- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2001

It used to be the kiss of death for a vehicle to be labeled a "chick car."
But this year, a new model is unabashedly flaunting its feminine style.
Even more remarkable, the 2001 Toyota Roxy Echo is targeting the youngest females, ages 18 to 32.
The limited-edition model began arriving at dealerships around Memorial Day, and 1,800 copies later will end near Labor Day. It dresses up Toyota's least-expensive car with fashion-touched accessories in partnership with a clothing company.
"This is the first time that Toyota has partnered and co-branded a vehicle," said Mark Amstock, national truck and Genesis marketing manager at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.
The partner is Quicksilver's Roxy division, which sells trendy T-shirts, surfer shorts, pants, shoes, you name it, to style-conscious teens and young women.
In keeping with Roxy's identity as a clothing brand dedicated to the extreme-sports lifestyle, the Roxy Echo comes with front and rear water-resistant, neoprenelike, two-tone seat covers so female surfers don't have to worry about their vehicle upholstery.
Floor mats wear the Roxy name, the car's front fenders have the Roxy logo, and the trunk contains a bright blue, Roxy logo-imprinted, wet-gear compartment that keeps wet suits contained.
On the roof of each Roxy Echo is a Yakima roof rack with bright blue Roxy logo-imprinted surfboard pads, and in the glove compartment are directions for using the "strap thang" to affix a surfboard to the roof rack.
The Roxy Echo is offered in two exterior colors only white and silver.
The Roxy package, which sprang from a promotion that Toyota worked on with Seventeen magazine, also adds some usually optional equipment to the Echo — things like power steering, air conditioning, split, folding, rear seat backs and an AM-FM stereo with cassette and CD players.
Total price for the Roxy package option is $3,234. Since it's available only on the Echo's top model — the four-door with automatic transmission — the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination, for a Roxy Echo is $15,014.
One glance at the Roxy Echo and you know Roxy drivers are, well, different. As Amstock described them, they are young, active, outdoor-oriented young women.
The prominent roof rack that almost looks oversized on a small car like the Echo — as well as the waves of blue and white color bands undulating on the side sheet metal of this otherwise unassuming car — brought some stares during the test drive.
The Roxy Echo seat covers had a sort of slippery, sheeny feel as I slid onto them.
But most everything else is regular Echo equipment.
The instrument cluster is over to the center of the dashboard, below the windshield — just as it is on every other Echo. It still leaves a naked-looking, plastic spot on the dashboard right behind the steering wheel where drivers are conditioned to look for the speedometer.
The Roxy Echo has the same 108-horsepower, 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that's in all Echoes.
The Echo is one of the most fuel-thrifty cars sold in America, rated at 34 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpg on the highway for a two-door with manual transmission. The Roxy, a sedan with automatic transmission, isn't far behind at 32 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.
Still, the four-cylinder in the Echo can be raucous during heavy acceleration.
The test car's automatic transmission and torque of just 105 foot-pounds at 4,200 rpm, didn't make it speedy during highway merges and in passing maneuvers on two-lane roads.
But in city traffic, the Echo managed just fine.
Engine noise isn't the only noise in the Echo. I heard plenty of road noise, and the roof rack seemed to collect the wind, too.
Still, the deluxe stereo was strong, and cranked-up tunes easily covered the other, unwanted sounds.
I enjoy the Echo's rather upright seat positions and tall ceiling, which contribute to surprisingly generous front-seat head- and legroom.
Three adults — even young, fit, athletic types — sit closely in the Roxy Echo back seat, though. Note that roll-down windows are standard.
Fit and finish on the test car were the usual Toyota high quality, and all the buttons and knobs were easy to reach.
But handling in this light, 2,100-pound car isn't as good as in some small-car competitors. The Echo's small, 14-inch tires seem to lose grip quickly, and there's considerable body sway during slalom maneuvers.
As for that kiss of death? Sean Cooley, who works on product development for the Echo at Toyota, responded it's a known fact that female buyers make up about 61 percent of the compact-car segment, where the Echo resides.
"Here's a great opportunity for us to focus on the core buyer with a vehicle that's relevant to them," he said.
Amstock said the Roxy effort is another of Toyota's attempts to get young people familiar with the brand.
Buyers are expected to be primarily Sunbelt residents familiar with the Roxy brand, he said.


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