One of the cars that seems to consistently brings out the latent hater in everybody is the Toyota Echo. Why? Did I have to ask?
I was in Europe in 1999 when I first saw the (non-Echo) new Yaris, and at the time it managed to stand out quite positively among all the European competition in that crowded category (I’m speaking design-wise). Its wedge shape was effective in helping mask its tall overall stance, which was of course to improve passenger space. And it was something of a leader, in that regard, of a trend that has become increasingly wide-spread. It makes for great accommodations in a small car. But its always a challenge to make a tall small car look like it’s not tipping over or such.
But Toyota decided that Americans weren’t ready for little hatches yet (again), and punked us with the trunked Echo, also called the Toyota Platz in Japan. Some designs just don’t lend themselves to be changed like this. What looked sassy, now looked gassy. In the Yaris hatch, the rear wheels are so close to the rear of the car, without any overhang, it doesn’t matter that they look a bit small. In the Echo sedan, they suddenly look like roller-skate wheels.
The Yaris’ B pillar is a very critical part of the overall design, and really integrates it.
On the Echo two-door sedan, Toyota even went to the effort to black out the B pillar. And somehow, what works quite well enough in a bob-tailed hatchback design just didn’t at all with a big grafted-on trunk. It’s a problem many of Europe’s little hatchbacks struggled with when they had a similar trunk-ectomy.
It was a lost cause by then anyway. The Echo was a big disappointment, sales wise, in the US. It was a rare case of folks shunning Toyota’s reliability reputation, simply because the car looked so dorky. And yes, these cars are reliable. I should know, since I drive one, with a different body on a lengthened Yaris platform (Scion xB).
Obviously, Toyota learned its lesson, and the Yaris Mk2 came with both the hatch as well as the Yaris name. It still didn’t hasn’t set the sales stats on fire, but that might be for other reasons.
And the Mk 3 Yaris now only comes in hatchback form. Live and learn. Although Toyota still hasn’t quite learned how to make it be a class-leader instead of a class-follower.