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The International Writers Magazine
: Car Buyer: Why the Yaris/Echo is the Beetle of the 21st century

Charles Dickinson

When our 1990 Miata topped 213,000 miles, more than one person, my close associate included, suggested we think new car. For me, car replacement is no impulse buy. Besides fourteen years with the Miata, our only other car, a BMW 1600, gave twenty years of service. I tend to think long-term.

In the years after we bought the Miata, however, the world changed. Global warming is fact. World petroleum reserves approach the half-spent point. Future demand threatens to dry up our dinosaur heritage ever faster. Gas prices make me think mpg as we did in the 70s. So, reasons for this next car had to be larger than any supposed mid-life crisis friends joked made the Miata right for my forties.

One obvious conserving choice was the Toyota Prius hybrid. But I wanted to drive Point A to Point B on less than $20,000 wheels--not only less gas. I wanted an Enough Car. Something minimalist, something egalitarian for a world citizen, something like a 1967 VW Beetle (which sold for a billboard price, I recall, of $1,645). That VW price is $9,328 in 2004 dollars.

I can now say with Internet access to information and six months' noodling, I found our Enough Car. The 2005 model in our garage is the first in the USA. The car's list price, based on our currency exchange transaction, was $9,912. Plus, this car is raced professionally in Europe - -it's a worthy successor to both a Miata and a BMW.

The car we personally imported is called the Toyota Echo Hatchback in Canada, the Vitz in Japan, and the Yaris pretty much everywhere else. Car of the Year for 2000 in Japan and Europe, it's a big seller. You can buy a Yaris in Greece, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sudan, Sweden, and Slovakia among other countries with Toyota dealers. But not here in the USA.

Toyota Motors Sales of America offers us, instead, three vehicles based on the Hatchback's 1.5 liter engine/transmission: the Echo Sedan (a longer, trunked version of the Hatchback), and Scions xA and xB (the latter are saddled with higher, less fuel-efficient final drive ratios to help with extra weight). In other words, all three somehow lack the "Enough Car-ness" I found irresistible in the original hatchback from Toyota's French design studio.

Month after month, I Googled(), committed to bringing an Enough Car south from Canada. Careful study of relevant Web pages convinced me importing would work. But the details? My sifting turned up a jewel: the e-mail address of an Echo Hatchback owner in the USA. That owner gave me contacts. The rest was trips north, wiring money, filing papers.

So what do we have? A four-passenger car, fully nine inches shorter than a Miata, with the "height car" design we saw in Japan several years ago. The interior is cavernous, compared to the Miata. Light--just over a ton--the Hatchback's weight/horsepower ratio is essentially the same as a 1990 Miata.

More importantly, gas mileage is rated by Canadian testers at 35/45 city/highway mpg (converted from Imperial gallons). Not quite hitting the lofty marks of the Toyota Prius hybrid (60/51 city/highway), but paying $10,000 less upfront helps buy many future miles.

In the spirit of an Enough Car, like the 1967 VW Beetle, our Echo Hatchback has wind-up windows, no power steering, and a manual transmission. (Although no 1967 Beetle ever had ABS, air bags, variable valve timing .... Lastly, with a gassho nod to our 60's yearning, we await our custom Oregon license plates: HEIWA. The word is Japanese for "peace."
© Charlie Dickinson
Oct 23rd 2004

Buy a new Toyota Echo in Canada here

PS: In Europe the new Yaris engines offer the best of both worlds, combining power with low fuel consumption.
An all-new 1.3-litre (86bhp) VVT-i engine has joined the Yaris range, alongside upgraded versions of the 1.0 and 1.5-litre VVT-i petrol units. All engines comply with the Euro IV emissions standards, due to come into force in 2005. But in the UK the new 86 bhp car costs $17,333 US on the road.! If you ever think you are hard done by in the USA look at UK prices for cars that you can buy for half price in the US. Ed

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