The oddly proportioned and slightly cartoonish Toyota Echo economy car debuted just before the start of the new millennium. A successor to the Tercel and precursor to the Scion brand, the Echo was meant to bring younger U.S. buyers into the Toyota family via its low price and Toyota heritage.
However, this was one Toyota that uncharacteristically failed to garner much success. Although the Toyota Echo offered an impressively roomy cabin thanks to its narrow and tall greenhouse and an economical 1.5-liter four-cylinder that propelled it with decent pep, the car's faults made it one of our editors' least favorite subcompacts. An unusual centralized gauge cluster was deemed poor in design, and once underway, the Echo's small tires and upright stance contributed to a "tippy" feel at highway speeds and excessive body roll when navigating tight corners.
No doubt the Echo, being a Toyota, enjoys a reputation for higher than average reliability. And though we complained of poor value for the dollar -- mostly due to the Echo's low price resulting from Toyota charging extra for common conveniences -- the Echo's slow depreciation has offset that somewhat. Still, anyone on a budget and shopping for a used economy car has better choices that offer greater overall performance and value.
Most Recent Toyota Echo
The Toyota Echo was launched in 2000 and ran through 2005. Sedan and coupe body styles were offered. All Echos were powered by a 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine capable of 108 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque. Thanks to a light curb weight, this was enough power to give the Echo decent acceleration. Fuel economy was also impressive, with real-world mileage typically in the mid-30s, quite possibly the best of any non-hybrid, gas-powered car from this time period.
At the time, Toyota kept the car's base price low by making most of its features optional. Standard equipment was very basic, including AM/FM four-speaker audio, a tilt steering wheel and 14-inch wheels. Optional was an all-weather package (including a heavy-duty battery and rear window defogger), antilock brakes, air-conditioning, side airbags, a CD player and keyless entry. Even power steering was an option, as were power windows and mirrors, a tachometer and a split-folding rear seat. In 2001, side airbags became available. The following year, Toyota began offering optional 15-inch wheels. The Echo also got a restyling in 2003. In the car's final years, Toyota made the Echo available by special order only, which caused sales to drop drastically.
Design-wise, the Toyota Echo's most impressive features were its spacious cabin and trunk. The tall greenhouse and narrow roof pillars offered unobstructed visibility and lots of headroom. Front seating was comfortable as long as the pronounced, upright feel didn't bother you, and rear seat legroom was just fine for two full-size adults. Interior materials on the Echo were about average for this class, though the cheap plastic pillar covers, hard steering wheel and foam headliner were subpar. Also, its center-mounted instruments took some getting used to.
Those seriously considering the purchase of a used Toyota Echo should seek out a well-equipped model. They shouldn't cost much more and should make the car much easier to live with.