New Car/Review

Toyota Echo

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

The Toyota Echo, Forget that it's only 10K, I love it.

by Larry Weitzman

Who says quickness and incredible fuel economy are mutually exclusive? Add in an under $10,000 price to the mix and you would say I must be smoking my socks after each use. Right? Not.

Toyota may be the company of "no limits" (sorry Sector Watch) considering their new product coming to market. First they hit the "Big Three" between the eyes with the slick new Toyota Tundra V-8. Then out rolls the new Avalon, which pushes the definition of "near luxury" into a new envelope. You think the Celica was all washed up, guess again as Toyota redesigns the model into the new razor sharp, hard edged Celica GT-S, with six speeds and a 180 hp at 7,600 rpm.

So what's an Echo? Certainly not a repeat of anything past. Classify it as the most car for the least amount of money Toyota ever built. It has the passenger volume of the Corolla (which now looks upscale) with a base price that starts at $9,995. With the five speed manual you can light up the tires all the way through first gear and scoot from 0-60 in less than 8 seconds. Have I got your attention yet?

The Echo was designed for the growing youth market and from the inside out. The body design has created some controversy, but the look kind of grows on you. Being only 163.2 inches long and 59.4 inches tall, it looks stubby. But the smooth, rounded, almost jelly bean shape literally cheats the wind with a drag coefficient of 0.29. Wheelbase is a longish 93.2 inches.

At first glance the Echo has a resemblance to the Prius, Toyota's hybrid car. The hood is very short, twice as wide as it is long. From the side the upslope of the hood almost maintains the same angle into the windshield. There is one ridge line that connects the entire car from the tail lights right through the headlight assembly. The rear deck is short and the deep rear hip adds to the trunk volume. It is different, but the car is about utility and after spending time with it, "different" turns into cute. The design is clever.

But it is the inside that is so amazing. Interior volume is listed at about 88 cubic feet. It feels much larger. Toyota created this space with the use of cab forward, high cabin architecture. Large windows with a dash that places the gauges in the center makes the cockpit feel airy and open.

There are no instruments directly in front of the driver, just a standard manual tilt steering wheel. In the center, is a pod which contains a large 120 mph speedo, a small fuel gauge to the right and a group of warning lights to the left (it would be the perfect space for a tach, of which there is none). Beneath the instrument pod are the optional AC controls ($925), and below the three rotary control knobs is the sound system. To the right is a cowl shape that is identical to the driver's. By rotating the instrument pod by 40 degrees to the right and placing the steering wheel on the right, you can see how easily this car could be made for those markets that require right hand drive.

The clever glove box is actually two boxes. Under the steering wheel is a storage shelf and there are two additional storage pockets to the left and right of the sound system. There is even a storage tray under the right front seat. This isn't a car, it's a mobile mini warehouse.

Toyota gave thought to ingress and egress. Big doors and low floor height make it easy. The front seats are outstanding. The foam densities selected are some of the best I have encountered. The seats have a soft, cushy feel. You sit high in the saddle, like a small SUV.

The rear seat area is huge. I had a 6' 3" fireman check them out. He had plenty of leg room and head room. Three people are actually reasonably comfortable and the seats are also soft and cushy, offering good thigh support.

With folding rear seat backs, the large 13.6 cubic foot trunk should be able to hold the entirely worldly possessions of an entering freshman going off to college. The fold down system works by simply lifting a knob on the top of seat back. Very simple.

Under the small hood are not two hamsters and a treadmill, but 108 very big horses. Echo is powered by a very sophisticated inline DOHC, 16 valve four cylinder engine with VVT-i (Toyota's brand of variable valve timing). Peak horse power arrives at 6,000 rpm. Maximum torque of 105 pounds comes on line at a relatively low 4,000 rpm. If you want a different engine, buy a different car. But why would any one forsake such a smooth little powerhouse?

When connected to a five speed manual cog swapper, you can light up the front tires all the way through first gear. 0-60 mph averaged only 7.93 seconds with several runs in the mid sevens. Passing is also a breeze with 50-70 mph taking only 4.88 seconds using second (which encounters the rev limiter at about 65 mph) and third gear. Using third gear alone will extend that time to 5.68 seconds.

Getting around a semi up a grade (50-70 mph) will require 8.25 seconds and using third gear alone will add at least a second to that time.

The four speed automatic, which I sampled briefly will require at least a second more time 0-60 and add a half second to a second to the passing times. My advise would be to stay with the manual for the extra performance, fun in shifting and fuel economy.

