Scion xB – a cool crossover moves mainstream

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The personality of the Scion xB has been considerably altered in its second iteration now in showrooms.

While the original xB’s quirky persona made it a hit the new Scion xB, for better or worse, looks and acts more like a Toyota, less like a Scion.

For one thing, the 2008 edition is much larger than the original. It also has a great deal more horsepower and torque then its predecessor. That may be both good and bad.

The cool tiny box-on-wheels look has been softened. The new version has been rounded and shaped into the image of a Volkswagen Rabbit. What made it different is now different.

The original Scion box was introduced across the country in 2004 and soon created a cult following of the young iPod-clad generation. It attracted other segments of the population in lesser numbers, including empty nesters on a retirement income who viewed it as a well-made, inexpensive and fuel-efficient hauler with plenty of space to visit home centers, big box stores or a favorite nursery. But mostly Scion has successfully been aimed at people who have lived less than 30 years.

So we wonder at parent Toyota’s decision to perform such radical surgery on the new xB.
At first blush we’d say replacing the edgy sharp-cornered little box with a more refined and rounded vehicle is questionable.

For us of the 50-and-over generation, the changes are just dandy.

Performance has been dramatically increased at only a small loss in fuel economy when comparing the 2008 EPA mileage with 2006 mileage — there is no 2007 xB —adjusted to the new ’08 standards.

The bigger size is great. An increase of 12 inches in length and four inches in wheelbase has created more passenger space and added 27 cubic feet of additional cargo room.
But those of us who qualify for AARP membership are not supposed to be the primary purchasers of the xB.

Sales have been fueled by the just-graduated types, and this is not the xB that took them by storm. So how is this bigger, more rounded and more powerful car going to play on college campuses?

Toyota officials say, not to worry. Toyota does not make massive blunders. Initial evidence seemed to bare this out but the 2007 year-to-date sales numbers show that the initial enthusiasm wasn’t long lived.

Sure, Scion officials made an unprecedented move when they introduced the xB to more than 300 invited Scion owners in Miami in December 2006. The Scion faithful was given a look at various customized versions of the car two months before it was introduced to the press and the public at the Chicago Auto Show in February. We call this preaching to the choir.

Mark Templin, Scion vice president, said the new Scion was an overwhelming hit in Miami as it has been across the nation since then. Sort of.

The story is that Scion has sold in high numbers — nearly unbelievable numbers — for a niche vehicle. The xB alone sold more than 61,000 copies in 2006 and the entire Scion lineup sold 173,000. A great start with the old design. But since the first of the year the xB has sold only 28,990 units through August both old and new designs. That’s down from 44,997 units for the same period in 2006 down 35.6-percent.

Personalization is key to the Scion brand’s success, Templin says. “Scion is truly a blank canvas for self expression. Like always, we’ll offer more than 40 new and innovative Scion Genuine accessories for the xB.” Does all expression and innovation fall to the young only?

The new xB is no longer polarizing. It has become mainstream.

What that means is that an xB comes into the showroom with only two choices — manual or automatic transmission for $15,650 or $16,600 respectively. The basics come standard including a full compliment of safety equipment, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, a Pioneer 160-watt sound system that includes CD and iPod connectors, keyless entry and steering wheel controls.

Hey, what more do you want? This is good mainstreaming.

Scion fans say plenty more including a laundry list of customizing features that are added at the dealership. Scion showrooms include a “discovery zone” where customers can log into the Scion web site and simulate customization of their chosen vehicle and then print it out for reference.

Even familiar items including navigation are available.

Our test car came with only a couple extras including premium audio and a keyless security upgrade. The bottom line was $18,339. But it’s easy to take the standard xB and load it past 20 grand. We can see young people being awed into option heaven, but Toyota believes most buyers will keep the bottom line well under $20,000.

We think the new xB is a great value at $16,600. It offers very satisfying performance, good handling, nice fit and finish and — for grandpa on a budget — a cargo volume of 70 cubic feet with the seats folded. That’s more capacity than that found in the Ford Escape crossover (66 cubic feet), Dodge Caliber (48 cubic feet), Jeep Compass (54 cubic feet) and Mazda5 (44 cubic feet). And it is nearly 27 cubic feet larger than what we measured in the 2006 xB.

When cargo is not supreme, two adult passengers can ride in the second row with big sky country head room and decent leg room.

Another advantage is ease of entry and exit, another plus for the older buyer. And once on the road, the car has a mellow feel. Stiff suspension is not part of the package.

The new 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder engine generates 158 horsepower, a whopping increase of 50 and it feels energetic mated to the four-speed automatic despite gaining 636 more pounds.

In a week’s worth of driving there was never a feeling that the xB could not handle a task whether it be merging into fast-paced traffic or quickly passing on a two-lane blacktop.
The electric power steering has been tuned for decent feedback and good on-line feel.
The xB has been measured from 0-to-60 in 8.6 seconds with the automatic, a very impressive number for a small car.

And perhaps there are a few xB owners who will take advantage of shifting the sequential automatic manually.

The nicely outfitted interior is relatively quiet for a car under $20,000. Some wind noise was evident on freeway driving, but the new xB is much better at solitude than the old one. Of course, there will be very little solitude with the Pioneer premium audio system cranked to the rafters.

Safety has not been overlooked and we applaud Toyota for loading up the base car. We figure many young people buying the xB on a budget would overlook optional safety features in favor of more bling. Older buyers wouldn’t consider it without adequate safety gizmos.

No worry here as all xB’s come with four-wheel antilock brakes with brakeforce distribution, stability control, traction control, front side airbags, side-curtain airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The big question is did Toyota aim the new xB in the right direction? The numbers seem a bit worrisome.

Is this still a young person’s car or is it now more than ever targeted to the older generation? We’re not so sure and we wouldn’t be surprised if Toyota is asking the same question.


Base price, $16,600; as driven, $18,339
Engine: 2.4-liter 4 cylinder
Horsepower: 158 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 162 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 102.4
Length: 167.3
Curb weight: 3,086
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 21.7 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 70 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14 gallons (regular)
EPA mileage (2008): 28 highway, 22 city
0-60: 8.6 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: Honda Element, Dodge Caliber, Mazda5

The Good
• Roomy interior for passengers and cargo
• Long list of standard equipment for under 17 grand
• Excellent resale value

The Bad
• Student on a budget could be easily enticed into thousands of dollars in options

The Ugly
• Has Toyota missed the mark with drastic changes to a cult vehicle?