With the Yaris being the Echo relacement, it keeps some of the stupid (IMHO) Echo cues. That of which is that awkward center-dash mounted speedometer, etc. Since the Echo wasn't selling like hotcakes, they needed some more quality and perhaps a little more size (not sure of the specs of the top of my head). I looked it over at the auto show, and I wasn't impressed. I'd rather have a Scion xA with the center cluster with more cargo room, and better economy. The auto show was so polar. On one end you have the mega trucks that get 2 gallons per mile and then the Insight, Pruis, etc. that sips the fuel. I guess the middle class is indeed shrinking.
quality? "Echo quality has been ranked tops among subcompacts in J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study."
scion advantage? the scion xA is based on the previous generation echo platform (not the new yaris p-form). if you compare the specs of a canadian market pre-06 echo 4dr hb to the xA, they're the same, physically (dimensions) & mechanically. (i realize you guys didn't get the previous gen echo HB. as for the sedan, aesthetically-speaking, i don't think the proportions work that well.)
center high-mounted instruments: i agree the dash feels awkward at first, but that's just because it's different, not because it's bad.
it requires less of a change in focal length to shift your view from the road to the instruments, which means you scan gauges quicker and easier. also, it keeps your vision aimed higher, which is safer. all good things, in my book.
i only drove one echo HB once (pre-06), but i liked it. if the blackfly gets swatted by a big flyswatter in the next couple of years, i'd seriously consider a used pre-06 echo HB. but i think toyota sucks for bringing out the new HB with worse FE than the previous version, and worse (or equal - it's debatable) FE than the corolla.
No worries -- that's what this is all about, a discourse on fact and opinion. Honestly, I just got back from vacation (in Canada) and needed to quickly play catch-up to the threads.
I don't have US statistics handy, but the Echo wasn't a big seller here (although I believe it is the basis for the Prius as well). We also didn't get the HB, but 5-doors are a tough sell in the 'States. It's also hard, as SVOboy mentioned, to get a stick-shift Toyota here: which is where the Corolla would really get the best mileage.
About J.D. Power. Their "power" (pun-intended) in my book has dwindled over the years. When you buy a car, the dealer tricks people into giving the survey all top marks, or you'll get a sales-person calling as to why it wasn't. "Initial Quality" isn't going to say much about the quality in 5 years. I trust Consumer Reports, which is an un-biased, non-profit organization that conducts its own tests, and continually follows-up on repair histories.
Center-dash mounted instruments are probably safer, I agree, but would take some getting used to, and IMO, unsightly.
I know the Yaris has been popular in Europe for quite some time, and I'm glad that a car with decent FE replaced the Echo. I just wish you could order it with a smaller, more fuel efficient engine.