2003 Toyota Echo sedan
Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Grant Yoxon

When the Toyota Echo went on sale in 2000, it was a common joke that anyone who sat inside the sub-compact would love it, but the only way they would ever get inside an Echo was if they were led blindfolded to the car.

While some simply wrote off the car as ugly, there were others who disagreed. I remember many, particularly women, who confessed they thought the Echo was cute. One thing is certain, no one viewed the Echo as just another car. Love it or hate it, it was and remains a distinctive vehicle.

Despite the controversy over its looks – and the odd placement of its gauges centred atop the dash – 85,000 Canadians liked it enough, or were persuaded by their practical nature to overlook their concerns about appearances, to drive one out of the dealership in its first three years of production. In a small market like Canada, 85,000 is a lot of cars.

2003 Toyota Echo sedan

2003 Toyota Echo sedan

2003 Toyota Echo sedan

2003 Toyota Echo sedan

2003 Toyota Echo sedan

2003 Toyota Echo sedan

2003 Toyota Echo sedan

2003 Toyota Echo sedan

2003 Toyota Echo sedan
Click image to enlarge

But Toyota was sensitive to feedback from the buying public about the Echo’s looks and, for the 2003 model year, revised the front and rear of the car. I had a chance to place the new Echo sedan beside a 2000 model for a close up comparison and, while the differences are obvious, I can’t say that the new look makes the Echo that much more appealing, although it is an improvement.

The changes are subtle: a new integrated bumper and grille, revised headlamp and tail light clusters, and a new trunk lid. The rear licence plate location has been moved from the bumper to the trunk lid. That’s about it. In between, the 2003 Echo is pretty much the same as it was in 2000.

One other notable change – the two door sedan did not sell well and has been discontinued. The 2004 Echo Hatchback, which went on sale recently, is available in both two and four door versions.

I would count myself amongst those who place practical considerations ahead of aesthetics, at least as far as the Echo is concerned. No, I didn’t and still don’t think the Echo is cute, but I do think it is one of the most efficient, well-thought out designs ever built. And with a base price of just $14,125, there is no doubt the Echo offers a tremendous amount of value for money.

Size can be deceiving. While just 4,180 mm (164.5 in.) long, the Echo sedan has plenty of interior space. It’s tall roof line allows for a more upright seating position, which provides ample leg room, without compromising head room. Same in the back – my feet fit easily under the front seats and my knees (I’m a long-legged six foot two) barely touched the front seats. Two adults can sit comfortably in the back, but the Echo’s narrow width means three would be a crowd.

The trunk is huge for such a small car – .385 cubic metres or about 13.6 cubic feet – and the rear seat splits 60/40 allowing for even more storage space. There are storage spaces and cubby holes everywhere – large door pockets, seat back pockets, a dual glove box with upper and lower levels, storage compartments on either side of the audio and climate controls and beneath the steering wheel, and a storage box underneath the front passenger seat.

Standard equipment on the base 2003 Echo sedan includes AM/FM/CD with four speakers, tilt steering, manual remote control mirrors, cloth covered bucket seats, P175/65R14 all-season radials and 5-speed manual transmission.

Our tester included automatic transmission ($1,000), the �4-door package’ ($645) that added P185/60R15 all-seasons, colour-keyed door handles and bumpers and power door locks, and a factory-installed appearance/accessory package with air conditioning, cruise control, body-side mouldings and front splash guards ($1,675) for a grand total of $17,445.

The Echo is fuel-efficient as well as space-efficient. Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption rating for the automatic-equipped Echo is 7.1 l/100 km (40 mpg) in city driving and 5.5 l/100 km (51 mpg) on the highway. Manual transmission cars use less fuel – 6.6 and 5.1 l/100 km (43/55 mpg) city/highway.

One good reason for the Echo’s low fuel consumption is weight. The Echo sedan with automatic transmission weighs just 950 kg (2095 lbs.). Powered by an all-aluminum 1.5 litre 4-cylinder engine that produces 108 hp at 6,000 rpm and 105 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm, the Echo has an excellent power to weight ratio.

Although performance is better with the manual transmission, our automatic-equipped tester performed well in around town driving with enough acceleration for freeway merging . Handling is nimble and parking, as you would expect, couldn’t be easier. You won’t win any stop light sprints with the Echo sedan, but it won’t leave you trailing the pack or straining to keep up either. The Echo’s power-assisted front disc and rear drum brakes bring the light-weight sedan quickly to a stop.

Light weight has a downside though. The tall-sided Echo is susceptible to strong cross winds and passing tractor trailers can be a bit unnerving.

But light weight does not mean the Echo gives up anything with respect to safety. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the 2003 Echo at four out of five stars for frontal impact for both driver and passenger, and three out of five stars for front seat passengers and four out of five stars for rear sear passengers in a side impact. The roll-over resistance rating is four out of five stars.

A four star rating means there is a 6-10% chance of serious injury; three stars means an 11-20% chance.

All passengers are protected by three-point seatbelts and the front belts are equipped with pre-tensioners and force limiters. De-powered airbags are provided for the driver and front passenger.


There are few competitors for this four-door sub-compact sedan. Chief among them would be the Hyundai Accent GL ($14,545 base price with automatic transmission), Kia Rio RS ($14,250 with auto) and Suzuki Aerio sedan ($16,795 with auto).


Cosmetically revised for 2003, the Toyota Echo provides excellent value and fuel economy in an entry-level sub-compact sedan.

Technical Data: 2003 Toyota Echo sedan

Base price $14,125
Options Automatic transmission ($1,000), 4-door package ($645), air conditioning, cruise control, body side mouldings, front splash guards ($1,675)
Price as tested $17,445 plus freight and taxes
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 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 105 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic (5-speed manual standard)
Tires P185/60R15 all season radials
Curb weight 950 kg (2095 lbs.)2,370 mm (93.3 in.)
Wheelbase 2,370 mm (93.3 in.)
Length 4,180 mm (164.5 in.)
Width 1,660 mm (65.4 in.)
Height 1,500 mm (59.1 in.)
Trunk space .385 cu. metres (13.6 cu. ft.)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Fuel consumption city: 7.1 l/100 km (40 mpg)
  Highway: 5.5 l/100 km (51 mpg)
Warranty 3 years/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 years/100,000 km

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