2003 Toyota Echo sedan
2003 Toyota Echo sedan. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase; photos by Grant Yoxon

Sometimes you have to wonder about Toyota. For years, they’ve adhered to a strict function-over-form mantra, pumping out generation after generation of plain Corollas, Camrys and Tercels along with a few minivans and the oddball sports car.

But every once in a while, Toyota introduces something that seems to come from way out in left field. The Previa, Toyota’s first serious – and way-unconventional attempt at building a minivan, caused a lot of head-scratching as people took in its jellybean shape.

It looked like Toyota had gotten the weirdness out of its system in 1998 when the conventional-looking Sienna minivan was introduced. But then the year 2000 arrived, bringing with it a car whose styling looked like it could have been the result of a Y2K computer crash.

The Echo was introduced for the 2000 model year as the replacement for the subcompact Tercel, one of Toyota’s oldest and most respected nameplates. Indeed, the Tercel was for many years one of the best small cars money could buy, but Toyota felt it needed something new, something that would attract younger buyers and liven up the company’s stodgy image.

At least, that’s what Toyota had hoped the Echo, originally introduced as a two- or four-door sedan that was ungainly and awkward-looking in either configuration.

2003 Toyota Echo sedan

2003 Toyota Echo sedan
2003 Toyota Echo sedan. Click image to enlarge

Despite the weird styling and the oddball centre-mounted gauge cluster that houses only a speedometer and fuel gauge in early models, the Echo sold well initially. However, buyers weren’t the young people Toyota hoped the car would appeal to. Instead, Echos were being bought by the same demographic that had previously bought Tercels: people of all ages who wanted a basic, efficient and utterly reliable mode of transportation.

The demographic shift didn’t happen until 2004, when Toyota wisely began selling the two- and four-door hatchback versions of the Echo – previously sold in other markets under different names – here in Canada. Finally, there was an Echo that appealed to the young people, plus the hatchback version looked much better – although lopping the trunk off cut cargo space almost in half.

From the start, the Echo was an efficient and reliable little car that was also kind of fun to drive, thanks to a peppy 105 hp engine.

As is the case with many Toyota models, Consumer Reports has little to say about the Echo that isn’t positive. It’s no surprise that this little car is on the publication’s list of recommended used-car buys thanks to its excellent reliability. Transport Canada has issued four recalls for the Echo, three for 2000 models and one pertaining to 2001-2002 models. All deal with the brakes in some manner, so if purchasing an early Echo, make sure these recalls have been dealt with.

2004 Toyota Echo Hatchback

2004 Toyota Echo Hatchback

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

In these days of exorbitant gas prices, the Echo’s fuel economy numbers look mighty good to a lot of people. According to Natural Resources Canada, a manual transmission Echo will sip regular unleaded at a rate of less than 7 L/100 km in the city, consumption that puts many larger cars’ highway numbers to shame. Take an Echo out on the open road and expect it to use less than 5.5 L/100 km. Choose an Echo with an automatic transmission and consumption is a little higher, at just over 7 L/100 km in the city and about 5.5 L/100 km on the highway.

Despite its diminutive size, the Echo holds its own in the event of a collision. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Echo gets four stars apiece for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts, while earning three stars for front seat occupant protection and four stars for rear seat occupant protection in side impacts.

As with other Toyotas, used Echos hang onto their value longer than any other subcompact economy car. The Canadian Red Book values a 2000 Echo four-door at $6,525, or 46 per cent of its M.S.R.P. A 2004 four-door hatchback model, the most expensive in the line-up for that year at $14,600, is worth $11,975, or 82 per cent of the original price. If you want a cheaper subcompact, you have to look to something from Korea, such as a Hyundai Accent or a Kia Rio. As well, General Motors has been selling rebadged Daewoo Lanos’ as the little Chevrolet Aveo and Pontiac Wave since 2004. Any of those will be cheaper to purchase used than an Echo, but none of those three can match the Echo’s durability.

While any Echo represents a wise used-car choice, my pick would be a four-door hatch model. Sure, you sacrifice some cargo space compared to the sedan, but you still get the practicality of having four doors for people plus the stellar fuel economy and decent fun-to-drive factor that all Echos possess – and it looks far better.

Online resources

www.toyotanation.com – This Toronto-based website boasts 35,000 members. The forums feature a busy section dedicated to the Echo sedan and hatchback that has lots of helpful information on aftermarket modifications and repairs. This is one of the best Toyota websites out there, and registration is free. Threads started by Canadian members are even identified with a little maple leaf flag. How cool is that?


Transport Canada Recall Number 2004335; Units affected: 28,542

2000: On certain vehicles, the recess that retains the rubber seal ring, which is located at the end of the brake master cylinder body, may be corroded due to an improper washing process. In this condition, brake fluid may leak from the seal, or a small amount of air may enter the master cylinder, which could lead to an increase in stopping distance. Correction: After inspection, if a brake fluid leak from the master cylinder is detected or there is air in the master cylinder, the dealer will replace the master cylinder and the brake booster.

Transport Canada Recall Number 2001242; Units affected: 17,175

2000: Certain passenger vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission. Due to a unique combination of conditions, which consist of cold ambient temperatures, load applied from air conditioner and other electrical devices, and immediately after starting the engine, there is a possibility that the vacuum in the intake manifold could be insufficient for the brake booster. When the brake is applied under this combination of conditions, vacuum assist to the brakes would decrease, and the increased pedal pressure required could lead to an increase in vehicle stopping distance. Correction: dealers will replace the brake booster and front brake pads.

Transport Canada Recall Number 2001199; Units affected: 13,542

2000: On certain vehicles, when driven at highway speed in extremely low temperatures, without engine warm up, condensed moisture from a Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) port may seep toward the brake vacuum port inside the intake manifold and start to freeze. If accumulated ice plugs the port, vacuum assist to the brakes will be lost and the increased brake pedal pressure required could lead to an increase in stopping distance. Correction: Vacuum port will be repaired by removing the clearance at the top of the separator between the brake vacuum port and the PCV expansion room of the intake manifold.

Transport Canada Recall Number 2002179; Units affected: 27,351

2001-2002: On certain vehicles driven under repeated start and stop operation in extremely low ambient temperatures and in deep snow, there is a possibility that snow may accumulate in large quantities inside the rear wheel and freeze. Due to the shape of the rear brake tubes, the snow frozen inside the wheel may contact the rear brake tube during wheel rotation. In the worst case, if this condition occurs frequently, the rear brake tube could be damaged, which could result in leakage of brake fluid, causing a decrease in brake effectiveness. Correction: Dealers will replace the rear brake tubes.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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