2004 Toyota Echo RS Hatchback
2004 Toyota Echo RS Hatchback. Click image to enlarge.

by Grant Yoxon

Kingston, Ontario – The hatch is back. After a 14 year absence, Toyota Canada will once again give Canadians an entry-level hatchback. And unlike the slew of five door hatchbacks that have gone on sale in Canada in recent years, this is one isn’t premium priced.

Toyota stopped selling the Tercel hatchback in 1990 after hatchbacks began to lose favour with the buying public south of the border. When the Echo replaced the Tercel in 1999, it came in one flavour only – a sedan.

Europe and Japan got the hatchback, the Yaris in Europe and the Vitz in Japan, but the US organization still didn’t want a hatch, and that left Toyota Canada without a hatchback in a market that still likes the extra door. The Yaris and Vitz were subsequently named 2000 Car of the Year in Europe and Japan.

Since 1999, a variety of small wagons and hatchbacks – depending on how you define a hatch or wagon – have been introduced with quite a bit of success including the Mazda Protege5, the Kia Rio RXV, Hyundai Elantra GT and Suzuki Aerio. Toyota’s own Matrix (and it’s sibling Pontiac Vibe) have done well, proving that, in Canada at least, a hatchback is not persona non grata.

While many of the new hatchs, with the exception of the Aerio, were up-market versions of less expensive sedan models, Toyota is taking the hatch down-market with a $12,995 three-door entry level version.

Better equipped three and five-door versions will also be available when the car goes on sale toward the end of July, and buyers will be able to personalize their vehicles to suit their taste in comfort, appearance and performance equipment.

RS with Borla exhaust, TRD suspension, 15-inch alloys
RS with Borla exhaust, TRD suspension, 15-inch alloys, B-pillar accent kit

RS engine compartment showing strut tower brace and cold air intake
RS engine compartment showing strut tower brace and cold air intake

2004 Toyota Echo LE Hatchback
Echo Hatchback LE

Echo Hatchback LE
Echo Hatchback LE with automatic transmission

Echo Hatchback LE
Echo Hatchback LE

Three-door Echo Hatchback LE
Three-door Echo Hatchback LE with TRD suspension, 15″ alloys, Borla exhaust

Three-door Echo Hatchback LE
Three-door LE also sports b-pillar accent kit, side vent visors and side skirts

2004 Toyota Echo RS Hatchback
RS model with 15″ alloys, automatic transmission

2004 Toyota Echo RS Hatchback
2004 Toyota Echo RS Hatchback
Click images to enlarge

Clearly, Toyota intends to reach a key group of buyers that has largely avoided Toyota products in recent years. Despite good sales – Toyota Canada has sold 85,000 Echo sedans since 1999 – the unusual Echo sub-compact didn’t cut it with the under-25 crowd and the 2-door version just didn’t appeal to anyone at all and has now been discontinued.

Toyota Canada hopes to rectify this situation with the Yaris-based Echo hatchback. Key differences between the Yaris/Vitz and the Echo Hatchback include the larger 108 horsepower, 1.5 litre 4-cylinder engine (the Yaris and Vitz have a 1.3 litre four), upgraded emission control system to meet Canadian regulations and structural changes to accommodate Canada’s more stringent bumper standards and child restraint requirements. The Echo Hatchback is a Canada-only model and will not be sold in the United States.

But the Canadian Echo Hatchback won’t lose any of the radical styling that made the Yaris and Vitz popular in Europe and Japan. Short and tall, with its wheels placed at the extreme corners, the Echo hatchback looks sporty even in base trim. The tall and bulbous Echo sedan is a radical design in its own right, but it lacks the styling many people, especially younger buyers, want in a car. A practical two or four door, with an incredible amount of passenger and luggage space considering its size, it tends to appeal more to people who place function ahead of form.

The new hatchback merges function and form. Priced at just $12,995 for the base model three-door CE – $1,130 less than the base Echo sedan – the new hatchback is certain to appeal to younger buyers, families looking for a good, cheap second car and used-car buyers who believe they just can’t afford a new car.

For $12,995, the base three-door Echo CE is base indeed – no power steering or central door locks – standard equipment on the base level sedan. However, ABS brakes which are not even optionally available on the sedan, are curiously standard equipment on all hatchbacks.

Buyers can add the comfort and convenience features they need – items like power steering and a rear window wiper in the three-door CE, air conditioning and cruise control on all models and even keyless entry on five-door versions – through option packages or they can order these items individually. If you want a five-door RS sport model with cruise control and keyless entry, but no air conditioning, you can do it.

Trim levels include the base three-door CE, three-door and five-door LE, which ads power steering and central door locks as standard equipment and the five-door RS sports package.

A $1,700 option over the $14,600 five-door LE, the RS includes aluminum alloy wheels, front sport seats, body colour rear spoiler and side skirts, RS grille badge and scuff plates and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob.

A lengthy list of accessories allows a high degree of customization. Buying a CE doesn’t mean you have to have basic sound. Even the base sound system – a two-speaker AM/FM/Cassette – is dealer installed. You can upgrade to four speakers, select a CD, CD and Cassette or CD and MP3 player and then add a Kicker sub-woofer for more robust sound quality.

Other comfort and convenience accessories include floor mats, cargo net, dash accent kit, seat covers and cargo liner. Exterior appearance items such as side skirts, rear spoiler, fog lamps, 15-inch alloy wheels, splash guards, B-Pillar accent kit, chrome exhaust tip, front mask, hood deflector and side vent visors can also be added.

There are upgrades for enthusiasts as well. A TRD suspension kit will add lowering springs, Tokiko shocks and a strut tower brace. A Borla exhaust system and cold air intake are also available. A turbocharger could be added later, but Toyota officials would not confirm this. Curiously, a tachometer is not available, even as an option.

The hatchback is a four-seater. The rear centre seating position now houses cup-holders. Rear seats fold flat expanding the nominal 7.24 cubic feet (.205 cubic metres) of cargo space into an enormous cargo hold. If this isn’t enough, a trailer hitch or roof rack with bike or ski adaptors can also be added.

Like the sedan, the hatchback’s diminutive size is deceptive. Inside is plenty of space for four adults who sit high with great visibility. The seats – both standard and sport – are wide and comfortable. And like the sedan, there are cubby holes and storage compartments everywhere.

Driving is typically Echo, although the TRD suspension system, if coupled with the right tires, does add an edge to handling. It is fun to drive, especially with the standard five-speed manual transmission, but one wouldn’t describe it as exciting.

But a turbocharger might fix that.

Facts: 2004 Echo Hatchback

Type Three- or five-door sub-compact hatchback
Base Price 3 Door  
CE Manual $12,995
CE Auto $13,995
LE Manual $13,965
LE Auto $14,965
Base Price 5 Door  
LE Manual $14,600
LE Auto $15,600
RS Manual $16,300
RS Auto $17,300
Engine 1.5-litre DOHC 16-valve with variable valve timing. Low Emissions Vehicle.
Horsepower 108 at 6,000 r.p.m.
Torque 105 pound-foot at 4,200 r.p.m.
Fuel consumption  
Manual 6.6/5.1 L/100 km (43/55 mpg)
Auto 7.1/5.5 L/100 km (40/51 mpg)

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