Why the Toyota Starlet Was Underrated

There’s a Japanese car that hasn’t seen the factory floor since 1999. Originally manufactured for the mass market, the Toyota Starlet quickly gained popularity with the race crowd.
Written by Kerry Gibson
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
A red 1990 Toyota Starlet driving down the street
It’s been over two decades since production ended for the Toyota Starlet, but its legacy lives on. Predecessor to the Yaris, the three-door hatchback was built as a small and affordable option for the automobile market.
Spanning five generations, the
Toyota
Starlet made its way stateside in 1981. However, it only made its mark on the race scene in the 1990s. Often overshadowed by competitors such as the Skyline, Impreza, NSX, and Evo, the Starlet GT Turbo was an underrated opponent.

A history of the Toyota Starlet

The Starlet was built to lead in fuel economy, which it did successfully, getting up to 57 mpg in 1983.
Hemmings
shares that the five-speed manual transmission was paired with a fuel-injected 1.3-liter inline-four engine. Buyers had the option of a gasoline or diesel-powered motor in the early years.
Sold in the local Japanese market since 1978, the Toyota Starlet became a JDM car a few years later when it was introduced to the international market. U.S. production began in 1984. It was an economical rear-wheel drive vehicle, weighing in around 1,650 lbs.
A high-performance model, the Turbo S, was released in 1986.
Autoevolution
relays that this is also when it made the switch to front-wheel drive.
The 1990s saw the introduction of mode selection with the Toyota Electronic Modulated Suspension, a feature usually found in luxury vehicles. The Toyota Starlet joined the race world with Recaro seats, ABS, and a rear strut bar. The improved 16-valve engine produced 133 hp. It competed in drag racing, slalom, and autocross events, winning the World Rally Championship’s A5 class before the model’s retirement came in 1999.
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The Toyota Starlet’s special secret

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The Toyota Starlet serves as a reminder to never judge a book by its cover. The small stature and economical price of this hatchback led many buyers to overlook its tuning potential. According to
HotCars
, the lightweight chassis and turbocharged engine made modifications easy.
Owners often borrowed engines and turbos from larger models like the Corolla. Power output of the Toyota Starlet was easily boosted with just a few bolt-on changes. With the right work, 200 hp is easily achievable.
Eliminating bulky equipment like the radio, air conditioning, and power steering can bring the weight down under 1,500 lbs. While the ride may be less comfortable, the car will travel from 0 to 60 mph in under eight seconds. An impressive feat indeed for a compact car built for the masses!

Insurance for your underrated vehicle

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Over 20 years ago, the Toyota Starlet was an economical option for car owners. Today,
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