If you’re a local car guy and online often, you will hopefully have seen at least some mention of the Toyota Etios RSi. When the Facebook page was created and some images were shared it caused quite a stir, especially from Toyota fans. While most were happy about it, there were a few die-hard fans that were dead against the use of the RSi name stuck on to a Toyota Etios as they seemed to feel that it was sacrilege. These guys were upset that such a “lowly” model could be compared to the iconic cars of old from Toyota, but when you look at the reason the car was created as well as the new performance figures of the car, you’ll see that the car most definitely harks back to the original 1988 RSi. Back then, the RSi badge alluded to performance, and so when many saw the initial posts about the Etios RSi, they weren’t happy with the car only using a 1500cc engine, albeit with a turbocharger now in the mix and they were expecting something to take on the likes of the current GTi and Astra OPC. The original recipe for a hot hatch is good power in a lightweight body with a stiff chassis that allows for good handling dynamics at an affordable price point - and that was the inspiration for this car, to allow potential buyers the opportunity to purchase an affordable car with a great power-to-weight ratio that could be had brand new with finance and a comprehensive warranty.
The Etios RSi was never meant to compete with the current range of hot hatches out there, and it doesn’t pretend it can either. It actually has no real market competitors besides possibly the Suzuki Swift Sport, which was actually used as a benchmark for some of the RSi’s dynamics, in particular the handling. In the small A-B segment there’s nothing performance related at all, and while the standard Toyota Etios is nothing to write home about, it provided the perfect platform for the RSi project. A few key areas were identified as needing upgrades and so some intensive R&D took place and these areas were addressed. While the car features a turbo conversion, it was far from being as simple as bolting on a turbo, anyone could do that. In this case every change undertaken on the Etios has been done to compliment the overall package.
Before adding boost, attention was paid to the handling and the stopping power of the Etios, which is the right way to go about things. The entire suspension setup was simulated on a computer and after many tests were done, the required spring and damper rates, as well as the changes needed in the geometry itself were identified. The appropriate springs and dampers were sourced from local suppliers, and new lower ball joints were sourced to increase the lateral strength of the front control arms and to reduce strut friction. The braking system was also subject to this simulation, leading to the development of unique aviation-grade aluminium adaptor plates to accommodate the much larger 300mm front discs. To make sure there’s no brake fade, braided hoses and DOT 5.1 race-spec brake fluid was used. Making sure it all works properly, the OEM ABS system was recalibrated to work with the changes. If you slam the anchors in the Etios RSi at 80km/h, you better not be wearing glasses because they'll fly off your face and break the windscreen.
From there it was time to give the little car more power, but the main focus here was for the power to be reliable in line with the Toyota’s stellar reputation. The turbocharger conversion is of the bolt-on variety, meaning that the engine remains unopened and all of the original engine components are retained. The OEM enghine has a high compression ratio and so the Etios RSi uses minimal boost pressure, just 0.4 bar, but the results are brilliant. It’s actually possible to use 0.8 bar boost, but in the interest of reliability and safety it was dialed back. Attention was paid to all the relevant components to make sure the setup runs as cool as the OEM setup, and it does just that, if not better. This was proven in many different tests in many different locations, most noticeably at the hands of race driver Clint Weston around Midvaal Raceway; hot lap after hot lap saw temperatures remain nice and cool. Looking in the engine bay of this 1st Etios RSi you’ll see bare boost pipes and no engine cover or heat shield over the turbo, but this will change on the production version. It’s been left like this to show the workmanship of the conversion to prospective buyers and resellers. Buyers of the first 40 units can have the boost pipes in a few different colours, but once full production takes over they'll likely only be had in black to keep things uniform.
