Sometimes being different pays off in sales. And sometimes it doesnt. The final score has not yet been tallied for Toyotas newest entry-level sedan, which fits below the better-known Corolla in both size and price. So far, the ECHO has proven to be something less than a sensation.
Introduced in 2000 and unconventional in appearance, these two- and four-door subcompact sedans rely on a low price to attract youthful buyers. With close to 49,000 units going to customers during 2000, sales have been respectable but somewhat short of earthshaking. Nothing of consequence has changed for the 2002 model year.
Most modern automobiles give an impression of lowness, but the ECHO stands literally above the pack. Its unconventional styling results in a unique appearance, even if its 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 57.9 inches tall, the front-drive ECHO stands 4.2 inches higher than the Corolla. With an overall length of 163.2 inches, the ECHO trails its older sibling by nearly 11 inches. Its 93.3-inch wheelbase also is on the short side.
Though it is significantly shorter than the Corolla, the ECHO nearly matches the Corollas 88-cubic-foot interior volume, which is a credit to the taller stance. In fact, six-footers get ample headroom in upright front seats. They also should have adequate headroom and legroom in the backseat, but only two adults are likely to fit comfortably in the rear.
Gauges make up the most unusual feature. The instrument cluster sits atop the middle of the dashboard. None of the gauges are positioned ahead of the driver; rather, 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 and 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.
Engine output might be modest, but acceleration is quite peppy more so with the manual gearbox, which tends to be the case with most small cars. Although the ECHO feels a trifle more vulnerable to wind gusts than some vehicles, its easy to drive, and it handles in a competent manner. Ride comfort also is satisfying, though its not necessarily better than that of some competitors. A modest price, Toyotas reputation for reliability and its attractive fuel economy help to enhance the ECHOs value.
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, which results in practical advantages for both passengers and cargo. This car also draws attention from passers-by, not just because of its eccentric shape, but partially due to its limited numbers out on the road.
As for that central gauge cluster, some folks like it and others dont. Its best to try it a while before deciding.