Scion xD, a city car with value

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The new number is $15,000.

That seems to be the base price of a safe, reliable new car in the 2008 market. You can still find a few vehicles for less, or you might have to shell out a little more for others, but it seems that 15 grand is the new benchmark of comfortable frugality.

If your budget can’t stand $15,000, there are some new car options but not many so you might need to visit the used car market where good low-mileage stuff is available.

The good news is there are a large number of vehicles selling for around $15,000, and the best part, it’s nearly impossible these days to buy the old-fashioned stripper. How many new cars at any price have you seen without an air conditioner, radio or power windows?
Most products, regardless of price, now come with a modicum of modern-day amenities as standard equipment including the safety of multiple airbags, AC, a reasonably good sounding stereo system with CD player and keyless entry.

Technology has trickled down to the most inexpensive vehicles.

And small-car performance, considered anemic among some auto pundits who enjoy trashing anything and everything, is in actuality quite dramatic when compared to small cars of the ’70s and ’80s and virtually all cars built before the ’60s. Perhaps the thrashers (all so young and spoiled) have never had to live with a 1960 Ford Falcon or a 1975 Datsun B-210.

These are the best of times for those people who can’t afford or simply don’t see the need for a big automotive investment.

The shopping list is long and includes domestic as well as foreign brands such as the Ford Focus, Chevy Aveo, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent, Kia Spectra.

Then there’s the all-new 2008 Scion xD hatchback. It’s today’s subject, a credible value starting at $14,550. In this case, the starting price could also mean the ending price. Extras are available, but they are not needed for a well-balanced small car.

The xD replaces the slow-selling and rather cheap-feeling xA at the bottom of the abbreviated Scion lineup. Unlike the more popular xB, which has been turned into a bulked-up version of its original box, the xD retains the smallish size of the xA, but in a more mature and fashionable package.

We drove the xB and xD back to back in Atlanta, and while the xB is getting the bulk of the reviews, we understood and liked the xD for what it was.

It doesn’t have as much room or horsepower as its bigger brother, but the xD is a reasonable small car with great fit and finish and quality materials.

And you folks over 55 don’t let the youthful Scion name hold you back. The xD is a viable option regardless of age.

You might be turned off by the funky xD styling with its wide-mouth grille and chunky rear quarters, but it kind of struck us as interesting in a strange kind of way. If styling isn’t an issue, the xD has much to offer.

For $14,550 you get four-wheel antilock brakes with brake force distribution and brake assist, front side airbags and side-curtain airbags, a tire-pressure monitoring system, power windows and doorlocks, keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control and a 160-watt Pioneer sound system. For $800 more you can get a four-speed automatic instead of the five-speed manual.

You also get a healthy feeling 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine developing 128-horsepower. That’s 25 more ponies than in the old xA’s 1.5-liter engine, and we found the extra power useful in merging and passing situations. Measured by 0-to-60 the xD is as good as most of the competition at 8.4 seconds with the manual transmission.

The good news is that the step up in extra performance doesn’t affect gas mileage, rated at 27 city and 33 highway with the manual transmission and 26/32 with the automatic under the new, more stringent 2008 EPA standards.

The suspension is rather soft allowing more body lean in corners than what we have become accustomed to in many small cars. But overall the driving demeanor is acceptable. The electric steering does a good job particularly at highway speeds offering decent on-center feel.

We found the driving position good, seats comfortable and the somewhat unusual instrumentation easy to read. And unlike the xB and the previous xA, the speedometer and tachometer have been placed directly in front of the driver, not off to the right. This is a very good thing in our estimation.

Some of the new “cool” audio systems in youth-oriented cars present a high degree of difficulty to operate. Perhaps that’s what makes them cool. And we found that the up-level Pioneer system in our test car fell into the “let’s make something simple more complicated” category. That being said, the sound it makes is excellent. A highlight of the sound system is separate jacks for an iPod and an MP3 player.

The one aspect of the xD that may turn off some people is interior space. It falls on the small side, but consider that the car measures only 155 inches in length – a boon to easier parking. Luggage capacity behind the rear seats is a slim 10.5 cubic feet and cargo capacity with the seats folded is a smallish 36 cubic feet.
But when you consider that even a mid-sized sedan has around 15 cubic feet of trunk space, the xD looks pretty good considering its overall size.

The tight quarters also affects passenger space. The rear seats are comfortable, but leg room is tight if front-seat occupants need their seats pushed back. If a compromise can be reached, four adults can ride in comfort, but not for long hauls.

The only factory option on the xD is stability control for $650. But there are dealer-installed options available including a number of alloy wheel choices, a rear spoiler, LED taillights and interior mood lighting that can take the price of the car toward 20 grand.

In addition to stability control, our test car had a dealer-installed audio system upgrade bringing the bottom line to $16,491 including destination charge.

OK, so our test car climbed over the magic $15,000 figure, but this is one small hatchback we could live with straight from the Japanese factory without add-ons for $15,170 including a $620 destination charge.

When buying an entry-level vehicle there are numerous choices. The new xD is one worth checking out especially if you believe in small urban cars and A to B driving while still having plenty of amenities.


Base price, $15,170; as driven, $16,491
Engine: 1.8-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 128 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 125 foot-pounds @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 96.9 inches
Length: 154.9 inches
Curb weight: 2,665 pounds
Turning circle: 37.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 10.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 36 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 11.1 gallons (regular)
EPA mileage: 33 highway, 27 city
0-60: 8.4 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: Ford Focus, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa

The Good
• Incredible number of standard features for 15 grand
• Excellent fuel economy
• Good fit and finish

The Bad
• Funky styling may turn some people off

The Ugly
• Passenger and cargo space on the tight side