Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Nostalgic Subcomapct: A Brief History of the Toyota Echo and Yaris in North America
The Toyota Yaris is celebrating 15 years of sales in Europe. The car joined the "supermini" fray in 1999 and has been selling strong since. Toyota UK's blog site has a nice little write up on 15 years of Yaris sales on that side of the pond. But North America has had a Yaris nameplate since 2007. However, it's roots go back to the turn of the 21st century.
In 2000, North America got the Toyota Echo. This little thing, available in two- and four-door variants, was meant to appeal to youth. It didn't (at least in the U.S.) as is with the case of many other youth-targeted cars. Sales were fairly slow after its debut, but the cars ran forever and got great mileage. I remember driving one in 2001, and the interior, complete with center-mounted gauges, felt very spaceship like. In the Japanese market, it was called the Platz.
North American Echos were all powered by the 1.5-liter 1NZ-FE engine mated to either a four-speed auto or a five-speed manual transmission. This is the same engine and transmission combination that has powered every Yaris sold in North America. It's also the same engine/transmission combo that was found in the Scion xA and xB, as well as versions of the Toyota Prius.
For MY2004, Canada, which has a penchant for smaller cars than the U.S., ended up getting the Echo Hatchback. This was essentially a rebadged first-generation Yaris/Vitz. Arguably, it was more attractive than the Echo with a trunk. Actually, is that arguable? I'm pretty sure it's fact. I still wish I could obtain one here in the U.S.
The U.S. and Canada got its first actual Yaris-branded vehicle in 2007 (Mexico got it one year earlier). It was available as both a three- and five-door hatchback and a sedan, and represented an all-new look for the Yaris globally. FYI, the Yaris Sedan was known as the Vios or Belta in markets outside of North America and was marketed as a separate model. Your Yaris trivia for the day? The U.S. didn't get the five-door liftback model until 2009 and you could only get it with the automatic transmission (a manual appeared in select areas of the country in 2010).
In 2012, the Yaris/Vitz was redesigned again, though the previous cars's underpinnings remained nearly unchanged. It was (and is) offered as either a three- or five-door hatchback in both the U.S. and Canada (Mexico only gets the five-door). The sportier SE model appeared with quicker steering, revised suspension tuning, larger alloy wheels, and a different front fascia, among other goodies. The sedan, which did not get updated for 2012, was dropped in for MY2013 in the U.S. and Canada; the Mexican market still sells it.
One model North America never did see was the Yaris Verso. This was a smallish tall wagon based on the first-gen Yaris. Later versions were called the Ractis and based on the second-gen Yaris platform. Personally, I think Scion would've been smarter to replace the xB with a Ractis than go to the larger second-gen xB, but that's just my crazy talking. I also have a mild obsession with Japanese tall wagons.
I still love my '07, and will likely drive it for years to come. It gets great economy, has been reliable as rain, and still has an interesting aftermarket. Plus, with my modifications, I've made it handle like a go-kart and perform above average. And kudos to Toyota for not giving up on the subcompact market in the early 2000s—a time when many automakers culled their smallest cars from their lineup. And while the current Yaris isn't setting sales records, it's still a solid choice for a reliable, fuel-efficient car.