From 1973 to 1999, Toyota produced and marketed a subcompact or a B-segment supermini called the Starlet. It succeeded Toyota Publica but retained its P-code, thus, Starlet generations are coded as P40, P60, and up to P90 for the fifth generation. In some markets, it wore the nameplate Toyota Publica Starlet. These front-engined, rear-wheel-drive light vehicles are plain-looking but highly reliable modes of transport. Turbocharged versions were available from the third, fourth, and fifth generations as the EP71, EP82, and EP91, respectively.
After its long four-generation stint, only on the fifth did it make to Australia. After its retirement in 1999, the Vitz replaced it. In Australia, however, the Echo (a rebadged Vitz) succeeded it. This article will briefly touch on all generations of the Starlet and will be more detailed in the fifth and last generation.
First Generation; P40/50 (1973-1978)
The Publica Starlet P40 series launched in 1973 as front-engine rear-wheel-drive superminis with 993cc 2K inline-4 and 1,166cc 3K inline-4 petrol engines. Initially, only two-door coupes and three-door wagons rolled into the market, but the four-door sedans shortly joined in after six months. These Starlet variants competed with Nissan’s Datsun Cherry, Fiat 127, and Renault 5 in the European B-segment market.
Second Generation; P60 (1978–1984)
The late 1970s proved to be the best time for light cars, including the three-door and five-door Starlet hatchbacks, to enter the export market, especially Europe and the UK. The extended 3-door and five-door station wagons (called the ‘Van’) also found their market in Europe and Asia. Like the P40s, the P60 series were also front-engined and rear-wheel-drive.
The Starlets came with one of three inline-four petrol engines – 993cc KP60 2K, 1166cc KP62 3K, and 1,290cc KP61 4K. They were the first Toyota passenger vehicles to sport a rack-and-pinion steering. The hatchbacks utilized MacPherson struts on the front and four-link rear suspensions with coil springs, while leaf spring suspension served the vans.
Over the years, the 60 series have become rare because they were the popular choice as conversion materials for track and rally cars back in the day. A facelift in 1980 gave the Starlet square headlights, and another one in 1983 did it a ‘nose lift’ that slanted its front end.
Third Generation; P70 (1984–1989)
In 1984, the P70 series joined the majority of B-segment cars that now shifted to FWD drivetrains and still offered the three-door and five-door hatchbacks and only the three-door variant of the van.
Toyota replaced the K-series engines from the first two Starlet generations with 12-valve 1E and 2E inline-four engines, which were available in two capacities, 999cc (1E) and 1,295cc (2E). A turbocharged variant, 1,295cc 2E-TELU Turbo, was available for the Turbo S trim (EP71) and came with the TEMS active suspension technology. During this period, also, Toyota started producing Starlet in Indonesia. This series competed with Daihatsu Charade and Suzuki Swift/Cultus in the B market segment.
Fourth Generation; P80 (1989–1995)
The home market version of the 80 series utilized new twin-cam engines, while the export versions retained the third-generation 1E and 2E engines. Japanese and Indonesian-spec’d Starlets had bumper-mounted license plate placement, while those marketed elsewhere had theirs mounted on the centre panel of the hatch. This series continued the front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout but also made available the four-wheel-drive configuration.
P80’s range of models was market-dependent, with Japan getting the van, canvas-top version, Soleil, and sporty Turbo models while most markets got the 5-door models in the 1E and 2E engines. A turbocharged version GT Turbo (EP82) with 1,331cc 4E-FTE inline-four t/c engine was also released during this period. In 1990, the Starlet debuted in Europe at the Geneva Auto Show. In Switzerland, a sporty trim (1.3 Si) became available with sports seats, sunroof, rear spoiler, and a three-spoke steering wheel as standard.
Fifth Generation; P90 (1996–1999)
The P90 series, now exclusively three-door and five-door hatchbacks, is the only generation marketed in Australia. It shares the P90 platform with the Paseo, including most of the underpinnings. Left-hand-drive versions have the same dash design as the Tercel and Paseo, while the one on right-hand-drive Starlets is distinctly its own design.
This generation arrived in Europe as 1.3XLi models with the base called 1.3 Sportif and the higher trim called 1.3 CD. In the UK, the trim levels are 1.3 S base, 1.3 SR sporty, and 1.3 GLS loaded, while in France, these are the Base, GL, and GLS. High-level trims are 1.3 Crystal in Switzerland and SLi in Norway. However, whether they are called GLS, Crystal, or SLi, they come equipped with SRS airbags, tachometer, power windows (front), rear headrests, and body-colored bumpers, with optionable ABS and sunroof.
In Australia, this generation arrived in 1996 in three trim levels, namely, Life, Group X, and Style. Detailed below are the trim specs and the changes from 1996 through 1999:
- Life, Base – 3-door hatch; 1331cc 4E-FE inline-4 petrol engine (55 kW, 112 Nm); paired with either 3-speed auto or 5-speed manual; radio cassette with two speakers
- Group X, Sporty – 3-door hatch; 1331cc 4E-FE inline-4 petrol engine (55 kW, 112 Nm) paired with either 3-speed auto or 5-speed manual; radio cassette with four speakers
- Style, Luxury – 5-door hatch; 1331cc 4E-FE inline-4 petrol engine (55 kW, 112 Nm); paired with either 3-speed auto or 5-speed manual; radio cassette with four speakers, power steering
Toyota advertised fuel consumption as 6.2L/100km for combined driving. In the launching year in Australia, the Starlet suffered from low sales due to its high price tag initially. A minor price cut war ensued between Toyota Starlet and its competitors Hyundai Excel and Ford Festiva, after which sales improved.
The Life trim now included a five-door version, with all other features the same as in the first year.
The Life trims now are equipped with a driver's airbag. Toyota discontinued the Group X and Style variants although remaining stocks continued to sell. A new Max trim replaced the discontinued models. The new model sported the same powertrain as the Life model but has alloy wheels, CD player, and power steering added on top of the base offerings. On the other hand, the base Life model welcomed some updates, including the driver's airbag as mentioned and cloth trim, aside from the previous radio cassette with two speakers.
This generation also includes the turbocharged Starlet, Glanza V (EP91) with 1,331cc 4E-FTE, and a diesel-powered Starlet, but both these variants were not sold in Australia.
The Starlet finally bowed after the fifth generation, paving the way for the Toyota Echo in 1999.
If you’re selling a Starlet or looking for parts to repair it, check out Carpart.com.au for its current listing of auto replacement parts. It operates Australia-wide, so why not find out now if it has a seller from your location!