Toyota Starlet: A Compact Marvel with a Rich Legacy

Toyota Starlet

Table of Contents

The Toyota Starlet, a name synonymous with reliability and practicality, has been a steadfast companion on the roads for decades. In this article, we delve into the world of the Starlet, exploring its history, variants, and the driving experience it offers. Whether you’re a Toyota enthusiast or considering a used Starlet for your next vehicle, this journey through its evolution promises comprehensive insight.



The Toyota Starlet, a subcompact car by Toyota, enjoyed a production run from 1973 to 1999, establishing itself as a reliable and economical vehicle. Known for its compact dimensions and efficient performance, the Starlet has been a popular choice in various markets worldwide. The Starlet’s legacy continues with its nameplate being revived in 2020 for a rebadged Suzuki Baleno hatchback in some African countries.



Toyota Starlet

The Dawn of Starlet

The Toyota Starlet replaced the Toyota Publica in 1973, inheriting the ‘P’ code and generation numbering. Initially exclusive to Toyota Corolla Store dealers in Japan, the first-generation Starlet (1973) was a leap in the subcompact car segment, offering high-performance variants like the Turbo S, GT Turbo, and Glanza V​.

Global Footprint

The Starlet made its mark globally, briefly exported to North America from 1981 to 1984. However, in 1999, the Starlet was replaced by the Toyota Vitz (Yaris in international markets). The Starlet name was reintroduced in 2020 for a rebadged Suzuki Baleno, mainly in African markets.


Evolution Through Generations

First Generation (1973-1978):


Second Generation (1978-1984):


Third Generation (1984-1989):


Fourth Generation (1989-1995): 


Launched as a more upscale model of the Publica, it was initially available in coupé and sedan forms, offering 1,000 and 1,200 cc engines​.


Gained popularity, especially in Europe. It was the first Starlet to be sold extensively outside Japan, available in hatchback and station wagon variants​.


Introduced front-wheel drive, a shift from the previous rear-wheel drive. It offered more body styles and was the first to be assembled outside Japan​.


Featured a more rounded body style and interior, with twin-cam engines for the Japanese market. It was the last generation before the Starlet was replaced by the Vitz​.




Design Evolution

Over its life span, the Toyota Starlet’s exterior evolved significantly. Earlier models sported a more traditional and boxy design, while later generations adopted a rounded and more modern aesthetic. The Starlet’s compact dimensions made it ideal for city driving and easy parking.

Road Presence

Despite its compact size, the Starlet’s design gave it a distinctive road presence. Its practicality and no-nonsense styling appealed to a broad range of drivers, from city commuters to small families.



Styling and Comfort

The interior of the Toyota Starlet, particularly in later models, featured a modern and functional design. With a focus on practicality, the cockpit was arranged for ease of use, with essential controls within easy reach.

Space and Practicality

The rear legroom was ample, providing a comfortable space for passengers.

Boot space was surprisingly generous for a car of its size, making the Starlet a practical choice for everyday use and light travel needs.


The Starlet came equipped with features like automatic climate control, a multi-function steering wheel, and a modern infotainment system with touchscreen displays of varying sizes based on the model.

Safety features include dual front airbags, stability control, and ABS.



Toyota Starlet Engine

Range of Engine Options

The Toyota Starlet offered a variety of engines throughout its generations:

  • Early Generations: Included smaller 1.0-liter and 1.2-liter engines, suitable for city driving and fuel efficiency.

  • Later Generations: Saw the introduction of more powerful 1.3-liter engines, providing better performance for a broader range of driving needs.

  • Diesel Option: A 1.5-liter diesel engine was also available, offering an alternative for those prioritizing fuel economy.


Driving Experience

Toyota Starlet Driving

General Feel and Urban Maneuverability

The Toyota Starlet offers a driving experience that is finely tuned for city life. Its compact dimensions and light steering make navigating through crowded streets and tight parking spaces an absolute joy. Despite its small size, the Starlet provides a sense of stability and agility, allowing for a confident driving experience even in bustling urban environments.

Performance Across Variants

  • Acceleration: The Starlet, particularly in its later models with the 1.3-liter engine, delivers adequate acceleration for daily commuting. It strikes a fine balance between providing enough power for city driving and maintaining fuel efficiency.

  • Engine Response: The Starlet’s engine, especially the 1.3-liter variant, is responsive and peppy. It offers a zippy feel in urban settings, though it is not designed for high-speed thrills. The engine’s smoothness adds to a pleasant drive, especially at lower speeds.

Handling and Steering

  • Steering: The Starlet’s steering is light and precise, contributing to its ease of handling in urban landscapes. This light steering aids in making quick maneuvers and sharp turns without much effort.

