Introduced for the 2000 model year and unconventional in appearance, these two- and four-door subcompact cars rely on a low price to attract youthful buyers. Being different often pays off in the sales race, and sometimes it doesnt. The final score has not yet been tallied for Toyotas entry-level Echo, which slots below the better-known Corolla in both size and price. So far, sales have been respectable, but the Echo has proven to be something less than a sensation.
A substantial face-lift is evident on the 2003 models. Changes include a redesign of the front and rear fascias, bumpers, grille, trunk lid, front quarter panels, headlights and taillights. The new chrome slat grille contains horizontal elements. The Echos overall length has increased by 1.6 inches. New standard 14-inch wheel covers are installed, and 15-inch tires on steel wheels are available. The trunk lid now includes a liner. Fog lamps will be available later in the model year as a standalone option.
The Echos interior has new fabric patterns and colors. The available 60/40-split rear seat adds an armrest. A new optional Power Package includes power windows and door locks. A Chrome Package is available to brighten the interior.
Most modern automobiles give the impression of lowness, but the Echo stands above the pack. Its unconventional styling results in a unique appearance, which has been a bit controversial. A low, sloping hood rises to a tall, upright windshield. Viewed in profile, the sedan looks a little like a conventional small car that was somehow squeezed together at both ends.
At 59.4 inches tall, the front-wheel-drive Echo stands 2 inches higher than the Corolla, which was redesigned for the 2003 model year. With an overall length of 163.2 inches, the Echo trails its older sibling by 15 inches. The Echos 93.3-inch wheelbase is also on the short side.
The Echo is significantly shorter than the Corolla, but it nearly matches the Corollas 88-cubic-foot interior volume, which is a credit to the taller stance. In fact, passengers who are 6 feet tall get ample headroom in the upright front seats. They should also have adequate headroom and legroom in the backseat, but only two adults are likely to fit comfortably in the rear.
The Echos gauges make up the most unusual feature. The instrument cluster sits atop the middle of the dashboard. None of the gauges sit ahead of the driver; instead, they are angled toward but not directly in front of the driver. Toyota says this central location makes the gauges easier to read. Because they are farther away from their customary location, it may take a little while to get used to the unusual position.
Bountiful storage space includes map pockets on the front doors, three cupholders, twin glove boxes, a small shelf below the left dashboard and two open in-dash bins. A deep trunk holds 13.6 cubic feet of cargo. An optional split rear seatback folds flat without removing the headrests. Seatback releases are located in the middle, instead of on outboard positions, so both are easy to reach without stretching across the car.
Under the Hood
A 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with variable-valve technology produces 108 horsepower. The power plant mates with a standard five-speed-manual or optional four-speed-automatic transmission.
Antilock brakes are optional, and daytime running lights are standard. Side-impact airbags are not available.
The Echos engine output may be modest, but acceleration is quite peppy. The cars acceleration is more spirited with the manual gearbox, which tends to be the case in most small cars. The Echo feels a bit more vulnerable to wind gusts than some vehicles, but it handles in a competent manner and is easy to drive. Ride comfort is also satisfying, but its not necessarily better than that of some competitors.
Roominess may be the greatest benefit for most buyers. The Echo is rigorously functional and well designed, and it makes clever use of a relatively small interior space that has practical advantages for both passengers and cargo. This car draws attention from passers-by because of its eccentric shape and the limited number of models out on the road.
Toyotas reputation for reliability and its attractive fuel economy help to enhance the Echos value. As for the central gauge cluster, some folks like it and others dont. The best bet is to try it a while before you decide on purchasing this vehicle.