Toyota Echo(2000)

EchoIt's hard not to like the new Echo, Toyota's odd-looking replacement for its smallest model, the now deceased Tercel. With a cars.com target price of $10,700, it's practical, economical, surprisingly roomy, probably durable... and even has a funky charm.

Driving Experience

The Echo has a little, 1.5 liter, four-cylinder engine, which is perfectly adequate, given that the whole car weighs barely 2,000 pounds. Our car had the standard five-speed; the optional four-speed automatic will probably slow things down a bit. The ride and handling were pleasant, but not remarkable. But, what do you expect for ten grand? The brakes are fine, and front wheel drive provides good traction.

Interior

What you see with the Echo is not what you get. On the outside, the Echo is a very tiny car... but on the inside, we found the Echo to be surprisingly spacious. The tall roof makes a huge difference inside, providing excellent headroom if you have a haircut like Don King, and also giving the car great visibility, thanks to the added height of the front and back windows.

The dashboard is somewhat blank looking, which took some getting used to. The instruments are in a pod stuck in the center of the dashboard--a clever move by Toyota, making it much simpler for them to manufacture the Echo for right hand drive countries. In the pod, there's a speedometer and a gas gauge. All other driver information is communicated through idiot lights (my brother's preferred method of communication).

The seats fall into the pleasant-but-not-remarkable category. And because this is such a tall car, it's very easy to get in and out of. You don't have to fold yourself into it, like you do with many "small" cars. You simply a) open the door and b) sit. The back seats, though, are another story, at least on the two door version we drove. Unless you're frequently mistaken for Calista Flockhart, we'd recommend getting the four door, which obviously makes access to the rear seats much easier.

The base model Echo has no power accessories. Want the window open? Here's the crank. Want the door locked? Here's the button, and from the outside, stick the key in and turn it. Even the clock is an option. But, Toyota did find a few pennies in the budget to add storage bins and cup holders all over the place. It's Honda-like in it's bin-proliferation.

Dual airbags are standard, and anti-lock brakes are available.

It took a bit more effort than you might expect to get the doors to latch successfully. There was also a clunk noise, when we shut the passenger side door-- an assembly line worker's missing Game Boy, perhaps? Otherwise, the fit and finish of the Echo were up to Toyota's usual high standards, meaning the only use for the warranty booklet will be as a shim for your dining room table.

Ergonomics

We found the controls to be refreshingly basic--it was nice to not have to read the owner's manual to figure out how to turn on the heat. Good old-fashioned dials control how much heat comes out of what locations. This is an area where cheap cars seem to have an advantage of expensive cars these days.

Styling

Toyota has succeeded at making the Echo stand out from the pack. The Echo is odd looking, and you'll either love the way it looks, or hate it. In that regard, it's not unlike the new Beetle or the Ford Focus. Whether you like the looks of it will correlate to how close you are to the first diaper-wearing stage of your life. We suspect the Echo will be popular among young drivers and first car owners.

Reliability

Like all Toyotas, we expect the Echo to be very reliable. Toyota has made 1.5 liter engines for years, and there's no reason why this one shouldn't be as reliable as all of Toyota's engines. We did find the engine to be a bit shoe-horned in to its compartment. As a result, some servicing might be a bit challenge. But, like most Toyotas, the design is well thought out. Even though it appears complicated, the Echo will probably be easy to work on.

Overall comments

There are not a lot of choices for new vehicles in the $10,000 range. There's Daewoo Lanos, the Hyundai Accent, the Chevrolet (formerly Geo) Metro and its twin, the Suzuki Swift--but not one of these can lay claim to Toyota's record of reliability and sterling resale value.

Along with the Ford Focus and the VW Beetle, Toyota has joined what we think is a positive trend: cars with high roof lines. Manufacturers have realized that a small car doesn't need to be a low, small car, and you shouldn't have to bend yourself in half to get into it. The Echo is a pleasant, well-put-together car that offers a modicum of personality for a relative pittance. A good cheap car with a little personality.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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