Toyota Etios is making a name for itself
by breaking basic rules of car design

Hatchback and sedan have always been considered ugly, but managed to thrive anyway and were facelifted without any intention to change that (article originally written on February 4th)

If you ask people what qualities does an automobile absolutely need to be successful among press and public, you would certainly hear “design” from many of them, if not all. When you use the general definition of the word, design can make the car safer, more pleasant to use, and even more fuel-efficient. And when you use the popular definition, design can make the car attractive; people start to desire it, and then feel proud of owning it. Design can be the reason why people choose the model A over the B even if they are equally good at the other aspects - sometimes, it drives up the A’s sales even when the B is better at those other aspects.

Such benefits make it easy to understand why does everyone appreciate good design. In nowadays, the only models which still prosper without having design as a priority are those aimed at very rational consumer groups, such as commercial vans and low-cost compacts. Nevertheless, even those show some concern with the current trends; if following them makes production too expensive, companies opt for a neutral look. However, this rule is not free of exceptions. The latest of them to deserve attention is the compact family which Toyota initially designed in India in order to become more competitive in some emergent markets.

Labelling the Etios beautiful or ugly will always depend on each person’s preferences, but it is undeniable that its design lacks harmony. Some elements were poorly executed individually, but the biggest problem is that they do not agree with one another. This is the root of many of the problems with that regard people find on these cars. When you take a closer look, it is even possible to divide them into two big categories.

Some of the questionable cues are global. The front fascia features two horizonal elements, one made by

headlights and upper grille and the other by fog lights and lower grille, while the rear displays vertical lights.

The sides uses two creases, just like many cars. The thing is, the upper one is smooth but wide, which aids to a

bigger, more solid look, whereas the lower one is narrow and angular, and approaches the rear going upwards,

just like what Lexus uses to convey dynamism and sportiness. Last, but not least, opening the doors immediately takes your eyes to one of the most cluttered-looking central consoles of modern automobiles.

The remaining styllistic mishaps are more concerned with details. The upper grille is round and moves downwards like cartoonish smiles, and yet the headlights use a lower line which approaches the grille going upwards. The fog lights have no connection with any other part of the body. The chrome bar on the trunk lid which comes with upscale trims aims at a fancy look, but its shape and position just make it out of place. Last, but not least, placing the instrument cluster above the console makes it simpler to adapt the car to left and right-hand driving. But that also limits its height, so reading it becomes more difficult than in most cars.

Naturally, the Etios has not drawn many buyers due to its looks. That did not happen because of its techinical specifications either, because its low-cost orientation would not allow many innovations, but for all the rest. It is considered quite good at internal space, dynamic behavior, fuel consumption and equipment list considering its price, so it has become a great option for value-oriented customers. In fact, it has done so well that Toyota’s Brazilian branch has been able to move it upwards in the market, through the addition of comfort-related equipments (such as automatic transmission), new upscale trim levels, and visual accessories.

Such evolution has recently reached a new level through a mid-cycle refresh. The interesting part of it is that, while everyone expected the Etios to become attractive or, at least, closer to what is considered attractive, the new look follows its signature fashion. This time, some people might argue that it is always difficult to facelift entry-level cars due to cost limits, while others will defend that Toyota should have adressed such complaints on the model’s design. The fact is, however, that hatchback and sedan are now offering a renewed version of the set of qualities and flaws which have been characterizing them for four years as of now.

As usual, the biggest changes were made to the front fascia. Both grilles are new, but the upper one had

its design conditioned by the carried-over hood. The lower one resembles that of the latest Mercedes-AMGs,

although with a separate part on the center, and the fog lights lost somewhere on the corners. Parallel to that, there are spoilers on the sides and trunk lid, new wheels, and an updated rear bumper. The latter added two thick creases which draw attention to the license plate in a rather clumsy way. The new visual items debuted last year in Brazil and only in some trim levels, and now became standard. The cabin remained untouched.

Toyota’s decision of applying such sporty accessories is probably a last-minute attempt to make such a

rational automobile attract at least a little for its design. However, those who are only moved by numbers will

probably be pleased to know that the equipment lists are the same, as well as the mechanical specifications.

Besides, the list of trim levels has been retouched in order to better suit consumer demands.

At first, the Etios can be considered a market success, since it has achieved good sales despite of, apparently, ignoring what people consider attractive design. However, one needs to remember that the notions of attractive design change all the time. If this car keeps selling well after the facelift, Toyota will have found a new design trend to apply on its next generation. One exclusively based on not following design trends.