Before my Echo Sportivo, I had owned a Toyota Starlet and found a chance to upgrade to a slightly newer car while keeping all the positives of the Starlet. These positives were Toyota build quality, fantastic fuel economy and nimbleness.
I had been browsing the web for a few months for an Echo Sportivo to be listed for sale that was well looked after, as they are quite rare and some are not well looked after. I was after the midlife update (MY03) model due to its tweaked styling cues and various changes inside when compared to the initial Echo Sportivo. Eventually I found my one with low kilometres and extremely well looked after.
I absolutely love the exterior styling with the body kit, rear fog lights and the grey on the front and rear bars. The spoiler is subtle but adds a lot to the design without being over the top. My only complaints for the exterior styling are that the antenna on the roof is too long, so you have to be careful entering some locations, and Toyota didn't bother with painted mirrors. Toyota Australia also decided not to sell them with the lowered suspension and 15-inch rims that overseas markets got in their RS/T-Sport models.
Interior-wise, the car is solid and basic, but because it is the top-of-the-line model it has some nice touches, such as interior chrome door handles, leather steering wheel and gearshift knob, and sports seats (I think they were designed by Recaro). Also, the entire black interior means that it hasn't exactly aged poorly when compared to other cars of the same era that have nasty grey plastic.
However, there is no 'soft touch' plastic to be seen inside, which would cause any modern car reviewer to cringe, but it just makes it more durable and easier to keep it looking good.
There are about one million places inside to store your phone and wallet, with many surprising locations such as storage underneath the passenger seat, split glovebox and two large cubby holes on either side of the head unit. I also recently discovered that the rear seats fold forwards to give more room in the back for moving goods, which would be handy if you needed to move bulky goods.
Something disappointing was that the Echo does not come with a clock inside, but I got a modern Kenwood touchscreen installed to bring it into the present day and it works fantastic with hands-free calling and Bluetooth. The rear seat slides forwards or backwards, with rear leg room ranging from enough room for two small adults, to not enough room for two-year-olds depending on whether you have the seat back or forward.
I am 6ft 2in and have no issues at all with space when driving, as there is plenty of head and leg room for the driver. Although this leads to a downside, which is that you sit quite high in the car and the seating position is anything but sporty.
I see a lot of people on the internet, who do not own an Echo, comment on the instrument cluster mounted in the middle of the dash and say that it would be difficult or hard to read. No, it's the complete opposite. I actually miss it when I drive other cars, as it has some sort of trickery to make it look like you're reading down a tunnel, and so your eyes do not need to adjust from long distance to near distance when going from checking the speed to looking at the road. It only took me 10 minutes to get used to the unique layout when I first drove the car.
The Echo Sportivo is sporty to drive. It will never win a race at the lights (if you're after a drag-race weapon look elsewhere), but the car is extremely zippy thanks to the 1.5-litre engine producing around 80kW that was only available in the Sportivo (also sedan models). I drive on highways to work and it has more than enough power at speed to make overtakes and cruise along without it feeling out of place.
Throttle response is reasonable and the clutch is light. The power steering makes parking a breeze, so it is a fantastic option for first-car buyers. The five-speed manual does the job well with precise shifts and I can't fault it. It also handles well through the corners and is a lot of fun, with it feeling fairly composed through twisty roads thanks to its light weight (900kg) and the upgraded firmer suspension that Toyota offered on the Sportivo. The ride is firmer compared to your average shopping car, but definitely not uncomfortable. I would best describe the car as a warm hatch that could easily be taken further if you require.
Fuel economy is terrific. I use 98-octane fuel and get around 550–600km out of a $55–$60 tank with highway driving. Fantastic!
I haven't encountered a single issue since owning the car and I don't expect to for a long time to come. The engine in my car is still for sale in the brand-new Toyota Yaris, which shows how solid and advanced the engine was back in 2004. Maintenance such as oil filters are cheap and the car is easy to work on.
The only things I wish Toyota had done, as mentioned, were to provide the overseas lowered suspension and rims we missed out on and a bit more of a sporty driving position. Everything else about the car is fantastic and I cannot fault it. I can see why the (base) Echo sold so well when new and Toyota did a fantastic job with them.
I definitely recommend this car to anybody wanting a sporty cheap and cheerful car.