Introduced for 2000, Toyota's unconventional-looking two- and four-door subcompact Echos rely on low prices to attract youthful buyers. Sales have been respectable, but well short of sensational.
The entry-level Echo slots below the automaker's better-known Corolla in both size and price. A substantial 2003 face-lift included redesigned front and rear fascias, bumpers, grille, trunk lid, quarter panels, headlights and taillights. The car's overall length grew by 1.6 inches. New standard 14-inch wheel covers were installed, and 15-inch tires on steel wheels were available. Little has changed for 2005.
The Echo's unconventional styling results in a unique appearance. 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. The chrome slat grille contains horizontal elements.
At 59.4 inches high, the front-wheel-drive Echo stands an inch taller than the Corolla. With an overall length of 164.6 inches, the Echo is shorter than the Corolla by 13.7 inches. The Echo's 93.3-inch wheelbase is also on the short side.
Even though the Echo is significantly shorter, it nearly matches the Corolla's 90-cubic-foot interior volume, which is a credit to its taller stance. In fact, 6-footers get ample headroom in the upright front seats.
The Echo's gauges are its most unusual feature. The instrument cluster sits atop the middle of the dashboard. Each gauge is angled toward � but not directly in front of � the driver. Toyota says this central location makes them easier to read, but it may take a little while for drivers to get used to the unusual position.
Bountiful storage space includes map pockets, three cupholders, twin glove boxes, a small shelf and two open in-dash bins. A deep trunk holds 13.6 cubic feet of cargo. An optional 60/40-split rear seatback folds flat without the need to remove the head restraints. An Upgrade Package includes power windows and locks. Power steering is optional.
Under the Hood
The Echo's 1.5-liter four-cylinder produces 108 horsepower and mates with a standard five-speed-manual or optional four-speed-automatic transmission.
Seat-mounted side-impact airbags, daytime running lights and antilock brakes are optional.
Despite modest engine output, acceleration is quite peppy, and the manual gearbox yields spirited performance. 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.
The Echo's roominess may be the greatest benefit for most buyers. This car is functional and well designed, and it makes clever use of relatively small interior space.
Toyota's reputation for reliability and attractive fuel economy help enhance the Echo's value. As for the central gauge cluster, some folks like it and others don't. The best bet is to try it out for a while before you decide to make a purchase.