The Sirion, the most powerful 1.3 litre on the SA market thanks to its 75 kW variable camshaft DOHC 16-valve engine, has a more macho look with a brawny chromed grille and new air intakes, plus new combination "teardrop" headlights.
However, it is the interior which impresses most, with a completely re-worked dashboard that is cleaner, more European, and most of all, more upmarket.
On top of all that extensive work has been done to improve NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) and the latest Sirion has much improved ride comfort levels as well as being a lot quieter.
At the launch of the car in Johannesburg yesterday (Thursday) I drove both manual and Steershift auto versions on a route that incorporated a lot of the patchwork-mended roads we find around our major cities these days - roads that are bumpy and taxing on a car's suspension.
And it was a revelation, the little Sirion absorbing the bumps with an ease usually the province of bigger and more expensive cars.
Technical boffin Cobus van Rensburg told me new, larger, rubber bushing in the suspension was the principle reason for the ride improvements, together with the adoption of Dunlop tyres. Better sound deadening materials finished off the job.
The softer rubbers do, however, change the handling characteristics slightly, the car showing an initial understeer it didn't have before and less sharp turn-in into tight corners. But nothing that the target market is likely to notice, or worry about.
Once set up for a corner, however, the car is neutral and extremely easy to control on the throttle - none of its sportiness has gone.
The interior changes include a new instrument panel design, new gauges, a brushed aluminium centre console, and new trim for the seats and new door inserts.
The new materials used for the interior afford the Sirion a more spacious, airy feel, while additional storage binnacles on the dashboard, and two glove boxes, one above the other, give more room for knicknacks.
The Sirion comes standard with air conditioner, power steering, central locking, electric windows, electric side mirrors, rear wiper and demister, cup holders and remote bootlid and fuel flap release.
There are ventilated disc brakes up front and self-adjusting drums in the rear, as well as ABS antilock braking coupled to Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD).
Safety features include dual airbags in front, side impact beams and crumple zones.
The one thing that hasn't changed, however, is the lusty 1 298cm3 4-cylinder engine that has long impressed us with its exceptional power delivery as well as superb economy.
Power output figure is 75 kW at 7 000 r/min and 120 Nm of torque at 4 400 r/min.
Adding to the exciting driving performance is the suspension setup that consists of McPherson struts with coil springs up front and trailing arms with torsion beam at the back. There are 14-inch wheels with 175/60 tyres.
Once again the Sirion is offered in 5-speed manual, as well as 4-speed automatic, with Steershift. Steershift allows the driver to change gears without taking his or her hands off the steering wheel and ensuring that focus remains on the road. With the press of buttons located on each side of the steering wheel the driver can gear up or down as desired - instantaneously, and very smoothly.
Service intervals are 15 000 km, with a 3 year/100 000 km warranty and 5-year anti-corrosion guarantee.
Prices: manual R119 995; automatic R129 995.
Associated Motor Holdings MD Manny de Canha said that although this represented an apparent 11% increase, Sirion prices had not moved at all this year while industry average hikes in the same period had been of the order of 18 to 20%.
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