2012 Scion xB

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Road Test: 2008 Scion xB

This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2014.
By Aaron Robinson of Car and Driver

Bottom Line:

Less square, more square.
Pros:
  • Vast back seat
  • Quiet
  • More accelerating power
  • Still priced in small digits
Cons:
  • Not as cool as before
  • Knee-banging shifter cabinet
  • Feels tubby
  • Is tubby

The 2008 Scion xB is a quiet, comfortable, spacious, well-built, and relatively inexpensive car. It's also a gross disappointment.

Until Toyota fished that name out of Webster's and slapped it on a new experimental division, Scion was just an obscure word meaning "offspring." Since Pandora's time, youth has been drawn to things wrapped in surprising, risqué packages, especially packages that confuse and annoy adults. Unveiled in 2003, Scion was about grabbing scions, the kids of Toyota owners who won't go near a Toyota for fear of catching its boringness.

The old Maytag-square Scion xB fit the profile. It was a low-ante gamble for Toyota, which plucked it from its market lineup in Japan and made just a few changes for North American duty. Initially, Toyota believed its rounder companion, the Scion xA, would outsell the B two to one. But the xB had its freak on. It was small yet astoundingly spacious inside. It was cheap yet surprisingly comfortable and refined. It was contemptibly square yet somehow (and to some eyes) adorable. Sales hit 54,037 in 2005 and 61,306 in 2006 as Scion's dealer network spread and its median buyer age plummeted from Toyota's 46 to a more youthful 30.

We admit to falling for the Scion hype. Scion was new, it was experimental, and it was well funded. Everything was going according to plan, and the possibilities seemed endless. We just forgot that the man behind the curtain was our old gray-haired friend Toyota.

Toyota Finessing
Say sayonara to Scion risk taking. Say hello to old-fashioned Toyota finessing.

Instead of something new, Toyota has done to the Scion xB what it has done for the past 25 years at model changeover to the Corolla and Camry: made it larger, heavier, more expensive, and more mainstream. As such, Scion seems to be following the same iterative cycle that got Toyota into trouble with kids in the first place.

When exactly did America's youth start asking for a junior minivan? The bulging new Scion dwarfs its predecessor, not to mention our current favorite compact hatch, the Honda Fit. Toyota has inserted four inches into the wheelbase and added 2.8 inches in width and a full foot to the overall length, moving it much closer in size to a composite of the Honda Element or Chevy HHR. It may not sound like much dimension creep, but those tight parking spaces you once swished into with the old xB now need a second look. Inside, the driver's left elbow dangles in the open space created by the extra girth.

Interior Volume
The old xB had unexpected interior volume—indeed, 59 airy cubic feet up front and 50 in the second row, as much as the front row of an Audi A6. The new xB's rear seat remains at 50, but the front-seat space drops to 53 (although it still feels ample). We thought the new xB swallowed a lot more luggage behind the rear seats until we checked the cubic-foot numbers: 22 versus 21 for the old xB. Fold the rear seats down to find cargo-space gains that lie to the left of the decimal point: 70 cubic feet to the old xB's 43. Under the rear floor, above the spare tire, live a few shallow bins for valuables.

Well, you should get something for having to lug around an additional 582 pounds. This is perhaps the greatest-percentage weight gain we've ever recorded during a simple model redesign, at least since the OPEC epoch. If you know of one that exceeds 24 percent (based on our last 2438-pound xB tester), please write your local Sierra Club chapter.

More steel, more glass, new curtain airbags, a larger engine so it will keep pace with traffic, and bigger brakes to slow the extra mass. It all adds up. The EPA rules have changed for fuel economy, so let's compare C/D observed. We achieved 27 mpg with our previous five-speed manual xB test vehicle and 22 mpg with its replacement. Even at that rate, it should be noted, a full 14-gallon tank in the '08 xB is still (barely) wet after 300 miles. Ours flashed its low-fuel light a bit prematurely, with more than three gallons left.

Performance
The usual corollary to fuel economy is drag-strip performance. The xB now packs the 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-four from the Scion tC (incidentally, Scion's bestselling model last year at about 79,000 units. For 2008, Toyota bumped the compression ratio from 9.7:1 to 9.8, changed the piston skirts to reduce friction, revised the intake and exhaust ports for better breathing, and reground the intake cams for longer valve lift and duration. Horsepower is 158 at 6000 rpm, and torque is 162 pound-feet at 4000 rpm, huge leaps from the old car's 103 horsepower and 101 pound-feet.

The xB now gets to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, a 1.8-second hastening of the previous car's time. The quarter-mile flits by in 16.0 seconds at 87 mph, and the butcher-block shape declares détente with the wind at a lofty 124 mph. None of the little boxes we've tested recently is such an animal at the strip except for the turbocharged PT Cruiser GT ($24,615 to start).

So, Scion is about power now. Handling? We saw only 0.81 g on the skidpad—inhibited by a stability control that, when switched off, switches itself back on at 35 mph. We enjoyed a cushy ride with well-damped cabin noise but never fell in love with the sitting-on-a-tipsy-bar-stool feeling that arises on twisty roads. The steering is numb—it was in the previous xB as well—and the body roll is greater this time around. The new xB works its tires over with a squeal and sways on its softer springs, politely requesting that you return to city speeds when pushed in the mountains. The old car felt more tossable—hey, it was much lighter and more stiffly sprung—but we're not going to make a big stink about it. Just look at the xB—it's not trying to be a sports car.

Accessories
The man behind the curtain also doesn't think xB buyers want to go faster. The accessory catalog has $299 LED interior mood lights, $1599 DVD headrest televisions, and a $2250 navigation system, but not a single performance upgrade except alloy wheels in 16 or 17 inches. Ours had a $74 Räzo shift knob, $79 alloy sport pedals, and a $279 leather-wrapped steering wheel, none of which made us go any faster, we're pretty certain.

Speed doesn't appear to be the inspiration for the dashboard design, either, which resembles Oregon's Bonneville Lock and Dam. The xB's dash is an imposing slab, multitiered, with a few handy cubbies and a fan of four tidy gauges set into a pillbox in the center. The shifter rises from a large cabinet sticking like a silver tongue from the dash midpoint. It's a pleasingly quick hand motion from the wheel to the well-placed knob, but we wish the cabinet were smaller and less wasteful of interior space.

Knees will bang it, and coins and litter will hide under it.

As large as it is, the cabinet itself does nothing except provide a perch for the shifter and a single 12-volt socket. No drawers, no map pockets (a $279 overhead console has what-not boxes galore). A standard auxiliary jack for digital music players is welcome, as is a port for running iPods through the base 160-watt Pioneer stereo.

Pricing
Prices are up. The base Scion xB starts at $16,230, a $1620 increase that comes with some extra equipment, including standard rear disc brakes and curtain airbags. As before, the xB has a generous list of no-extra-charge equipment, including air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control—all of which make it well worth comparison shopping.

Ultimately, the new xB is an acceptable car, it's just not very cool. What a shame. There's so much funk yet to try, so many keen ideas to inspire Scion just in Toyota's Japanese-market catalog and that of its Daihatsu subsidiary. Daihatsu? You mean the one Japanese car company that completely failed in America?

It didn't fail. Daihatsu assembled the original Scion xB, supplies the new xB and xD to Toyota, and sells a version of the '08 xB as the Daihatsu Materia. Your homework: Google the Daihatsu Tanto, the Daihatsu Mira Gino, and the (defunct) Daihatsu Naked. We can't help feeling that this corn-fed, overweight, thoroughly Americanized xB represents a squandered opportunity to give us something really different.

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BB06 - 9/16/2014 11:06:06 AM