SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
The Echo has been marketed as a more fun and economical alternative to the stodgy standards Toyota has been spitting out for years. When I picked up the Echo for my week-long test drive, I knew nothing about the car other than it was one of Toyota's new attempts at grabbing the Generation X market. Being a proud member of this age bracket, I was really looking forward to taking this car through its paces. I was pleased that Toyota was finally designing a more affordable car, but like many, I have been disappointed in the past with cars fitting the mold of the Echo, so my expectations for this car were low. From the first look, however, I knew I was going to enjoy this car.
This car has taken the success of the Jetta and the new excitement over the Ford Focus and literally smooshed them together. The front resembles the Focus' headlights and slope, but is much more appealing because it is not as stretched out. The rear end is so similar to the Jetta that when I parked it next to my colleague's Volkswagen, the only difference we could see was the Toyota symbol on the trunk. Imitation is a form of flattery, though. The Jetta, I mean Echo, is a very stylish small car.
While the Echo's body styling is not unique, its interior by far makes up for it. When I first sat behind the wheel to adjust my mirrors and check my gauges, my immediate thought was that they forgot to put gauges in the car. Using my highly acute sensory powers I finally located them high above the radio in the middle of the dashboard. To my knowledge, this is the first vehicle to challenge the logical placement in front of the steering column. Toyota believes this location will reduce eye fatigue and reduce the amount of time needed to switch from watching the road to monitoring your speed. It takes a while to get used to the center console, but once you do, it is easy to buy into Toyota's reasoning. I believe we will see many more cars opting for this unique change. My only complaint is at night there is no illumination on the steering column and the driver's hands, leaving it much more difficult to remove the pickles from my cheeseburger and put the straw in my milkshake while I drive.
The Echo also has one of the largest interiors I have ever seen in an entry-level sedan. Finally a car company has realized that tall people do like to purchase economy cars and drive them without having to develop a hump! Toyota jokes on its website that this car earns its name from its cavernous interior, and I agree. Its roomy (roomy, roomy, roomy...) interior and comfortable gray flecked upholstery make this a terrific commuting vehicle. Five people can easily travel long distances in the two- or four-door models of this car.
The Echo also has 13.6 cubic feet of cargo volume and split rear folding seats to add to its spaciousness. We put this to use on a shopping spree and found the seats easy to fold. I thought the hole created between the seats and the trunks was a little narrow and had too much plastic surrounding the frame to accommodate larger items. It loses a lot of its potential capacity with this design, but this was one of the only disappointments I had with this car.
The best accessory to a roomy interior is plenty of storage room. The Echo is blessed with a unique compartment for each and every one of your necessary travel items. Both the passenger and driver's doors have long deep pockets, and each seat has a pocket on its back. The passenger's seat also has a pull-out tray beneath it, which is a perfect catch-all for commuters. My favorite storage feature on the Echo is the deep, oval-shaped pockets that bookend the stereo. Their unique design allows for storage of a lot of compact discs or cassettes, unlike most cars that only have room for one or two. Runner up in the storage class is the dual-level glove compartment. I love the deep bottom part that houses the owner's manual, and the smaller upper level is perfect for pens and other small items-even gloves!
Along with all of the above-mentioned storage space, other standard features include more comfort items such as tilt steering, AM/FM stereo and 4-way adjustable fabric front seats. Cosmetic items like color-keyed bumpers, color door handles, 14-inch wheels and wheel covers come with the basic package. The Echo also comes with dual air bags, seatbelt pretensioners, and front seat frames designed for comfort and safety.
Standard accessories on this vehicle are few, but the option packages allow for some serious upgrading. The first upgrade package adds power steering, intermittent wipers, remote mirror control, 60/40 folding rear seat, a digital clock, and a painted front bumper. Our car was equipped with the second option package that includes air conditioning, power door locks, and a 3-in-1 AM/FM/Cassette/CD audio system-all amenities I feel are well-worth the extra money. Two other features, which are also an option on this car, are daytime running lights and anti-lock brakes.
Most entry-level sedans drive like they have a rubberband under the hood and feel like they have the stability of a playing card on a windy mountain pass. The Echo, on the other hand, will surprise you with its power and sturdiness. I had the fortune of testing this car during one of the frequent winter storms in Pennsylvania and had little problem on the snow and ice. The manual transmission is easy to control and allows for flawless shifting.
To complement its stability, the Echo offers a powerful engine and a lightweight build, greatly increasing its gas mileage without additional noise or vibration like most entry-level sedans have. Toyota brags it will achieve an estimated 34/41 mpg with the manual transmission, which is not far off from the average we clocked during our week of driving. A newly designed 1.5-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engine powers this car and is efficient enough to earn the EPA's low-emission vehicle certification.
The total MSRP for the Echo's base models, including a $485 destination charge, ranges from $10,480 for the manual 2-door sedan to $11, 580 for the automatic 4-door. If you are planning on adding the option packages, you can expect to add a couple thousand more. The Echo is definitely one of the few entry-level sedans I would consider purchasing, because I think it lives up to its advertising. Generation Xers should be proud to be the reason this car was manufactured. I know I am.