Toyota Brazil’s first compact car line is changed in detail compared with the ‘designed-for-emerging-markets’ model line launched first in India in December 2010. The locally made Brazilian versions have better sound insulation, 15% more body stiffness and different interior trim materials, yet are otherwise much the same as the Indian originals.

One difference: a Brazil-specific one-litre (61 cu in) engine, which handicaps the newcomer here on price. It starts at BRL$30,000 (US$14,800) but is much less well equipped than its competitors and the higher IPI excise tax on engine sizes above 1-litre increases its price by 4% over rivals.

Some 45% of cars currently sold here have one-litre engines and, in the compact segment, the proportion is close to 60%.

Compared to its rivals here in Brazil, the Etios lacks exterior design flare and the interior disappoints – the mid-dashboard location of the instrument cluster makes it hard to read at a glance [Toyota abandoned this layout for the third-generation Yaris/Echo – ed] the asymmetrical centre air vents are badly placed and the wheel change jack is stored under the driver’s seat, even in the saloon, despite its huge 562-litre/19.84 cu ft boot. The hatchback’s (270-litre/9.53 cu ft) boot is only average for the segment, however.

However, generous cabin room, especially rear seat head and legroom, together with a near flat floor, partially redeems the Etios which, in sedan form, rivals Renault’s Logan, the Chevrolet Cobalt, the Mexican built Nissan Versa and Fiat’s Grand Siena here.

On the other hand, the optional 89bhp, all-alloy, DOHC, multivalve, 1,329cc/81.1 cu engine is peppy and quiet and the gearbox pleasantly matches it.

The hatchback with XLS trim can also be ordered with a 95bhp, 1,496cc/91.29 cu in engine for BRL$42,800 (US$21,000).

This larger-displacement engine is the only one available with the saloon bodystyle and it is even more pleasant to drive. But, priced from BRL$44,700/US$22,000, it is also more expensive than rivals.

The automaker expects all versions to achieve the top A rating in Brazil’s Inmetro fuel economy labelling programme.

Local engineers have again achieved the traditional Toyota Brazil ideal balance between ride firmness and comfort. The suspension efficiently absorbs the roughest local road surfaces while the cars feel solidly built and rattle- and squeak-free.

The emerging market specification shows up in cost cutting compromises like the single gas strut to hold the tailgate open and just one string for the parcel shelf that rises with it.

And [continuing a cost cutting trick Japanese automakers began using after the Asian financial crisis in the early 1990s – ed], the engine compartment is painted only in primer. There is no top shade band on the windscreen and no automatic transmission.

Despite these niggles, there is no reason Toyota Brazil should not reach its targeted 70,000 units a year – the brand has a strong enough reputation locally to ensure that ambition, modest like the car, is achieved.