2004 Toyota Echo hatchback LE 4-door
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Ranging in price from $12,995 to $17,300, the 2004 Toyota Echo hatchback is the cheapest Toyota you can buy, and the smallest – but it’s certainly not a cheap car, and it’s not particularly small on the inside either. Like the Echo sedan, the hatchback is a cleverly designed subcompact with a tall roof and elevated seating positions. The tall roof enabled Toyota to raise the seat height, giving all four passengers a rather upright seating position, and plenty of legroom, and headroom, even if you’re six feet tall. It’s surprising how much passenger room there is in an Echo hatchback, and this is one its most appealing traits. But be aware that the Echo hatchback seats four only – it has two rear seatbelts while the Echo sedan has three.

Echo hatchbacks are available with two doors or four doors – I’d recommend paying the extra $1,605 for the extra rear doors. It’s much less hassle for the front and rear passengers if the rear occupants can get in and out without having to trouble those in front. The rear doors are big, almost oversized for a small car like this, and entering the Echo from the front or rear is quite easy.

2004 Toyota Echo hatchback LE 4-door
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Trunk space is limited though. 7.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats is only enough for a couple of carry-on bags or a few bags of groceries. However, the standard split folding rear seats can more than double the cargo area – and allow the flexibility to put one rear passenger on one side while the other seat is folded down for carrying stuff. As well, the hatch door opening is quite large and it’s easy to load the cargo area.

One exterior feature that’s unique are replaceable inserts at the outer edges of the bumpers – they can be replaced if the bumper gets a ding in a parking lot. These are much cheaper to replace than the entire bumper.

Echo interior impressions


2004 Toyota Echo hatchback LE 4-door

2004 Toyota Echo hatchback LE 4-door
Click image to enlarge

The Echo’s unique interior includes a centrally-positioned instrument cluster which is angled towards the driver. It includes a speedometer, fuel gauge, and warning lights, but no tachometer. This central position provides a higher viewpoint and it’s easier to refocus your eyes on the instruments when looking away from the road, but you also have to turn your head slightly to view them. Without the instruments behind the steering wheel, the steering wheel is smaller and mounted lower down – making it less of a strain on the driver’s arms, and providing a clear view out the windshield. As well, there’s no chance the steering wheel rim will obscure the instruments, a common problem with conventional gauge clusters.

The Echo’s interior includes all kinds of storage bins and storage areas. Dual front centre console boxes, upper and lower gloveboxes, a compartment under the front seat, and door map pockets are standard, and there are also front and rear cupholders and a coinholder to the left of the steering wheel.

2004 Toyota Echo hatchback LE 4-door
Click image to enlarge

Its patterned seat fabric looks durable and attractive, and is matched by fabric door inserts but the overall quality of the dash plastics is just average. Manual window winders require surprisingly little effort to turn – why pay extra for power windows? My Echo hatchback LE test car included power door locks – unusually, the lock button is positioned behind the shift lever. There isn’t a remote unlocking feature.

The Echo hatchback includes driver and front passenger airbags, four three point seatbelts with pretensioners and force limiters on the front seatbelts, height-adjustable shoulder belt anchors, four height adjustable head restraints, child locks on the rear doors, and rear anchor points for child seats.


Performance

All Echos come with the same engine: a 108 horsepower 1.5 litre four cylinder. This engine is pretty sophisticated for an economy car. It includes variable valve timing, a feature rarely found in this price range, which improves low-speed and mid-range throttle response. The engine also has twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. A 5 speed manual transmission is standard, but for an extra $1,000 you can get a really good 4 speed automatic transmission.

2004 Toyota Echo hatchback LE 4-door

2004 Toyota Echo hatchback LE 4-door

2004 Toyota Echo hatchback LE 4-door

2004 Toyota Echo hatchback LE 4-door

2004 Toyota Echo hatchback LE 4-door
Click image to enlarge

Performance is quite peppy, mainly because the car weighs so little – its curb weight is under 1000 kilograms. You won’t find the Echo lacking for performance unless you have four 300 lb. football players in the car. The engine is a bit buzzy on acceleration, but it settles down to a quiet drone at highway speeds. My test car had the automatic transmission which I found responsive and quick-changing. It features an on/off overdrive button on the floor shift lever so you can manually drop down into third when approaching a steep hill, or leave it in third when climbing or descending a hill. It even has an “intelligent” feature where it drops down a gear when you brake to add an engine-braking effect.