Speaking of fuel economy, the Echo averaged 36 mpg during my test period, with the rev limiter many times being used as shift points. This Echo is a kick to drive. No matter how hard you drive it, it still returns dividends in great fuel economy and lots of smiles. The Feds say 34 mpg city/41 mpg highway. You can buy gas like milk, by the quart or half gallon. Some larger displacement motorcycles don't get this kind of mileage, cost more money and try staying dry when it rains, warm when it's 30 degrees outside or cool when its 105 degrees. And how many airbags to motorcycles have. The Echo has two. Motorcycles, however, do offer a different kind of motoring fun and experience, I've owned a bunch.

Using the five speed was nearly as easy as an automatic. The clutch was light and progressive. The shifter was positive and smooth in its operation. There was never a problem is finding the correct gear and you could swap cogs as fast as the you could move the stick.

The chassis uses MacPherson struts up front with an antiroll bar and a torsion beam axle in the rear, with coil springs at each corner. Fairly conventional, but it works well. On Ponderosa Road the Echo did a masterful job at quelling the washboard and handled the two 90 degree corners easily.

Power steering is an option ($270) and not required. I drove both and found little difference. The power steering did not remove any feedback and may have enhanced the handling. I noticed more oversteer in the non power steering car than with the power steering unit. The turning circle is only 32.2 feet.

In the twisties of Green Valley and Latrobe Road, the little Echo became big fun. It is a blast in spirited driving. Anyone who thinks this is just another econobox probably thinks that a Ferrari is an opera singer. It doesn't have all the trick sophisticated suspension components of other more expensive cars, but there are only 2,030 pounds of mass to control, so it remains balanced, controllable and more important, safe and fun.

Wheels are 14 inch and the tires are all season 175/65 radials. Alloys are a $499 option, but this Echo may look even better with aftermarket 15 inch alloys wheels with slightly larger tires. But check with Toyota or Thompson's with respect to warranty and suitability.

Standard are two airbags, front and rear crumple zones, 5 mph front and rear bumpers, seat belt pretensioners and a host of other safety features.

Brakes are power assisted front ventilated disc and drum rear. My test vehicle had optional ($590) ABS, a feature that I highly recommend. Whoa power was strong and the stops were short and straight.

The best news is the price. A two door lists at $9,995 and a four door is only $300 more. I prefer the extra doors. My test car had several options, including upgrade package 1 ($1,020) which includes sports body kit moldings, power steering, intermittent wipers, 60/40 folding rear seat (one piece folding seat is standard) and more. Upgrade package 2 includes AC, am/fm stereo with CD and power door locks ($1465). The antilocks are $590. The all weather package is $275 and comes with a heavy duty battery, rear heater and rear window defogger. The rear spoiler is a $100 and floor mats are $64. The total with $455 destination was $14,264.

The four speed automatic will add an additional $800. If you want to go bare bones, the base car with just AC would do the job nicely and the total would be about $11,500 for a Toyota that with reasonable maintenance would probably last into the 22nd century. The standard am/fm stereo radio can blow you out of the car with its four speaker system (6X9 inch are standard under the rear deck).

Thompson's Toyota is getting new Echos almost daily. This is the biggest little car ever built and with it being a Toyota, the quality is everywhere. The Echo is simply a blast to drive. It was hard to give it up.

SPECIFICATIONS 

Price                           $9,995 to about $15,000

Engine                          DOHC, 16 valve with VVT-i
                                inline four cylinder
                                108 hp @ 6,000 rpm
                                105 lbs-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission                    Five speed manual
                                Four speed electronically 
                                controlled automatic

Configuration                   Transverse mounted front engine
                                front wheel drive

Dimensions:
Wheelbase                       93.3   inches
Length                          163.2  inches
Width                           65.4   inches
Height                          59.4   inches
Weight                          2,020-2,080  pounds 
Track (F/R)                     56.7/55.9  inches
Trunk Capacity                  13.6   cubic feet	
Fuel Capacity                   11.9   gallons
C/D                             0.29
Turning Circle                  32.6   feet

Performance:
five speed manual
0-60 mph                        7.93   seconds
50-70                           4.88   seconds
50-70 uphill                    8.25   seconds
Top Speed                       Pushing a 100 plus in fourth gear,
                                Fifth should be good for 115-120, but
                                it's certainly more comfortable at 70 mph.
Fuel Economy                    EPA 34 city/41 highway (manual),
                                31/38 mpg (automatic).  I averaged 36
                                mpg in very hard driving.  Expect 36-
                                38 mpg in El Dorado County and 40 mpg
                                plus on the highway.

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