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Current Echo owners don't like us. There's a reason. We don't like the Echo.
Good gas mileage, speedy acceleration, roomy and functional interior, likely to be reliable.
Cartoonish styling, dopey gauge placement, lousy handling, deceptively low base pricing.
In an effort to better protect occupants of this lightweight economy car, Toyota makes side airbags optional for 2001. Brilliant Blue Pearl is a new color.
Despite what seems at first to be a pretty good deal, we think you'd be wise to shop around before settling on an Echo. But don't take our word for it; ask Car and Driver magazine. They called it a "big mistake."
Yes, it's a Toyota, so it'll probably run until your first gray hair sprouts (or you wind up in a pine box, if you already have gray hairs.) Yes, it gets great gas mileage, doubly important now that OPEC has figured out that Americans will pay higher gas prices before they give up their SUVs. Yes, it has a roomy interior with lots of cubbies to store your stuff. Yes, acceleration is impressive from the sophisticated 108-horsepower, VVTi motor.
But, when you cut through the marketing hype and peek behind Toyota's veneer of bulletproof reliability, what you find might not be pretty.
Neither is the Echo. Hey, styling is a subjective point, but take a good look at this thing. Do you really want people to think you've borrowed a prop from Disneyland's Toontown when you pull up to the curb? But it's cheap, you say. Advertisements brag about a low sticker price that starts under $10,000, but in reality, when you've got the car optioned in a manner that makes it suitable as a daily driver, the value of the Echo starts to evaporate.
Air conditioning, a rear defogger and a clock are all optional. Heck, even power steering is on the a la carte menu. Add these features and you're paying nearly $12,000 for a two-door. At this price, you're still rowing your own gears through gridlocked traffic. Pop for an automatic transmission and you're spending another $800. Now approaching $13,000, you still don't have antilock brakes or side impact airbags. Loaded up with every possible option, an Echo Sedan runs close to $15,000, and you're still rolling down your own windows and manually setting the sideview mirrors.
Beyond the dubious value equation, there is the issue of crashworthiness. Considering the fact that Echo's base curb weight is a feather-light 2,035 pounds, and the average SUV-driving soccer dad pilots a rig at least twice that mass, basic physics dictates that the Echo driver is putting herself at risk. Toyota maintains that Echo was engineered to provide crash and injury protection that matches the larger Camry, and internal company test data indicates their design goal was met. However, U.S. crash testing has not been conducted on the Echo at this writing, so we cannot determine through third party results if Toyota has been able to successfully refute Sir Issac Newton's second law. Until then, order the side airbags.
Echo does have a few redeeming qualities, but not enough to garner a recommendation from our staff. If you're into storage bins, there are big gaping ones in the dash. And the interior is almost as roomy as the more expensive Corolla, a car that we actually find to be a bit cramped. Finally, the sprightly 1.5-liter, twin-cam four-cylinder engine makes 108 horsepower, resulting in surprising acceleration times of 8.5 seconds in the dash from zero to 60.
But with skinny, low rolling resistance, 14-inch tires, a tall stance and center of gravity, and slab-sided bodywork, handling is not Echo's forte. Plus, crosswinds severely hamper the ability to stay in your own lane, and ABS is a costly $590 add-on that is inexplicably bundled with daytime running lights (evidently, Toyota feels buyers of Echos without ABS aren't interested in increased visibility to other drivers.)
Want to know what else you could buy with your hard-earned money? Let's see. How about a certified-used Honda Civic that's bigger inside, several hundred pounds heavier, and won't embarrass you when you meet potential in-laws? And there's the pre-owned Mazda Protege, a classy small car that resembles the upscale Audi A4. Heck, even many new economy cars could be better bets, like the award-winning Ford Focus, the refined Nissan Sentra, and the surprisingly entertaining, easily affordable and thoroughly warranteed Hyundai Elantra.
Ssssh! Hear that Echo? That's empty Toyota showrooms.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.