By Haney Louka
Photos by Grant Yoxon
Even though the Echo sedan set new standards for passenger space in a subcompact car market when it was introduced for 2000, I’ve never been a fan of its awkward styling. The awkwardness comes because the trunk was actually added to the overseas market Yaris hatchback’s body to become the Echo sedan for the North American market.
Now Toyota returns the Echo to its Yaris roots by offering both three- and five-door hatchback models for 2004. They’re funky rather than odd, and bring the already affordable price of the sedan even lower. The really cool part? The hatchback is available in Canada and not in the United States. For now, at least.
The Echo hatchback lineup starts at $12,995 with the three-door CE, undercutting the base Echo 4-door sedan by $1,085 (the 2-door Echo sedan is no longer offered). Standard equipment includes a five-speed manual transmission, anti-lock brakes, two-speaker cassette stereo, split-folding rear seat, dual vanity mirrors, carpeted cargo area, front and rear cup holders, 14-inch tires with full wheel covers, and body coloured bumpers and door handles. That last item may seem trivial, but consider that the base Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan ($37K) comes with black door handles unless buyers ante up for more upscale trim levels.
2004 Toyota Echo LE 3-door hatchback
Echo LE is available in both three- and five-door configurations ($13,965 and $14,600, respectively), and adds a 4-speaker stereo, rear wiper and power steering to the CE, plus power locks and rear floor mats on 5-door versions.
Those who are into options would be best served to invest in the RS model, available only as a five-door. $16,300 for this model includes front sport seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, alloy wheels, rear spoiler, and side skirts.
A four-speed automatic transmission is available as an option on all models.
Toyota is offering a slew of factory-backed performance and appearance accessories to appeal to the tuner crowd. These include larger alloy wheels, stereo options like an MP3 player and a subwoofer, interior accent kits, performance exhaust, sport pedals, and more.
My test example was a three-door CE model with CD player and air conditioning for a total as-tested price of $14,660.
Nuts & Bolts
All Echo models are powered by a double overhead cam four-banger that displaces 1.5 litres, producing 108 hp at 6,000 rpm and 105 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 revs. That may not seem like a lot of power, but keep in mind the curb weight of the Echo: a mere 944 kg (2081 lb.) Mated to a slick-shifting five-speed stick, power is transferred through the front wheels and 175/65-14 rubber to the road.
Brakes are of the front disc-rear drum variety, and as I noted, anti-lock is standard. Bravo! The front of the car is suspended by MacPherson struts with coil springs and a stabilizer bar. In back, a torsion beam axle and coil springs keep the rubber on the road.
Predictably, steering duties are managed by a rack-and-pinion arrangement, and power assist is standard on all hatch models except the CE.
Inside and Out
RS interior shown. Click image to enlarge
The hatch version of Toyota’s thrifty and practical Echo transforms the odd-looking econobox into a fun and funky people mover. Particularly distinctive are the extremely short hood, tall cabin, and vertical rear hatch. Similar to the Mini Cooper, the Echo’s body hardly extends beyond its rear tires. While it is fresh, though, it does manage to look humble in base form. The RS certainly scores higher in exterior coolness.
The Echo is just as distinctive inside as out. Typical of Echos since their introduction, the instrument pod is centrally located atop the dashboard. This, claims Toyota, allows the driver to scan vital information without looking away from the road. I’m not convinced that it’s the best place for the gauges, but within a couple of days I was accustomed to it and it was no longer an issue. But here’s an issue: where’s the tachometer?
The Echo seats four in surprising comfort. The front seats in particular are attractive looking and more supportive than anyone has a right to expect in a car at this price point. And comfort in back is impressive too, given the Echo’s minuscule exterior dimensions.
Cargo capacity, however, suffers when the rear seatbacks are up. The hatch volume measures just 204 litres; enough for a couple of duffel bags or maybe a golf bag. For the sake of comparison, the Mini Cooper manages to swallow just 150 litres of cargo behind its rear seat, but the more conventionally shaped Hyundai Accent will accommodate 479 litres of your stuff without folding the seats down.
The Driving Experience
The Echo proved to be a fun little runabout in both city and highway environments. I normally raise my expectations when evaluating a vehicle with a Toyota badge on the grille, and despite these high hopes the Little Echo that Could did not disappoint.
The engine is a smooth, refined piece that enjoys revving at the expense of some low-end grunt. That’s why the lack of a tachometer is particularly conspicuous in the Echo: noise and vibration are well controlled, making finding the perfect shift point a more difficult task.
The shifter is a slick mechanism that would embarrass the joysticks in many more expensive cars. And there’s simply no comparing its fluid action with anything else in the sub-$20K realm, save possibly the Honda Civic. Likewise the clutch: its travel is short and engagement surprisingly close to the floor, which makes for easy and fun driving once accustomed.
Steering response is much better than anticipated given the Echo’s skinny 65-series rubber, which speaks volumes about the engineering that went into the car.
And try to find another car in its class that would elicit as many nods of approval as my Echo tested did in its tenure with me – particularly from those who saw its rear end first.
Sure, the Echo’s tall, narrow physique gets tossed around a bit in cross winds, and it could make do with another 20 or so horsepower, but let’s keep things in perspective: this is a $15,000 car.
In the week I had the car, I spent almost nothing on gas. City and Highway fuel consumption ratings for the Echo hatch are 6.7 and 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres, respectively, putting it way ahead of competitors like the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio.
To Sum It Up
The Echo hatch is the car that allows Japan to reclaim its position at the head of the hatchback class, a title that was lost when the basic Civic hatchback left our showrooms in 2000. It’s a stylish, fun to drive runabout that wears an attractive price tag. And given Toyota’s reputation for resale and reliability, plus the excellent fuel economy ratings for the Echo, the cost of ownership is likely to please as well.
There aren’t many cars that sell for around $15,000 these days, so the list of competitors is short:
- Chevrolet Cavalier VL ($15,485)
- Dodge SX 2.0 ($14,995)
- Hyundai Accent GL ($13,795)
- Kia Rio S ($12,350)
- Pontiac Sunfire SL ($15,485)
- Chevrolet Aveo ($13,480)
- Suzuki Swift+ ($ NA)
Technical Data: 2004 Toyota Echo CE Hatchback
|Price as tested||$14,660 plus freight and taxes|
|Type||two-door, 4-passenger subcompact hatchback|
|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||5-speed manual standard|
|Tires||175/65-14 all season radials|
|Curb weight||944 kg (2077 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||2,370 mm (93.3 in.)|
|Length||3,733 mm (147.0 in.)|
|Width||1,660 mm (65.4 in.)|
|Height||1,500 mm (59.1 in.)|
|Cargo capacity (seats up)||204 litres (7.2 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 6.7 l/100 km (42 mpg)|
|Highway: 5.2 l/100 km (54 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km; Powertrain warranty 5 years/100,000 km|