The stock Etios makes just 66kW and 132Nm of torque from the 1500cc 2NR-FE engine which is good for puttering around town, but this car is destined to be a performance model, and so the newfound power measures in at 110kW with 210Nm of torque – pretty much double. This sees the performance of the Etios increase dramatically. In stock form a 0-100km/h dash measures in at 11.3-seconds and the car runs on to a top speed of 165km/h. In this RSi version those figures have dropped to below 8-seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint and the top speed is over 200km/h, very impressive figures. When you take into account that the whole setup tips the scales at just 970kg, you can see that the old hot hatch recipe is most certainly in play, which makes for an awesomely fun drive. It’s not just the performance and braking that’s seen work, the interior now features full leather seating, a leather gear gator and gear knob and a leather bound steering wheel – all with prominent red stitching. An aftermarket double-DIN unit has replaced the OEM radio and the speakers have also been replaced with better quality components while extra sound deadening has been added to reduce ambient noise levels. Some items can be optioned differently on the production model with things like a combination of leather and cloth, different colour stitching and different audio components. The exterior sees bigger aftermarket wheels; some body add-ons in the form of splitters, a rear wing and a rear lower diffuser. The wing and diffuser are there for a purpose; they work to provide stability at high speed. The car is a few millimeters lower than stock thanks to the reworked suspension, but it looks a lot lower thanks to the bigger, chunkier wheels.
So you know all the details about this Toyota Etios RSi, besides the most important one - how it performs. Well, in all honesty, it's brilliant! Once inside and you have the seating set up, you slot the nice and notchy lever into 1st and as you release the smooth clutch you immediately notice the torque, and the more throttle you apply, the more it increases through the rev range and the gears. The car revs to just over 6 grand, and with the way the setup has been tuned, the power is felt all the way through to high revs with peak power coming up just about on the redline. There's no such thing as turbo lag, even if you shift up to an inappropriate gear and add throttle, the power builds up just as it would in a well-tuned normally aspirated setup. In fact, that's exactly what the Etios RSi feels like - a well-tuned, big capacity normally aspirated car. The stock Etios is geared for good fuel consumption and so the gears are quite long, or at least they feel long with the revs taking a while to get to the redline. In his RSi version, the extra power on tap makes the ratios feel just right, almost as if they were designed for this kind of increased power delivery.
I'm a huge fan of the Suzuki Swift Sport as many know, and so I was keen to see how the changes to the suspension would affect the handling of the previously wallowy Etios, and if they were enough to give it similar characteristics to the Swift Sport. I can repot that the changes do indeed completely change the way the Etios handles, the little Toyota feels like it's on proverbial rails. It's tight enough to be able to navigate sweeping and tight turns at more than double the speed that a stock Etios can manage, but it's also soft enough to handle local road conditions. Even corrugations on a crappy road in Edenvale saw the Etios RSi behave like a much more expensive car by soaking up the vibrations. If you want to give it 10/10ths the Etios RSi is more than willing to comply and if you're skilled enough to be able to force the car into a bit of a lift-off oversteer situation to make the rear step out, you can easily bring it back under control to make it look like you're a rally driver practicing on the streets - successfully.
As said, the Etios RSi wasn't created to compete with any of the current hot hatches, the car was created to give Toyota fans (and others) a performance option in the A-B segement, and at an affordable price coming in under R300k. Of course being able to use the RSi nameplate at the same time was an added bonus. While the Etios RSi isn't an official Toyota SA product, the car will be seen on dealership floors in the coming months. There are already loads of interested potential buyers and dealerships willing to stock the car, and with finance available and a comprehensive warranty, the future of this little firecracker looks very promising. To ensure production extends past the initial 40 units, head on over to the Facebook page set up for the car and show your support. Of course you can also go bitch about the use of the RSi badge as some already have, but quite a few of these guys have changed their mind about this after test driving the car. Yeah, it's an iconic nameplate, but it's been long since retired and if the Etios RSi is a success, then there's a possibility that we'll see future homegrown models following suit. Would I spend R260k on a Toyota Etios RSi? That's a resounding yes, especially since the car lapped Zwartkops in 1:22 when a R435,000 Toyota 86 does it in 1:19...
Author: Chris Wall
A slightly tattooed motoring fanatic, photography nut and avid collector of knowledge. Use the search bar to navigate through the archives.