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Souped-up: The Echo Sportivo gains a host of cosmetic add-ons to complement its extra performance.

Toyota aims to add youth appeal to the Echo with its new Sportivo variant

15 Mar 2001

TOYOTA aims to add sparkle to the brand and attract young, wealthy buyers with its new Sportivo variants of the Echo hatchback and Corolla.

Although the car-maker remains cagey about future products that will wear Sportivo badges, the newcomers are an indication of what is in store from the company's Conversions and Motorsport (T-CAM) division.

T-CAM has produced body kits and other components for the past four years, but the Sportivo twins are the first vehicles to gain a complete upgrade package bearing the division's stamp.

The Echo Sportivo scores a useful performance boost compared with its standard sibling, in addition to suspension upgrades and a host of cosmetic add-ons to complement the extra grunt.

Chief among the upgrades is a 1.5-litre VVTi engine that cranks out 80kW at 6000rpm and 145Nm at 4200rpm - 27 per cent more power and 19 per cent more torque than the 1.3-litre unit that powers the standard Echo.

Cost of entry to the Sportivo range starts at $19,990 for the three-door model, rising to $21,990 for the five-door variant.

Company officials suggest the Sportivo variants will add around 50 monthly sales to the Echo's volumes, which averaged just over 1000 sales per month last year.

Toyota Australia senior executive vice president John Conomos quashed suggestions the Echo Sportivo would adversely affect sales of the Daihatsu Sirion GTvi.

The question was posed as Toyota owns 51 per cent of Daihatsu and the brand is handled here by Toyota Australia.

"I don't see a conflict with the Sirion GTvi," Mr Conomos said. "The Echo Sportivo is in a different price segment anyway." Although the Echo Sportivo is available with the same mechanical specification in several world markets, the local version stands apart as it sports a body kit developed by T-CAM comprising different front and rear bumpers, mesh grille, front fog lamps, blacked-out headlamp surrounds, chrome tailpipe extension and 14-inch alloy wheels.

The added visual appeal of the Sportivo is expected to add 15 per cent to the Echo's buyers in the under-30 age group.

Other upgrades that will appeal to youthful buyers are sports front seats, four-speaker CD stereo, leather steering wheel, leather and chrome gearshift knob, carbon-fibre look switch plates, metallic scuff plates on the door sills.

Power steering, remote central locking, power front windows and power mirrors are also standard, but you will have to fork out an extra $1453 if you want air-conditioning. A safety pack that combines a passenger airbag and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution costs another $1220.

Toyota is at pains to point out the Sportivo models are covered by the same three-year/100,000km warranty that applies to the rest of its lineup.

Drive impressions: A brief drive of the Echo Sportivo at the car's launch revealed some worthwhile gains have been made over the standard model.

The shoehorning of the 1.5-litre engine under the bonnet is obviously the most noticeable improvement, endowing the funky hatchback with lively, if not neck-snapping, performance. Like the smaller 1.3-litre motor, the 1.5 engine is a free-revving unit that thrives on being worked hard.

It is well complemented by the slick-shifting five-speed gearbox.

The slightly stiffer suspension and chunkier rubber mean body roll is reduced and grip levels are higher. But the trade-off is ride quality that can get a bit harsh over some surfaces. There is also pronounced bump-thump when large corrugations are encountered.

Overall, the Echo Sportivo is an appealing package but it could not really be classified as a hot-hatch - warm-hatch would be more appropriate.

Although the pert hatchback does not face any direct opposition now, it will soon have to compete against the Holden Barina SRi and Astra three-door. That could be a stern challenge.

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