SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
The Tercel, the entry-level Toyota since 1980, was discontinued after the 1998 model year. Was Toyota abandoning the entry-level market? As it turns out, most emphatically not. The Tercel has been replaced by the ECHO, an all-new and very different car. Compared to the Tercel, the ECHO offers unique character, increased interior room, and, most surprisingly, a lower price.
The ECHO is more than just a new nameplate in the Toyota lineup. It's a new concept for a small, low-cost car. If the styling is unconventional, there is logic and purpose behind it. Despite the ECHO's subcompact-class length - close to that of the Tercel - it boasts compact-class interior space, nearly as much as is found in the larger and more expensive Corolla. And the high roofline makes it seem even roomier. The ECHO is aimed at young, first-time buyers - people who often live in crowded urban environments where parking is difficult. But the small outside / larger inside design can work anywhere. Need a second car but have limited parking?
Like the Tercel, the ECHO is offered in two-door and four- door sedan bodystyles, and uses a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The engine is an all-new powerplant bristling with the latest high- tech features. It makes more power than the Tercel's engine - 108 hp to 93 - with improved fuel economy and LEV emissions levels. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual and sophisticated four-speed automatic, not the three-speed more common in the low-price class.
I had the recent opportunity to sample both a two-door and four-door ECHO during consecutive weeks. The two-door had the five-speed; the four-door had the automatic. Both were comfortable, easy-to-park vehicles with plenty of useful space for their size and a minimal thirst for ever more expensive gas. Both were also pretty much fully-equipped, pushing the price up into the lower end of compact territory. Hey, comfort costs...but even at a lesser-equipped level, the ECHO has plenty of comfort and useful space. Toyota is serious about filling every automotive niche, and fills the (not so) basic transportation niche very well with the ECHO.
APPEARANCE: In a class noted mostly for un-notable styling, the ECHO stands out. It is unmistakable, with a generally rounded shape and a wedge-like profile emphasized by a sharp shoulder line. Like several other new European and Japanese designs, the ECHO gains space with height. It has an almost toylike appearance thanks to its high stance, large passenger cabin placed well forward, and short overhangs. Large, complexly-shaped headlights and an interestingly-shaped grille give it a distinctive face. Protective black plastic lower cladding is part of the "upgrade kit." Bolt-on hubcaps cover the pressed-steel wheels for a more upscale look.
COMFORT: The ECHO's high stance and large passenger cabin may look strange from the outside, but can be easily appreciated from the inside. There's an amazing amount of inside for such a small amount of outside, thanks in part to the upright, minivan-like seating positions. Headroom and legroom front and rear is better than in most compact and many midsized sedans. Three passengers are quite possible, if a bit cozy, in the rear seat. The high, roomy trunk and available split folding rear seat add convenience. The ECHO's interior styling is as unique as its exterior, and just as practical. The centrally-mounted instrument pod takes some getting used to, but increases direct forward vision. Large storage spaces flanking the central control module hold CDs, cassettes, and other items; a tray below the steering wheel is also quite useful. Manual windows and mirror adjustment are among the few clues to the ECHO's low-budget status, but such features are appreciated by some people because of their simplicity.
SAFETY: The ECHO's chassis is designed for safety. All seating positions have three-point safety belts, and antilock brakes are available.
ROADABILITY: The Echo is a class or two above its subcompact level in comfort and quiet on the road. Its MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension matches spring and shock rates well for a good ride quality. Cornering abilities are good for its class, although the high seating position does make body roll more noticeable.
PERFORMANCE: The Echo's light weight ensures that the 108 horsepower developed by its 1.5-liter engine is plenty for any job at hand. The newly-designed twincam, 16-valve four-cylinder uses Toyota's sophisticated "VVT-i" variable valve timing system for improved power delivery, better fuel economy, and lower emissions. With a minimal weight difference between the two- and four-door models, performance is virtually identical. As expected, the five-speed manual gearbox gives noticeably better acceleration and slightly better gas mileage than the four-speed automatic. But the automatic is smoother than the norm for the class, and has electronic control to prevent "hunting" between gears on hills. It works well in everyday driving, and is a fine choice.
CONCLUSIONS: Not only has Toyota has not abandoned entry- level small car buyers, it has given them a great new car with the ECHO.
SPECIFICATIONS 2000 Toyota ECHO 2-Door 4-Door (if different) Base Price $ 9,995 $ 11,095* Price As Tested $ 13,819 $ 14,964 * includes automatic transmission in base price Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve 4-cylinder with VVTi variable valve timing Engine Size 1.5 liters / 91 cu. in. Horsepower 108 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 105 @ 4200 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual 4-speed electronically- controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 93.4 in. / 163.3 in. Curb Weight 2020 lbs. 2080 lbs Pounds Per Horsepower 18.7 19.2 Fuel Capacity 11.9 gal. Fuel Requirement regular unleaded gasoline, 87 octane Tires P175/65 SR14 Bridgestone Potenza RE92 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / torsion beam Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 34 / 41 / 34 31 / 38 / 31 0 to 60 mph, sec 9.0 manual, 10.7 automatic OPTIONS AND CHARGES (both equipped same) All-weather guard package - includes: heavy-duty battery, rear heater, rear defogger $ 275 Antilock brakes with daytime running lights $ 590 Upgrade package #1 - includes: sports body kit, power steering, intermittent wipers, dual; remote outer mirrors, 60/40 split folding rear seat, digital clock $ 1,020 Upgrade package # 2 - includes: air conditioning, deluxe AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, power door locks $ 1,465 Carpet floor mats $ 64 Destination charge $ 455