Toyota Echo Overview

toyota echo grillMechanically, Toyota's Echo is modern but ordinary, promising thrifty driving. Although its engine is no powerhouse, acceleration is almost brisk with manual shift. Automatic is generally smooth and responsive, though it may hesitate when asked to downshift at midrange speeds. Noise suppression is nothing special, and exhaust boom occurs near peak engine rpm. Still, the Echo feels substantial for such a lightweight. A tall, upright profile makes it feel different to drive. An Echo corners with good stability, but feels a tad tippy if pushed--aggravated by skinny tires. Front-end "plowing" sets in early. Close-quarters maneuverability is great, despite slightly dull steering action. Ride comfort beats the small-car norm, with a little jiggle on washboard-surfaced freeways. Even at moderate speed, the bluff-sided Echo reacts to stiff crosswinds. Minor tire-induced wander can occur on grooved surfaces.

The oddly proportioned and slightly cartoonish Toyota Echo economy car debuted just before the start of the new millennium. A successor to the Tercel and precursor to the Scion brand, the Echo was meant to bring younger U.S. buyers into the Toyota family via its low price and Toyota heritage. However, this was one Toyota that uncharacteristically failed to garner much success. Although the Toyota Echo offered an impressively roomy cabin thanks to its narrow and tall greenhouse and an economical 1.5-liter four-cylinder that propelled it with decent pep, the car's faults made it one of our editors' least favorite subcompacts. An unusual centralized gauge cluster was deemed poor in design, and once underway, the Echo's small tires and upright stance contributed to a "tippy" feel at highway speeds and excessive body roll when navigating tight corners.

toyota echo tail lightsNo doubt the Echo, being a Toyota, enjoys a reputation for higher than average reliability. And though we complained of poor value for the dollar -- mostly due to the Echo's low price resulting from Toyota charging extra for common Toyota Echo Accessories the Echo's slow depreciation has offset that somewhat. Still, anyone on a budget and shopping for a used economy car has better choices that offer greater overall performance and value. The Toyota Echo was launched in 2000 and ran through 2005. Sedan and coupe body styles were offered. All Echos were powered by a 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine capable of 108 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy was also impressive, with real-world mileage typically in the mid-30s, quite possibly the best of any non-hybrid, gas-powered car from this time period.

Those seriously considering the purchase of a used Toyota Echo should seek out a well-equipped model. They shouldn't cost much more and should make the car much easier to live with. Even though it's one of the roomiest subcompacts, the cabin is too narrow for an adult in the center rear position, but leg room is no problem, rear foot space is good, and all-around head room ranks as generous. Seats are comfortable, if rather flat, and occupants sit higher than usual. Rear-seat entry/exit isn't so easy in the 2 door. The high steering wheel is angled for a slightly minivanlike position. Visibility is commanding. Less likable is the gimmicky central gauge pod, which is angled toward the driver but may be too distant for some eyes. Cargo room is ample, but the short tail leaves little fore-aft length without the optional split folding rear seat. Interior materials are attractive, but have an "entry-level" look and feel.

toyota echo headlightsAt the time, Toyota kept the car's base price low by making most of its features optional. Standard equipment was very basic, including AM/FM four-speaker audio, a tilt steering wheel and 14-inch wheels. Optional was an all-weather package (including a heavy-duty battery and rear window defogger), antilock brakes, air-conditioning, side airbags, a CD player and keyless entry. Even power steering was an option, as were power windows and mirrors, a tachometer and a split-folding rear seat. In 2001, side airbags became available. The following year, Toyota began offering optional 15-inch wheels. The Echo also got a restyling in 2003. In the car's final years, Toyota made the Echo available by special order only, which caused sales to drop drastically.

Design-wise, the Toyota Echo's most impressive features were its spacious cabin and trunk. The tall greenhouse and narrow roof pillars offered unobstructed visibility and lots of headroom. Front seating was comfortable as long as the pronounced, upright feel didn't bother you, and rear seat legroom was just fine for two full-size adults. Interior materials on the Echo were about average for this class, though the cheap plastic pillar covers, hard steering wheel and foam headliner were subpar. Also, its center-mounted instruments took some getting used to. Thanks to a light curb weight, this was enough power to give the Echo decent acceleration.

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