The original Scion from Toyota’s youth division arrived here in the summer of 2003 as a rebadged version of a Japanese-market Toyota. It was at home on Japan’s narrow, crowded roads, but too small and slow on highways for America.
Still, the four-door hatchback Scion was a hit with younger drivers here who liked its quirky boxy look and drew a surprising (to Toyota) number of older drivers who took to it for its low price, practicality, economy and roominess for its handy size.
The 2008 version retained the old model’s slab-sided design, front-wheel drive and five-occupant capacity. But, catering more to American tastes, Scion increased the wheelbase by 4 inches, overall length by a foot and width by nearly 3 inches to provide more space and a better ride. Wheels were made an inch bigger at 16 inches and brakes were enlarged.
The 1.5-liter four-cylinder 108-horsepower engine was replaced in 2008 by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder developing 158 horsepower and more torque. The 2011 xB engine is unchanged and gives the car lively in-town performance and good 65-75 highway acceleration.
The second-generation xB, which also received a refined interior, was a better car, but lost some of its originality and edginess.
Inflating the new four-door hatchback version some 500 pounds lowered its fuel economy from the first-generation’s low-to-mid-30s mpg range for city and highway driving with a manual or automatic transmission to 22 city and 28 highway with either transmission.
The xB has a standard five-speed manual, but still comes with an old-style four-speed automatic. The automatic is responsive enough and has an easily used manual-shift feature. But at least a five-speed automatic should be offered.
The standard manual transmission shifts crisply and is hooked to a light but long-throw clutch.
A new telescoping steering wheel and new standard 160-watt audio system with six speakers are added to the quiet but rather plasticky looking interior, which has decent storage areas.
However, some may object to the unconventional center-mounted instrument cluster. While the digital speedometer can be quickly read, the tachometer is undersized. Large controls are easy to use and there’s a new center console and sliding armrest. But thick rear roof pillars hinder driver visibility.
Door-mounted power front window controls are a snap for a driver to use and rear windows lower all the way to make it easy for rear-seat occupants to reach for food and beverages at drive-through restaurant lanes.
The xB lists from $16,000 to $19,355. Even the base model is well-equipped, with air conditioning, cruise control and power windows, mirrors and door locks with remote keyless entry.
Numerous safety items include lots of air bags. There also are traction and stability controls and an anti-lock brake system with electronic brake force distribution.
Scion encourages its buyers to customize the xB with high-performance items from the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) parts operation.
There are definite pros and cons to using the TRD items. For instance, my test xB was equipped with TRD parts such as lowering springs, rear sway bar, front strut brace, sport muffler and 19-inch wheels with wider performance tires.
The vehicle looked racier and had sharper handling than the standard xB, which has average handling. While the TRD suspension parts gave the car more responsive steering, they also caused a choppy ride that would discourage most from taking it on long trips. Noise from the tires was excessive, and the lowered car had a front end very close to ground level.
The tall roof and slab-sided construction provide plenty of passenger room, with astounding head room. Large outside door handles assist entry, and it’s easy to slide in and out.
The hatch opening is low and wide and cargo room is good, especially with the split rear seatbacks folded forward. The hatch has a handy interior pull-down indent, but no interior lining for a more finished look.
The hood is lined but is heavy and held open only by an old-fashioned prop rod. Fluid filler areas are easily reached.
Is the xB for you? Put simply, it’s a car you’ll either like or ignore.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com