  • Suspension: The suspension setup is tailored to provide a comfortable ride over city roads. It effectively absorbs most bumps and irregularities, ensuring a smooth ride quality. However, on rougher terrains, the ride can feel a bit firm.


High Altitude and Hardworking Engine

At higher altitudes, the Starlet’s engine maintains consistent performance. While it requires a bit more effort to deliver brisk acceleration in such conditions, the engine does not feel strained or underpowered.

The sound of the engine, particularly when pushed, is noticeable yet not unpleasant. This auditory feedback adds a sense of engagement to the driving experience.

Fuel Efficiency and Economy

One of the standout features of the Starlet is its fuel efficiency. The vehicle performs exceptionally well in terms of fuel consumption, making it an economical choice for budget-conscious drivers.

On mixed driving routes, the Starlet showcases its ability to balance performance and fuel economy, making it a practical vehicle for daily use.

Ride Quality and Comfort

The overall ride quality of the Toyota Starlet is comfortable for its class. The vehicle handles most road surfaces with ease, providing a smooth and stable ride.

In city driving, the Starlet’s agility and ease of maneuverability come to the fore, making it a delightful car for day-to-day urban commuting.

Gearbox and Transmission

The manual gearbox in the Starlet adds to the car’s character, offering an engaging driving experience. The shift action is generally smooth, though some drivers might find it a bit notchy when shifting into certain gears.

Noise and Vibration

While the Starlet’s cabin is not the quietest car, the level of noise and vibration is acceptable for a car of its size and age. The engine noise is more pronounced during hard acceleration but settles down at cruising speeds.

Driving Dynamics

The Starlet is not a sports car, and its driving dynamics reflect this. It’s tuned more for practicality and efficiency rather than high-speed performance.

The car’s dynamics are predictable and reassuring, which, combined with its compact footprint, makes it an ideal vehicle for novice drivers or those who prefer a no-frills driving experience.


Driver Aids and Safety Features

Safety Equipment

The Starlet was equipped with fundamental safety features including dual front airbags and ABS, ensuring basic safety standards.

Higher trims offered additional aids like park-distance control and stability control, enhancing overall safety and convenience for the driver.

Comfort and Convenience

Automatic climate control, powered mirrors, and windows were standard on most variants, providing a comfortable driving environment.

The flagship models added features like a reverse camera, cruise control, and a height-adjustable driver’s seat, elevating the driving experience.


Should You Buy a Toyota Starlet?

Buying a Toyota Starlet today depends on your preferences and needs. The Starlet, being an older model, offers simplicity and reliability characteristic of Toyota vehicles from that era. It’s a practical choice for budget-conscious buyers seeking a small, efficient car.

However, consider that it lacks modern safety features and technology. Maintenance could be a concern due to its age, but Toyota’s reputation for durability might mitigate this. Ultimately, if you’re looking for an affordable, straightforward vehicle and are comfortable with its vintage nature and potential maintenance needs, a Toyota Starlet could be a sensible choice.



Toyota Starlet Rear

The Toyota Starlet stands as a testament to practicality and efficiency in the subcompact car segment. Through its generations, it has offered a blend of economy, ease of driving, and Toyota’s dependable engineering. While it may lack the flair of more modern vehicles, its straightforward approach to transportation and cost-effectiveness make it a worthy consideration.


Pros of the Toyota Starlet

Cons of the Toyota Starlet


The Toyota Starlet enjoys a reputation for being exceptionally reliable, a trait that has been a hallmark of Toyota vehicles for generations. This reliability stems from its straightforward mechanical design, which avoids overcomplication and focuses on function and durability. Additionally, the widespread availability of parts and the simplicity of repairs contribute to its appeal as a dependable vehicle.

Regular maintenance of the Toyota Starlet is fairly straightforward, reflecting its design ethos of simplicity and reliability. Key maintenance tasks typically include routine oil and filter changes, which are crucial for ensuring the engine runs smoothly and efficiently. Regular checks and replacements of brake pads and rotors are also important to maintain the vehicle’s safety and performance.

The Toyota Starlet, with its compact design, is best suited for individuals, couples, or small families. Its interior space, while ample for a car of its size, offers a comfortable environment for small family outings and daily errands. The rear seating area provides sufficient legroom for children and average-sized adults, making it a practical option for family use within urban settings. However, for larger families or those requiring more space for long journeys, the Starlet might feel a bit constrained. The boot space, though generous for a compact car, may not suffice for the luggage needs of a bigger family or for carrying larger items. Families with small children will appreciate the ease of maneuverability and parking in busy areas, but those needing more space for car seats, strollers, and other family essentials might find the Starlet a bit limiting.

Written by: Motorcardata

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