2004 Scion xA
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Depending on your taste, the subcompact 2004 Scion xA hatchback could appear to be cute or weird. It has a short hood and virtually no butt—a shape that looks vaguely like a baby's high-top shoe.
With a length that's just 11.3 inches longer than America's smallest car, the MINI, the xA would be easy to dismiss as a "low-priced, cheap, little car."
This smallest vehicle of the new Scion (pronounced sigh-on) automotive brand is Toyota-built and has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of more than $12,000, for a model with manual transmission.
This includes features not normally found standard on "cheap, little cars:" A cargo area cover, a Pioneer, 160-watt sound system with AM/FM radio as well as CD player that's MP3-capable, four-wheel anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and three complimentary oil changes, among them.
Intriguingly, the five-door xA also comes with a wide selection of extra-cost accessories that allow owners to customize to their heart's content.
Cupholders can be illuminated, a subwoofer can be added for the stereo, taillightsamps can be dressed up, and a more rigid ride can be had with a Hotchkis front tower brace. These are hardly the items you'd expect to be hearing about at a dealership when shopping for a low-priced, little car. Typically, these kinds of vehicles come bare, and barely stylish.
Scion is all about being different.
Scion of the times
Besides having weird names like xA and xB, the two current Scion models have distinctive—some might say odd—looks and a surprising amount of room inside, despite their sizes and shapes. Both originated as models for the Japanese market, where they are known as the Toyota Ist and bB, respectively.
Don't look for the Toyota badge on the outside or interior of the Scion vehicles here. And don't look for Scions amidst other Toyota models, per se. The automaker requires a dedicated show floor area for these new models, even though all Scion dealers are also Toyota dealers.
Sales started in summer 2003 in California, Scion's first market. By early 2004, Scion had expanded to more than 20 other states and the District of Columbia. It's scheduled to be national by summer 2004, when it also will be adding a third model, the tC coupe.
Scion sales are building as the states are being added. In recent months, about a third of the sales have been the xA.
The front fabric bucket seats have good support and don't look or feel cheap. All riders, even those in the back seat, sit mostly upright, not sprawled low to the floor. This helps give a good view out and accounts for the generous 41.3 inches of front legroom and the 37.6 inches of rear legroom in the xA.
Note this rear legroom is more than what's in the back seat of even some larger cars, such as the Dodge Neon (34.8 inches) and the Honda Civic (36 inches) sedan, and is equal to that of the Ford Focus hatchbacks.
The reason: The xA is tall. It is 60.2 inches in height compared with the Neon's 56 inches and the Civic sedan's 56.7 inches.
I admit it was an odd sensation walking up to the xA the first couple times. The car is short—a mere 12.8 feet long—but its roofline comes up higher than expected.
Not surprisingly, headroom is good in this kind of vehicle. The 39.6 inches in front and 38.8 inches in back tops the MINI's headroom as well as that of the Civic. It's about the same headroom as in the Focus.
I liked that the floor in the xA's back seat had just a minor hump, but three adults would be sit real close. Two adults would be much more comfortable.
Eyes naturally fall on the eye-catching, silver-colored ventilation controls and the silver-colored, oval, dial-like control for the audio system. It took some getting used to these audio controls, and I wished for an old-style knob for volume and tuning, which would have been more efficient. Still, sounds came through strongly and with good depth.
The only problem: I found myself increasing the volume to overcome road and engine noise.
There's the typical buzzy, four-cylinder sound, and the xA's 108-horsepower, 1.5-liter, double overhead cam powerplant can sound—and feel—taxed at times, such as when I was passing other cars on a hilly highway ascent. The xA worked well for a good bit, but then I did a good amount of downshifting to keep my momentum.
Torque is 105 lb-ft at 4200 rpm, and the engine, with Toyota's variable valve timing system, revs high.
Note the base xA weighs only 2,340 pounds. This is nearly 300 pounds less than a three-door Focus.
The gearshifter for the 5-speed manual is a straight stalk that reminds me of a folded, compact umbrella. It's not the most attractive look, but it's different. I just wish the whole mechanism in the test car hadn't made such a cheap-sounding racket as I shifted. Every shift throw was accompanied by a loud notchy sound.
Fuel economy is commendable, with both manual transmission and the optional, 4-speed automatic rated at 32 miles a gallon in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway.
While I may not have had all the "oomph" to edge into every open space in traffic when I wanted, the xA sure could nail the parallel parking spots easily. U-turns also were easy.
The ride isn't cushioned, but most road bumps are managed beneath the vehicle and don't bother passengers. I noticed the xA was easily buffeted—not just by wind on blustery spring days. I felt the car buffeted by passing vehicles, too, at times.
Thanks to rear windows in the small, 11.7-cubic-foot cargo area, the view out to the rear and side of the xA was commendable. The cargo space can expand to 32.8 cubic feet when the split rear seats are folded down flat.
Odds and ends
A removable roof rack is available. Map pockets on the xA's front doors are narrow and can't hold a lot. The owner's manual comes in a zippered portfolio, complete with a first-aid kit.
If the fit and finish of the test car is any indication, the xA appears to benefit from Toyota's long reputation for quality construction. All body gaps and interior seams were aligned and no pieces were loose.
At the time of my test drive, the federal government had yet to report crash test ratings for the xA. Standard safety equipment includes frontal airbags, three-point belts and adjustable and lockable head restraints for all five passengers. Side and head curtain airbags are available as options.