It may look like someone stepped on a Volkswagen Beetle, but the Toyota Echo is a groundbreaking car in many ways. First, it happens to be one of the first attempts by Toyota’s Genesis youth marketing group to attract new, younger buyers to Toyota. Second, it’s maybe the only economy car in the world that struts out tall-roof packaging, a lightweight steel structure and a small displacement, high output four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. To be sure, the Echo strays far from the status quo in the subcompact segment in the U.S.
Technology and Genesis influence aside, the real question is whether it’s a car worthy of your consideration. Despite all the technological and engineering fireworks it brings to the party, the Echo doesn’t light our sparklers.
Styllng is the Achilles heel of the Echo. By the time the Genesis group was formed in September of 1998, most of the Echo’s development had been completed, including the shape. But they were able to make some minor modifications, including jettisoning the wheel covers for new ones, and adding an overfender and ground-effects package that imparts a slightly less awkward look. Inside, the Genesis team tossed out the anemic audio system originally specified for the car and added an impressive six-speaker sound system with an available cassette/CD combination head unit.
Uncool on campus
Genesis influences notwithstanding, judging by the reactions we have heard, most still seem to think the car is rather unappealing. In fact, "dorky" is a word oft heard to describe the car’s aesthetics around college campuses and Internet chat rooms.
(To be fair, some also said they thought it was "cute," but we have also heard that word used to describe the now-defunct Ford Aspire as well as the Chevrolet Metro and Suzuki Swift, cars that won’t grace any Car of the Century list in this millennium.)