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Used Car Highlight: Toyota Echo

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On: Fri, Jan 24, 2014 at 10:44AM | By: Nick Bakewell

Used Car Highlight: Toyota Echo

Remember a while ago when I made a point of how lovely it is to own something basic and underpowered? A few months have passed, and having recently received a few solicitations for advice from prospective used-car buyers, I felt like sharing a car that’s recently come up on my radar. As a disclaimer: when I say basic, I mean it; we’re talking four-wheels-and-an-engine.

Allow me to introduce the Toyota Echo, baby brother of the Yaris. If you’re about my age (early 20s, thank you), I bet you’ve never heard of this car. Toyota conceived of the car as the “Platz” originally, which is the German word for “space”. They’re not wrong: for a subcompact, it’s surprisingly commodious on the inside. Mercifully, it was rebadged as the “Echo” for sale in the states, and sold as either a two or four door.

Running gear is fairly basic, with either a four-speed auto or a five-speed manual hooking an inline four-cylinder to the front wheels. The mill itself is fairly peppy, if a little droney at high speeds, and incredibly efficient, returning 35 combined MPG, which isn’t bad at all for a car engineered in the late 90s. I met a guy once who autocrossed one, and he absolutely adored it. It may have made just north of 100hp when it was new, but with a curb weight of barely 2,000lbs and a short wheelbase, it’s eminently chuckable. I realize that a car’s relative cornering ability doesn’t have much bearing on the average person’s decision to purchase, but my point is that it’s fun to drive, which is important.

Regarding the styling… well, let me frame it by saying that you won’t mind too much if someone dings it in the parking lot; it’s not a beautiful car. But at least it’s not ugly. The same goes for the interior: it’s as functional and basic as you might hope, although being a Toyota, everything just sort of works. There’s very little equipment, so there’s almost nothing to go wrong.

That, really, is the other main point that I want to make as a case for this car: dependability. Not strictly reliability, because that’s a boring, mechanical word, but dependability. Anyone who’s spent a few hours in the rain at the side of the road waiting for a tow truck knows what I mean. This is a car that you can live with, live in, abuse, drive across the country and back, through all conditions, and it will never fail you. It’s the sort of car that’s just basic and earnest, and you can own one secure in the knowledge that it won’t ever cost you thousands of dollars in repairs or leave you stranded hundreds of miles from home.

The car was manufactured from ’99-’05; consequently there are a fair number of used examples running around. Just from our own database, I found a few examples for around $5k, such as this one in Texas and this one in Florida. So if you or someone you know is in need of basic transportation and, like most sane people, disdains American public transportation, consider an Echo. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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