Toyota Starlet Review and Specs

Toyota Starlet Review


  • Economical and practical
  • Easy on the budget
  • Sport models can be imported at a reasonable price


  • Light on the power for Life trim
  • Small range of options
  • No more new ones
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Overview, Look, and Feel of the Toyota Starlet

The 90 Series Toyota Starlet, which was available new for the Australian market between 1996 and 1999, is a practical vehicle for most anyone’s needs. With models including Life and GT, plus body styles that include a 3-door or 5-door model, these hatchbacks provide excellent reliability, fuel economy, and a range of aftermarket accessories which turned these cars into a cult classic.

Even though the Starlet, which has been based on various Toyota platforms including the Paseo and Tercel, has been manufactured throughout the world since the early 1970’s, it led the way to more recent vehicles such as the Echo and Yaris.

As for the model that was specifically manufactured for the Australian marketplace, the 90 Series Toyota Starlet Life offers a basic, fuel-efficient vehicle at an excellent price. With such standard features as crank windows and a radio with a cassette player, the Toyota Starlet was focused specifically for transportation. However, Toyota did offer some great sports and limited edition Starlets that can be imported to Australia. And since the Starlet is from Toyota, even with its small price reliability is a given.

Toyota Starlet Engine Specs and Performance

Toyota offered only one engine for the Australian 90 Series Toyota Starlet, but with the ability to import other models, there is an alternative. To start, the Australian Toyota Starlet Life came standard with a 1.3-litre naturally aspirated engine started with 74 kW of power and 117 Nm of torque for the 1996 model and then was reconfigured to produce less power (66 kW), but more torque (118 Nm). If more power was desired, the older GT version came standard with a 1.3-litre turbocharged engine with 99 kW of power and 157 Nm of torque.

As for gearboxes, the 90 Series Toyota Starlet came standard with a 4-speed manual transmission, but there is an option for a 3- or 4-speed automatic transmission. On older GT models, a 5-speed manual gearbox was standard due to the performance-oriented turbocharged engine. The 5-speed manual gearbox was also standard on all other performance editions and Limited or Glanza S and V trims.

Standard Equipment and Options for the Toyota Starlet

Since the Australian market only had one model, the Life, both standard and optional kit were sparse compared to many other vehicles on the road. At first, the Toyota Starlet Life came standard with steel wheels, radio with cassette player, and crank windows. Options included a sunroof, airbags, power steering, central locking, and anti-lock brakes.

When looking at the imports, however, all non-Australian Toyota Starlets could be found with a long list of standard and optional kit. For instance, the aforementioned GT version comes standard with slightly larger wheels and a CD player. Options on other models included alloy wheels, lowered suspensions, and colour-matched bumpers.

As for special editions, which are popular imports, models include the GT Turbo, GT Advance and Glanza S and V models. With lightweight, turbocharged engines and limited-slip differentials, these are exactly what a hot hatch is supposed to be. The Toyota Starlet Glanza V offered a 1.3-litre 98 kW turbocharged four cylinder engine that, according to the Toyota Factory brochure, was capable of going 0-100 km/h in just 8.3 seconds.

Toyota Starlet's Competition

The competition for the Toyota Starlet in their class is tough and includes the Holden Barina, Honda Civic, and VW Golf. With such great vehicles in this automotive segment, the competition is stiff, but the Starlet has something all other vehicles do not: it is a Toyota. With outstanding build quality at such a minimal price point, the Toyota Starlet could possibly be the best buy when it comes to purchasing a vehicle.

Finding a basic Australian model Toyota Starlet is as easy as doing basic searches for the car age you are comfortable with. However, when you factor in the ability to import one of the more sporty or special edition vehicles, the choices for your next Toyota Starlet are almost endless. From basic transportation with a 4-speed manual transmission and a 1.3-litre 4-cylinder engine to a model with more poke in its turbocharged, high performance 5-speed manual gearbox, the Starlet has a model for almost everyone on the road.

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