final drive employed makes for seamless drive across the torque curve enabling not just rapid motoring but also effortless high speed cruising which in turn reflects positively on the fuel efficiency.



In fact, the Toyota boffins were quietly confident at the low fuel consumption levels the car will sport and given the power to weight ratio one needs to just do the math wherein the machine comes across as an unstressed unit capable of humming away like any other Toyota – boringly reliable and happy doing that!



For the number crunchers among you, the Etios in our test delivered 12.4kmpl in the city cycle while on the national highway runs it upped this to 16.9kmpl. What is of even greater importance is that we picked up the car from the plant in Bidadi with 800 metres on the odo and then ran her to Pune, the 850km plus helping us to run her in. We added another 500km plus in the course of the test and the fuel consumption figures are for an absolutely fresh out of the crate automobile. I am pretty sure that given an additional thousand kilometers of running-in, the fuel efficiency figure would be considerably improved.



Staying with numbers, the Etios was no slouch when it came to max velocity, 171km/h being the top speed we recorded. Zero to 60 and zero to 100km/h came up in 6.51 seconds and 14.51 seconds respectively. The quarter mile came up in 19.39 seconds with a terminal speed of 117.73km/h but it was in the roll-ons across the top three cogs where the Etios was very impressive, with a smooth surge or torque which helped enhance not just the performance and the overtaking ability but the sheer pleasure of driving.





INTERIOR: Pleasure & comfort on the large scale!





Given the fact that it will be targeted slam bang against such rivals as the Suzuki Swift D'Zire, the Mahindra Logan and the Tata Indigo Manza, the Etios had to be large on cabin space and I think that the Toyota packaging engineers have done a stellar job. Small cues dominate and these add up to an impressively large compartment with ample shoulder room, superb leg space and ample foot space. The driving position is impressive and there is not much of a blind spot even with the rake of the A-pillar but what is outstanding is the rear seat layout with a perfectly optimized seat back angle, good thigh support, and a near flat floor to make even the passenger in the centre of the back seat to be just as comfortable as those flanking him. The quality of the fabric employed may not be flashy but it does feel durable and more than adequate. In fact, the top of the line version with its duo-tone interior treatment is most pleasing to behold and makes the cabin a very appealing place to be in.




The instrument panel and dashboard has a pretty unique layout with everything clustered in the central console and intelligently at that. If there was one bit which looked slightly low rent then it was the dashboard plastic which I feel is something that should and must be rectified so that even though it might be cost effective it needn't look cheap. The Toyota product planners were keen to note this observation and knowing them I am sure it would be addressed sooner rather than later. The central information console with the rev counter and the speedo in crescent shaped dials angled towards the driver worked well and is an interesting detail for a car in this class. The air con vents are also very imaginative; they not just rotate to open but also swivel to direct cool fresh air into the cabin. The air con efficiency is of a high order and given the large engine, it doesn't impinge on any of the thrust needed for our frantic driving conditions.




In fact, typical Toyota feel good qualities dominated every facet of the car and overall I think that it could be forgiven the time it took to get into the mass market car segment. Another detail which bears mention is the large cavernous boot the Etios sports – almost 595 litres of luggage can be packed in, shaming cars some two segments larger in this respect. However, the carpet for the luggage floor and the cladding within the sides of the boot are pretty ordinary and Toyota doesn't need to lose the feel good factor on this front. Another gripe is the tinted windscreen and the efficacy of the headlamps. The throw as well as the intensity needs improvement and hopefully this can be corrected as well. Another detail which I did find disconcerting, especially when I drove the car on the rain drenched Fuji Speedway handling course was the underbody noise insulation. The wheel wells up front have no cladding as seen on other cars and maybe this is responsible for the unfavourable noise emanating from below as the water hits the underbody. Mind you noise levels within the cabin are unbelievably low and it is only the water hitting the underbody which detracts somewhat from a fine drive experience.







RIDE & HANDLING: Easy, unstressed and relaxed




I drove the Etios in controlled conditions at the Fuji Speedway in Japan and then in and around Pune for this road test and the Etios came through as an honest no-nonsense offering. In fact, having driven from Bidadi to Pune, our road test chief Dilip Desai said that he stepped out fresh as a daisy clearly highlighting the fatigue-free nature of the driving position and the easy power delivery. Suspension components front to rear are made up of MacPherson struts on the front end with a torsion beam axle doing duty at the rear. The ride quality is of a very comfortable order but this doesn't come at the cost of insipid handling. Keeping in mind this is an all round family car, the Etios comes across with straight forward and safe dynamics. The wide track and the long wheelbase help with good vehicle stability. The electrically-assisted power steering is light and slightly devoid of feel at lower reaches of its operating spectrum but it is precise and spot-on, not overtly quick or unduly slow in response.

The top end Etios sedan comes with 185/60 R15 size Bridgestone Turanza rubber shod on alloy rims while other variants make do with 175/65R14 tyres. Overall drive dynamics and vehicle behaviour are neutral which are big feel good factors for this category of car and what is impressive is that given the light build of the vehicle, this doesn't come at the cost of stability or structural integrity. Braking is another strong trait of the Etios, the ventilated front discs and rear drums combo delivering effortless retardation every time without unsettling the car in the least. The Etios further comes with ABS and EBD which is a good sign as this will deliver added impetus across this segment of car to up the ante on the safety aspect.





SUMMING IT UP: Stonking value delivered!





Designing and making a car to a price which will target it straight at the Swift D'Zire's jugular is one thing, making it with legendary Toyota build and quality is another but the Etios should satisfy on both points. Two small details illustrate how the Tata Nano's clever solutions to enhancing structural rigidity and reducing costs with fewer components bears reference here. The roof panel of the Etios feature the structural ribs stamped in at the sheet metal pressing stage. The use a single large wiper with a broad sweep for the front windscreen is another. Both do their job as intended. Detail touches which are not exactly rocket-science but clever in their implementation. The Etios is well equipped and the top end version gets airbags for driver and front seat passenger, ABS with EBD, an engine immobilizer, door ajar warning and a built-in 2-DIN radio cum CD-player.


No diesel has been factored in as yet but the 1.4-litre unit that does service in the Corolla Altis Diesel is scheduled to make its way under the hood come late 2011. However, what Toyota is more focused on is to get every one of the 70,000 units it intends to roll out in 2011 right from the word go. This is not just because it has a reputation to uphold but also that its challenge lies in keeping its rep intact in the face of the over 70 per cent plus localization the Etios will roll out with. It is a challenge but then the challenge has also come from within. The good news is that, speaking purely from the road test evaluation and given Toyota's exacting standards, the Etios makes for a most compelling package in its class which in turn will force rivals to reappraise their gameplan. And we haven't even gotten to grips with the hatchback as yet!





Toyota Etios: In action!




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