Yikes, I thought, admiring the “curves” of the car being delivered for evaluation. One thing’s for sure – the Etios hatchback is never going to win a beauty contest. It has more lines than a jumbo colouring book. Of course, it would appear that few of the Toyota faithful consider aesthetic beauty as the strongest determinant when buying a car (86 excluded, perhaps). And I doubt the Etios was designed to win any beauty contests anyway; as Toyota’s entry range, it's supposed to be middle-of-the-road inoffensive yet seductive enough to lure hordes of paying customers to Toyota dealers. TAZZ 2.0It’s a formula Toyota knows well, having previously rejigged the Conquest hatchback and badged it Tazz as the starter pack for a generation when it was sold between the late 1990's and early 2000's. It was a huge, rolling ad for the tenacity and low running costs of affordable products and a gaping hole was left in the Toyota line-up when the Tazz was culled in 2006. Enter the Etios (albeit six years later). As the latest in the new breed of warmed-over, entry-levels in the vein of the current VW Polo Vivo and Ford’s Figo hatch, the Etios rides on the previous Yaris platform but with new body panels, several cost-cutting bits and Indian production.All that has ensured it is now able to appeal to a more value-conscious buyer. For broader appeal it, like the Vivo, is available in hatch and notch body styles. And Toyota hopes it will make an impact in a price-sensitive segment where the fun-loving (but noticeably snugger) Aygo has so far failed. But more than being just an el cheapo bearing the coveted Toyota badge, the Etios (I had the use of a top-spec XS hatch) is rather entertaining. It doesn’t hold much, so its light body was effortlessly propelled by the feisty 66kW, 1.5 engine. The four-cylinder quad-valve is new, uses an aluminium block and, Toyota said, has been designed with South Africans in mind. It develops 66kW/132Nm and among its more refining features are hydraulic engine mounts (to reduce vibration at idle) and an electronical throttle for improved fuel efficiency. It was charming to note that the Etios was not too concerned about preserving its mechanical sensitivities. Part of the appeal was its hearty revving, accompanied by an eager little grumble, and a mashable five-speed manual shifter that somehow managed to find the correct slot every time. It has a wheelbase of 2460mm (the sedan’s is slightly longer at 2550mm) so there’s enough space in the cabin for a small family and enough space in the boot for said small family’s stuff (595 litres). And if there’s one thing the Etios does have, it’s comfortable seats. Toyota describes them as “bucket-type” – due to the head restraints – but they should hold up well on longer journeys. CHEAP AND CHEERFULThe driver is faced with an offset instrument cluster (a much-loathed feature on the earlier Yaris), atop a stylishly stacked console with elegant buttons and chunky controls for the aircon and stereo. The Etios might be billed as a budget-friendly addition to the local car parque but it certainly has enough kit: power-assisted steering with a steering tilt function and, for the top-spec XS units, remote-controlled central locking, four power windows and a rev counter. Safety features include anti-lock brakes, electronic brake pressure distribution and two front airbags. Toyota went to great lengths – including in the car’s launch campaign – to capture the Etios’ capacity to make South Africans smile, referring especially to the car styling and the upturned grille. I find that level of anthropomorphism slightly creepy but one Etios feature that did bring a smile to my face was the good old-fashioned manual stalks with which to adjust the external mirrors.The Etios’ cheekiness was quite infectious, too.The Etios is what it is: a low(er) cost family hatchback based on a previous-generation model. Through it all, this is a Toyota that continues to display the Japanese automaker’s signature robustness with a popular appeal that could extend to that previously enjoyed by the erstwhile Tazz. With prices starting at R115 800 (the XS hatchback is R120 900) the Etios was flung straight into the thick of the lower B-segment price fight. The Polo Vivo starts at R107 200 for the three-door 1.4 while the Figo starts at R118 670 for the 1.4 Ambiente, but the Etios' price seems a fair sum to pay for Toyota's trademark dependability.