Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Toyota Echo Ownership Experience: Highway Cruising & Cabin Comfort: Not Bad, Not A Lexus

The Toyota Echo wouldn’t be my first choice of car for a highway cruiser. Here’s why: the short wheelbase and jaunty handling characteristics that accompany it are well-suited for urban treks, but they don’t fare as well on the long hauls.

First, the tall silhouette is very susceptible to being buffeted by crosswinds, and on a day with gusty winds in excess of 10 mph you’ll be fighting the wheel just to stay in your own lane. Also, the tiny tires (13” diameter) are a mighty big benefit when you’re at the parts shop picking out new rubber, but they sure are noisy on all but the freshest blacktop. That and the economy-class soundproofing in the cabin make for a noisy, fatiguing environment inside the cabin on long trips. Frankly, it’s hard to hold a conversation or listen to the radio at a comfortable volume in the Echo at highway speeds. A better use of the Echo is for bombing around town on errand runs or as your everyday commuter.

To add to the handling drawbacks, the interior amenities are very much lacking in the Echo. Pretty much everything besides the four wheels and a seat was optional. My Echo has an aftermarket CD player in it that has a clock, otherwise a dashboard clock was only available as an option. AC and rear window defrost? Options. Power steering? Option! I guess that’s why the base price was so low (just under $14 grand). In later model years they had power windows and power locks, ABS and keyless entry, but my Echo doesn’t have those things, and I don’t think they would make it any more comfy on long trips.

The lack of cruise control becomes more than a missing amenity as your trip length is extended. It turns into a serious problem. On one voyage I remember alternating between my left and right feet on the highway to keep my foot from cramping up. Honestly, when was the last time you drove with your foot for more than an hour at a time? My foot certainly isn’t up to that kind of challenge. Sure, there are aftermarket cruise control kits for the Echo, and a lot of drivers have them installed and never look back, but I am hesitant to put one in myself and I’m not going to pay someone to add that to the car. Plus, there’s some obvious safety risks to having an aftermarket device take control of the throttle. Lets just say that I can’t believe a car made for this millennia was missing cruise control.

So the Echo falls flat as a highway-conquering cruiser, and the cabin comfort is not so good. But for an economy car with a bottom line price tag, was anyone surprised? My advice is if you’re looking for a highway cruiser you need to look elsewhere unless you’re really ready for the quirks. But if you’re not going too far  the Toyota Echo just might be for you.

More In The Toyota Echo Ownership Series:
Toyota Echo Ownership Experience: Notes for Tall Drivers (or Why I Chose the Echo)
Toyota Echo Ownership Experience: Notes on MPG
Toyota Echo Ownership Experience: What is it like driving an Echo in the snow?
Toyota Echo Ownership Experience: True Cost to Own a Toyota Echo

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