The Toyota Echo enters 2005 with very few changes; the glaring omission of a tachometer on 2004 models is addressed, and an adjustable rear centre head restraint has been added.

The sedan still comes in one trim level; the Echo Hatchback, a model unavailable in the U.S., comes in two trim lines and in two- or four-door configuration. All share a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine.

In its base CE trim line, the two-door hatchback is one of three vehicles sharing Canada’s lowest MSRP (along with the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent). The funky little starter car includes manual steering, AM/FM/cassette with two speakers, front floor mats, 14-inch steel wheels, dual manual remote-control mirrors, and intermittent wipers. Surprisingly, ABS is standard even on this base model.

The two-door LE adds power steering, two more speakers, a rear washer/wiper and front and rear splash guards.

The four-door hatchback starts in LE trim and includes the features on the two-door LE, plus power door locks, four floor mats, and adjustable B-pillar shoulder belt anchors.

The RS adds aluminum alloy wheels, front sport seats, leather-wrapped wheel, rear spoiler and side skirts.

The single-line Echo sedan comes with 14-inch steel wheels, CD/MP3 player with four speakers, 60/40 folding rear seat, floor mats, dual manual remote-control mirrors and intermittent wipers. Although it’s standard equipment on all hatchback models, ABS is only available as an option on the sedan. Air conditioning and an automatic transmission can be added to all models.

Surprisingly practical for its size, the Echo provides unexpected headroom due to its tall stance, zippy performance with exceptional fuel economy, and a manual transmission that’s very smooth for its price. Downsides are handling that isn’t quite up to the engine’s performance (especially on sloppy winter roads, due to its tiny tires), very little cargo space in the hatchback, and its odd centre-mounted cluster. (Toyota claims it improves visibility; cynics are more inclined to say it’s because it makes building a right-hand-drive version that much cheaper.) Unlike such competitors as the Kia Rio, Chevrolet Aveo5 and Hyundai Accent5, which offer cramped seating for a fifth passenger, the Echo is strictly a four-seater in hatchback form (the sedan does offer room for three across the back).

Still, it’s a low price tag for Toyota’s legendary quality, which could explain why more over-40s are buying the car than the teenagers the company originally targeted with it. Should you be inclined to spend the extra money, TRD, Toyota’s factory racing division, offers all kinds of suspension and performance upgrades that can turn the hatchback into a fun little go-kart.

The Echo is built in Toyota City, Japan.

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