Unusual but practical and functional design provides plenty of space
If only middle-aged men inhabited the world the Toyota Echo wouldn’t stand a chance.
Good thing for Toyota that women make up half of car buyers and are a significant influence on what vehicle the other half buys.
“Cute” was the word most often used by my female friends to describe Toyota’s unconventional entry-level vehicle, while men I know were more inclined to use less complimentary terms.
But one thing both men and women could agree on — there sure is a lot of space inside that little car.
While only 4145 mm (163.2 inches) long, the sub-compact Echo has the interior room of a compact sedan. Its tall profile and cab-forward design allow for a higher, more upright seating position while still providing plenty of headroom.
It also provides more leg room for rear-seat occupants. Even with the driver’s seat in its rear-most position, I was able to sit comfortably in the back, thanks to the upright position of the front seat back and generous foot room beneath the seat.
So great is the space beneath the front seats that the passenger seat also has a pull out drawer beneath it!
Space for people, for cargo and for all the little stuff — is just one area where the Echo excels. There are large door pockets, seat back pockets, a dual glove box with upper and lower levels, and storage compartments on either side of the audio and climate controls and beneath the steering wheel, in addition to the aforementioned under seat storage. There is also a small shelf with non-slip surface above the audio system, ideal for sun glasses or garage door opener.
And the trunk I’ve seen much bigger cars with smaller trunks than the Echo. At .385 m3 (13.6 cu. ft), the Echo’s trunk is huge by sub-compact standards, with plenty of space to carry the bigger things. A 60/40 split folding rear seat is standard on all Echos, allowing for even more cargo space when the need arises.
Echos are reasonably well equipped for an entry-level vehicle. Four speaker AM/FM cassette radio, trip odometer and driver and passenger vanity mirrors are standard on the base $13, 835 Echo 2 Door and $14,175 Echo 4 Door. Exterior features on the base models include 13″ wheel covers, rear window defogger, two-speed wipers with mist feature and dual foldable exterior mirrors.
Our tester, a 4 door model with 5-speed standard transmission, was equipped with a $665 option package that added Michelin 175/65R14 tires and 14″ wheel covers, CD player, body colour door handles and bumpers, intermittent wipers and manual remote mirrors.
A $1410 “Style Package” includes these options and ads fender flares, rear spoiler and bodyside cladding. An automatic transmission is available for $1000. Our test car was also equipped with air conditioning a $1230 option on all Echos. Equipped with the Style Package, automatic transmission and air conditioning, a 4 door Echo would cost $17, 815.
You have to sit in the Echo to believe what a great job Toyota’s designers have done with the interior space of this car. Toyota’s press materials say its low floor, high ceiling and raised seating position give it “the generous sensation of a larger automobile.” I’d say it’s more than a sensation. It really is big inside and it was an extremely comfortable car to sit in and drive.
The seats are firm and comfortable, visibility in all directions is excellent, and exit and entry was easy to both front and back. The quality of materials was also good for a vehicle in this price range.
The instrument cluster is mounted in an unusual position, on top and in the centre of the dash and angled toward the driver. While some reviewers have found this location disconcerting, it took me about 30 seconds to go beyond the novelty and realize that this is the most natural position for the instruments always within view. No one driving an Echo will ever leave their turn signals on. They are clearly visible without taking your eyes off the road.
One drawback to this arrangement no tachometer. It’s not just sports car drivers that like a tachometer. Some people prefer to shift by the tach rather than by the sound of the motor.
There is a reason for writing about the Echo’s great interior first I have to include myself in that group of middle-aged men who think the Echo is, well, not very attractive, to put it politely. The Echo’s design emphasis is on function at the expense of form, and this is a shame. The only way Toyota will sell these cars to traditional car buyers is to blindfold them and get them inside it and behind the wheel before they see it. Because once inside, you stop thinking about what it looks like outside.
And once on the road, it is a fine and even fun car to drive. The Echo is light just over 908 kg (2000 pounds). As a result, it doesn’t require a big motor to move it along and the car feels lively and responsive.
It has been engineered throughout to reduce weight. For example, the all-new 1.5 litre, double overhead cam, four cylinder engine uses an aluminum alloy cylinder block and head with a plastic composite intake manifold to reduce weight. It generates 108 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 105 ft./lbs. of torque at 4,200 rpm, providing an excellent power to weight ratio.
Not only does it have good performance, but excellent gas mileage as well. With no attempt to save fuel, we recorded a respectable 6.3 litres/100 km in combined city/highway driving.
While passing by the fuel pumps, an Echo owner can be proud not only to be using less of a non-renewable resource, but that the car they are driving pollutes less as well. The Echo meets Canadian standards for certification as a low-emission vehicle. Recycled materials are used for sound deadening and Thermo Plastic Olefin is used instead of PolyVinyl Chloride improving the recycleability of trim components.
While light, the Echo has numerous features to enhance safety and protect the occupants. According to Toyota, the body shell makes extensive use of high-strength sheet steel alloys and the paths of structural members have been straightened to optimize stiffness. The front side member, dash cross member, instrument panel support bar and pillar brace form a trapezoidal structure that effectively disperses impact energy from a front-end collision.
Similar structural reinforcements protect occupants in the event of a side-impact or roll-over, and occupant head impact protection has been designed to meet future Federal government vehicle safety requirements.
All passengers are protected by three-point seatbelts with pretentioners and force limiters, while Toyota’s next-generation de-powered airbags protect both driver and passenger. Well-positioned headrests are integrated into the front seats and are also provided for rear outboard passengers.
The Echo’s tall profile and light weight have some negative side effects. At highway speeds, with a good breeze blowing from front or side, the Echo tends to feel a bit wobbly and a strong gust will catch the driver’s attention quickly.
Even with the 14″ tires as equipped on the test car, it is easy to spin the tires on wet pavement in first gear, resulting in noticeable torque steer. A good set of snow tires would be recommended for this car for winter driving.
As well, we discovered that an open rear window at highway speed creates a deafening rhythmical vibration inside the cabin akin to sitting inside a drum while the drummer pounds the skins. A little work in the wind tunnel might resolve this problem.
On the positive side, Toyota has built a light weight vehicle that achieves great fuel economy without sacrificing performance. Not only is it inexpensive to buy, but operation costs over the long term will be low.
|Base price||(Echo 4 Door, Manual Transmission) $14,175|
|Price as tested||(Option Package – $665/air conditioning – $1,230) $16,070|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger subcompact sedan|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||1.5 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves, VVT-I|
|Horsepower||108 @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque||105 lbs-ft @ 4000 rpm|
|Transmission||5-speed manual (4-speed automatic – $1000)|
|Curb weight||(4 Door Manual) 928 kg (2045 lbs)|
|Wheelbase||2370 mm (93.3 in.)|
|Length||4145 mm (163.2 in.|
|Width||1660 mm (65.4 in.)|
|Height||1500 mm (59.1 in.)|
|Trunk space||.385 m3 (13.6 cu. ft)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 7.0 l/100 km (40 mpg)|
|Hwy: 5.5 l/100 km (51 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 years/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 years/100,000 km|