SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
Toyota's ECHO (yes, all caps is the official spelling) is Toyota's entry-level sedan, and, as such, is aimed at young people, most likely buying their first new car. A choicer of two- or four- door body styles broadens its appeal, but the fact that it is, after all, a sedan, not a trendy small SUV, could lessen its appeal to some potential customers. For them, Toyota has come up with the Roxy Special Edition of the four-door ECHO.
Next question - what is Roxy? A word association test for someone of my generation would probably come up with a classic name for a movie theater or nightclub, or a popular 1970s British art-rock band. The Roxy ECHO has brightly-colored graphics and what looks like a surfboard rack on the outside, with neoprene seat covers among the changes inside. Obviously this relates not at all to movies, nightclubs, or even rock music. It's named for a line of casual and beach clothing for teenage girls and young women, made by surfwear manufacturer and marketing partner Quiksilver.
The Roxy Special Edition adds special striping and badging, floor mats and water-resistant neoprene seat covers with the Roxy logo prominently displayed, and a Yakima surfboard roof rack to the two ECHO option packages, making for a very well-equipped small car. Like all ECHOs, it is a subcompact-outside, compact- inside car with a fuel-efficient 1.5-liter, 108-horsepower engine. Of course, youth is not an absolute necessity to enjoy an ECHO, nor is a surfboard. Anyone seeking an inexpensive, fuel- efficient, and roomy small car could be interested in an ECHO, as a commute-oriented second car or even as an only car. I'm not in the demographic, as the marketing people say, for the Roxy Edition, but I did find it interesting. If it is an example of extreme niche marketing, it just adds to the already impressive capabilities of the regular ECHO.
APPEARANCE: Form follows function. In the manner of some other new European and Japanese designs, the ECHO gains space with height. In any trim, it is unmistakable, with almost toylike proportions thanks to its high stance, large passenger cabin placed well forward, and short overhangs. It has a rounded shape, with a wedge-like profile emphasized by a sharp shoulder line. Large, complexly-shaped headlights and an interestingly-shaped grille give it a distinctive face. Bolt-on hubcaps cover the pressed-steel wheels for a more upscale look. The Roxy Edition adds a three-color wavy stripe on its sides and a Yakima surfboard rack with Roxy-badged padding to the Upgrade Package #1 fender and rocker panel extensions.
COMFORT: If the ECHO looks a trifle strange outside, its design makes complete sense from inside. The high roofline allows an upright seating position with a high hip point, much like a minivan or small SUV. The car floor height means no step-in trouble for short people, while the ceiling is high enough to clear taller people's heads. Legroom is also quite good. The centrally-mounted instrument pod is unusual, but it increases direct forward vision, reduces eyestrain because it is further away from the driver's eyes than usual (and, with the symmetrical instrument panel, allows left- or right-hand drive versions to be made easily). Large storage spaces flanking the central control module hold miscellaneous 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 robust simplicity. The Roxy Edition's neoprene seat covers are unusual, but actually make good sense. They aren't sticky on hot days like vinyl. Their stated purpose, besides fashion, is to allow occupants to get in while wearing wet swimwear without damaging upholstery, not a bad idea at all. And they should be just as resistant to spills and minor baby and pet incidents. The ECHO's trunk is surprisingly large, and is aided by a split folding rear seat. The Roxy Edition has a "wet-gear storage compartment," a removable neoprene tray that is as useful for grocery bags as it is for wet suits.
SAFETY: Standard safety equipment on the ECHO includes safety cage construction, dual front airbags, a head impact protection structure, and whiplash-lessening front seats.
ROADABILITY: The Echo is no bare-bones "econobox" on the road. It is quieter and smoother than the norm for the subcompact, or even low-cost compact class. 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: Light weight, just over a ton, is the ECHO's secret for zippy performance and excellent fuel economy. A sophisticated 1.5-liter dual overhead cam, 16-valve engine develops 108 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 105 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. Toyota's high-tech "VVT-i" variable valve timing system ensures a broad spread of useful power, great fuel economy, and very low emissions levels. The engine's power characteristics make the automatic transmission a good choice. It's an electronically- controlled four-speed, not the simple three-speed often found in low-budget cars, and it suits the ECHO's character well.
CONCLUSIONS: The Toyota ECHO combines interior space, frugal economy, and a distinctive look.
SPECIFICATIONS 2001 Toyota ECHO with Roxy Special Edition Package Base Price $ 11,325 Price As Tested $ 15,219 Engine Type dual; overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with VVT-i variable valve timing Engine Size 1.5 liters / 91 cu. in. Horsepower 108 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 105 @ 4200 rpm Transmission 4-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 93.3 in. / 163.2 in. Curb Weight 2105 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 19.5 Fuel Capacity 11.9 gal. Fuel Requirement regular unleaded gasoline, 87 octane Tires P175/65 SR14 Goodyear Integrity Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / torsion beam axle Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 31 / 38 / 33 0 to 60 mph 10.7 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Rear window defogger $ 205 Roxy Special Edition Package - includes: Upgrade package #1: sport fender and rocker panel extensions, power steering, intermittent wipers, dual remote manual outside mirrors, split folding rear seat, digital clock; Upgrade package #2: air conditioning, power door locks, 6-speaker AM/FM/CD audio; Roxy water-resistant custom seat covers, Roxy floor mats, Roxy Edition external graphics and badging, Roxy wet-gear storage compartment, Yakima roof rack $ 3,234 Destination charge $ 455