Fuel consumption, or lack of it, is one of the Echo hatchback’s best features – who needs a hybrid when you can get up to 7.1 l/100 km (40 mpg) in the city and 5.5 l/100 km (51 mpg) on the highway?

As you’d expect in a small car with a short wheelbase, the Echo hatchback is easy to drive in the city and a breeze to park. The power steering has variable assist so that parking lot steering effort is easy while freeway effort is firmer – this is another very sophisticated feature for a basic economy car. Visibility is pretty good all around – you can’t even see the hood from the driver’s seat. The rear window wiper and washer is a valuable asset for keeping the rear window clean.

The Echo’s suspension (front MacPherson gas struts, coil springs and stabilizer bar/rear torsion beam and coil springs) offers a good balance between ride and handling. The Echo is comfortable enough to ride in all day, and handling is limited mainly by the Michelin MXV4 175/65R-14 inch all-season tires which proved adequate – I would have preferred meatier tires though. Standard brakes are front disc/rear drum with standard ABS, a worthwhile feature for assisting directional control in a panic braking situation.

Manufacturers suggested retail prices for the Echo hatchback are: 2 door CE Manual $12,995; CE Auto $13,995; LE Manual $13,965; and LE Auto $14,965. The base price of the 4 door LE Manual is $14,600; LE Auto $15,600; RS Manual $16,300, and RS Auto $17,300.


Safety and Reliability

Crash safety is always a concern in a small car, and while the hatchback hasn’t been tested yet, the Echo sedan received 4 out of 5 stars for driver and front passenger protection in a frontal collision, and 3 stars and 4 stars respectively for front and rear side impact protection in NHTSA crash tests. ( see http://www.nhtsa.com/NCAP/Cars/2003SubC.html ). Side airbags would be a benefit in a small car like this, but they are not offered. Because of its short rear-end, I would be mostly concerned about rear impacts for Echo hatchback passengers sitting in the rear seat. The hatchback has considerably less “crush zone” than the Echo sedan.

In terms of reliability, the Echo sedan has had only 3 recalls since its introduction in 2000, mostly to do with cold weather related problems (see http://www.tc.gc.ca/roadsafety/recalls/recall_e.asp?recno=9685& ) The Echo hatchback has had none so far.


Competitors

Two new subcompact, four-door hatchbacks on the market are the Chevy Aveo and Suzuki Swift+, both imports from GM Daewoo. Comparably equipped the Chevrolet Aveo LS hatchack is $17,135, and the Suzuki Swift+ S is $16,595. Buyers may also consider the four-door Kia Rio RX-V $17,250, and the two-door Hyundai Accent GSi $17,327. The Echo hatchback is priced about the same, and is likely to have a better resale value.


Verdict

A fuel-efficient, surprisingly roomy small car with Toyota’s reputation for reliability, the Echo hatchback with four doors is a good choice for couples or small families who want a trouble-free urban commuter.


Technical Data: 2004 Toyota Echo hatchback LE 4 door

Base price (2 door) $12,995
Base price (4 door) $14,600
Options $2,250 (automatic transmission $1,000; Air conditioning and rear bumper protector $1,250)
Freight $960
Price as tested $17,810
Type 4-door, 4 passenger subcompact hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.5 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves, variable valve timing
Horsepower 108 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 105 @ 4200 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Tires P175/65R-14 all season, compact spare tire
Curb weight 971 kg (2140 lb.)
Wheelbase 2370 mm (93.3 in.)
Length 3733 mm (147.0 in.)
Width 1660 mm (65.4 in.)
Height 1500 mm (59.1 in.)
Cargo area 205 litres (7.2 cu.ft.) behind rear seats
Fuel consumption City: 7.1 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

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