Road Tests

Drive Review: Toyota Etios RSi is a rough diamond

“This modified Etios RSi a car that thrives on abuse.” I’m in the passenger seat trying to look calm while the owner, old enough to remember the halcyon days of Conquest RSI, gives me the rundown. But this is a car that actually does the talking so once we’ve got the technical nitty gritty out the way I dispense of the driver for the next week to make sense of this little bundle of boost.

Whether or not the Etios RSi thrives on abuse, it certainly encourages it. Like throwing a Berocca into your morning vitamin supplements, the Etios RSi is the most exciting Toyota we’ve driven since the GT86 and the rawest small hatch since Fiesta ST. Yet it draws inspiration from a completely different period: the genesis of the hot hatch genre with performance parity to a Mk1 GTi and Conquest RSi circa the 1980s. A formula of modest power output and rudimentary electronics but when coupled to a pared-back, humble character transforms into hilariously infectious.

I digress. The Etios RSi is a bit of a product conundrum for Toyota. This is not an official OEM product but there’s been considerable negotiations to sign the documents with selected AutoMark dealers carrying a 3-yr/100 000km OEM-level warranty at any Toyota service centre.

There are two packages, differentiated mostly by cosmetic details therefore retaining the mechanical upgrades. Basically categorised as understated sleeper or slightly extroverted. We’re testing the latter but with my own money I’d choose the cheaper option, still with the larger wheels and brakes leading from retuned dampers and springs but sans the carbon fibre, LEDs and dual fabric seats. Cars of this ilk didn’t know what carbon fibre was. It was a material reserved for supercars. Earnest styling suits this Etios RSi.

Either way this is hardly a rushed shed-built product. The quality that comes from constant tinkering is worthy of factory acclaim – this model has lived a hard life at track days and press events and it’s indestructible in a very Toyota kind of way. Predictable too in the way it builds boost progressively to imitate a larger normally aspirated engine. I’ve driven a handful of modified cars and 90% of them are wild, sawing fights with traction that stems from peaky boost. This just nibbles a bit harder at the steering.

It’s no ball of fire; 125kW and 240Nm – without the optional Performance Pack – places it quite low down the pecking order although with a weight of a tonne it registers a healthy power to weight figure – the 0-100km/h in 8.0 seconds and a top speed somewhere around 208km/h. But it’s willing to punch above its weight and holds your attention for every metre.

I do lament the pesky reminders that underneath all this is an Etios rather than say a VW Up so at the price you still need to live with manual wing mirrors, a crummy audio system with burnt toast for speakers (upgraded at a cost) and no volume controls on the steering wheel – which also doesn’t adjust for reach.

The idea of an Etios Gazoo Racing version is unlikely but the RSi heritage still resonates to a large loyal following. A modern-day interpretation of the classics as a motoring education for millennials. ANDREW LEOPOLD

SPECIFICATION

  • R265 000
  • 1496cc 4cyl, turbo petrol, FWD, 125kW, 240Nm
  • 9.0l/100km, n/a
  • 0-100km/h in 8.0secs, 208km/h
  • 1000kg
  • Verdict: All the hallmarks of an 80s hot hatch with airbags and Bluetooth. Power Pack option could be exciting.
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