2000 Toyota Echo
2000 Toyota Echo. Click image to enlarge

By Jeremy Cato

Toyota Canada is aiming to sell as many as 50,000 Echo subcompacts each year, now that the 2004 hatchback versions (three- and five-door) are available. If you want to know why they have a good chance of achieving that goal, take a look at the Buyer’s Alerts. The number of problems noted for used Echos, as indicated in the www.alldata.com-supplied technical service bulletins (TSBs), numbers a grand total of two. True, there have been three recalls, but two relate to similar (and I would argue minor) engineering issues and the third talks about snow build-up in Echo fenders.

No wonder Toyota’s Echo, Corolla and Prius – along with the Mitsubishi Lancer – were the top-rated small cars in the recent J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study. These affordable little cars don’t seem to break.

Naturally, then, Toyota Canada executives are high on the 2004 Echo hatchback models. You see, Canadians like hatchbacks much more than Americans. But Toyota in Canada has been forced to sell two sedan versions (two- and four-door) of the Echo since it arrived as a 2000 model. Stephen Beatty, a Toyota Canada vice-president thinks the new hatchbacks should double Echo sales per year.

Who’s to argue? With a starting price of $12,996, the three-door Echo hatch has an affordable sticker and the car looks cute, too.

But it’s quality that really sells buyers on Echos and other Toyotas. All sorts of research studies confirm that among all the world’s full-line manufactures, Toyota produces cars and trucks with the fewest problems. Period.

So if you’re looking at a used Echo, you can be confident that by many objective measures it will be reliable. I mean, one of the two TSBs talks about how Toyota improved the carpet in the cabin one year to the next. What you won’t find is news of transmission meltdowns. Just not there.

Of course, those considering a used Echo should know that prices have held up well over the years. And even though the quality is good, there are some quirky elements to the Echos of 2000-2003. These little grocery-getters are fairly noisy at highway speeds, too – and the seats need more padding for long hauls.

That said, budget-conscious entry car buyers have been happily buying Echos since the car arrived as a 2000 model to replace the old Tercel. Last year Toyota Canada sold about 24,000 Echos, so a determined buyers should be able to find a used model out there. Those buyers will find a roomy small car with “peppy” if not awe-inspiring performance.

And they’ll also find a car with amazing fuel economy. According to Transport Canada, the 108-horsepower Echo is one of the most fuel efficient car sold in this country: 6.6 city/5.1 hwy (litres/100 km), which in real dollars translates into annual fuel costs of just $794.

Now on styling Toyota officials have long conceded that the Echo was intended to look completely different. The idea was to appeal to twenty-something first-time buyers. They are the so-called “Echo Boomer” generation made up of children of Baby Boomers. Now you know where the car’s name came from. This tall, narrow, compact sedan, with a short nose and rear deck looks a bit like it’s been squeezed in a vice. It’s still comfortable inside, though. The high roof provides great headroom, and allows for an upright seating position, enhances visibility and makes entry and exit very easy.

Beyond roominess, the Echo has all sorts of smart little cabin touches. For instance, the over-and-under glove boxes are useful and different. Vertical slots flanking the centre-located climate and audio systems hold compact discs; map pockets in the doors carry your paperwork; and, an open bin under the steering column will tote all sorts of little odds and ends.

What makes less sense is the speedometer. It’s located in the centre of the dashboard and is not terribly user-friendly. The lack of a tachometer is an issue, too.

For safety, the Echo has always come with standard dual front air bags, but anti-lock braking hasn’t even been available as an option. Also less than outstanding are the Echo sedan’s road manners. The ride and handling engineers proved to be less inspired than the designers.

What no one will complain about is the Echo’s workmanship. Customer satisfaction surveys are clear on that. This is one well-built car.

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