Did any of you think my review of the old-shape Suzuki Swift was overly harsh? My ruthless treatment was down to the fact I had previously spent some time behind the wheel of a comparable Toyota Starlet, and expected the Swift to at least match it.
The Starlet, you see, was the kind of no-frills transport I like. Going karting at an outside track, I had a chance to sample the Starlet on the open road, in similar conditions as the Swift later on. In fact, the guy with the Starlet even thinks my purchase of the Peugeot was all down to the Starlet’s excellence. Darty three-door boxes are addictive when they display the right amount of guts.
Here it is, in its metallic burgundy glory. Bought years ago to do second-car duty in the household of the same friend who threw me the keys to the Swift, it’s been beaten on for some years. According to him, it’s surprisingly fuel-inefficient, and likes a drink of oil. Still runs like a champ, though, and it still has that good old bare-bones Toyota spirit. I definitely prefer it to the 1999 Yaris. And the Ecotronic badge just refers to something they found marketable about the engine management system: this is a five-speed car, not a dronetronic.
218k on the clock, with no rev counter to assist. Grabbing the nice and thick steering wheel, I was quick to notice how much verve the 1.3-litre, 75 horsepower engine had. Of course, it’s not that much more than what the 67-hp Swift had, but the gearing wasn’t dialed in to work against it. And despite having some 150k more on the clock than the Suzuki had, the shifting action was a treat in comparison.
Somehow the Starlet was inherently beatable, hoonable, chuckable, tossable, revvable. It didn’t look like it, but running through the gears, giving it the gas it asked for, the Toyota played against its Ecotronic moniker and grandmotherly appearance and behaved like a warm hatch. The “Chic” tag slapped on the hatch sounds like a half-realized attempt at being in vogue, but underneath the burgundy front-end sheetmetal was a Nile Rodgers grade funk machine called 4E-FE.
Especially when you consider what accompanied us: a Seat Cordoba saloon, saddled with the naturally aspirated 1.9-litre SDI diesel engine making progress as slow as molasses.
This photo, by the way, shows you handily what Finnish amusement park-going people drive. Rows and rows of inoffensively-coloured diesel manual wagons. That 300C is an anomaly.
How did the karting go, then? Well, I wasn’t first. In a way, I’m inadvertently akin to Captain Slow: every time we’re karting I fail to grasp the laurels. But on these two stints we did, in the 270cc Honda engined Sodikart RT8:s, I could set consistently faster laptimes, getting under my self-set one minute magic mark time after time. And I wasn’t the last one either. Spinning, drifting on the Mika Salo Circuit asfalt, it was a total blast for the money. I’ll definitely make sure to get there again.
The fastest laps were set by the Starlet guy, at 54,7 seconds. Or it’s a bit unfair to call him Starlet Guy, since some time ago he daily-drove a 1989 Camaro and is dead set on purchasing a Firebird for the winter. F-bodies just tweak his buttons like nothing else does. He does like the Starlet, too. Who wouldn’t? In my case, what played into the Peugeot’s favor was the one grand price gap between the 205 and the nearest tidy Starlet.
[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]