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New Car Review: 2004 Scion xB

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MODEL: Scion xB
ENGINE: 1.5-liter DOHC four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 108 @ 6,000 rpm/105 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 98.4 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 155.3 x 66.5 x 64.6 in.

It's difficult to try to evaluate the Scion xB without comparing it to both the xA and the Honda Element. The xB shares many components with the xA, even though they are totally different vehicles. The Element and the xB are similar vehicles, but have their own unique properties.

The xA is a cute subcompact sedan with room for four and a minimal trunk. The xB is less cute and is classified as a small wagon. As such, it has enormous cargo carrying capacity in the rear. In addition, rear seat legroom is excellent, should you want to carry two, or even three passengers back there. Behind the rear seat is a useful cargo area, rated at 21.2 cubic feet. Fold down the rear seats, and they fold easily without removing the headrests, and cargo capacity increases to 43.4 cubic feet. I know this car is designed for Gen X buyers, but even we old-timers can appreciate good cargo room.

The xB's usable space makes it, to me, a more practical alternative than the xA. After I first saw the xB, I never thought I'd say that, especially in print.

The similarities to the Element are obvious. Both are quirky square-box designs designed more for utility than beauty. But the Element has a rear cargo area floor that can be hosed down if necessary. So if you stow your muddy trail bike, or sandy beach gear, back there, a simple spray with a garden hose will clean it. The xB has a carpeted rear area. Sure, you can remove the carpeting for serious clean-ups, but that's a pain.

But, the Element doesn't have the rear legroom the xB has, and even Gen Xers will probably carry people back there more often than they'll carry muddy gear.

Another feature the xA and xB share is the Toyota Echo engine. Both use the same 1.5-liter "Echo" engine, rated at 108 horsepower. In the xA we tested, power reached the front wheels through a 4-speed automatic gearbox; in the xB the gearbox was a 5-speed manual. Even with the manual, which I felt extracted maximum performance and economy from the engine, our fuel economy was only 20.1 mpg. The xB is EPA-rated at 31 mpg city/35 mpg highway, so the figure we got was drastically low.

As with the xA, the engine is noisy.

The xB is all about usable space. Besides the rear, there are cubbys all over the place. There are a couple in the dash on the driver's side; there's a small tray to the left of the steering wheel and a smaller one to the right. For the passenger, there's ahuge tray above the glove box with a cupholder. There are cubbys in the doors. There's one in the center of the dash. There are two cupholders ahead of the shifter and one square one in the rear of the console.

Interior headroom is tall enough for the driver to wear a top hat, 46.1 inches in front, 45.7 inches in the rear.

Instrumentation, like in the xA, is unique. The major instruments are located at the top of the dash, slightly left of center. These include a speedometer, tachometer and fuel gauge. A clock is mounted in the center.

Both the HVAC and audio systems worked well. In the xB we didn't have the huge sub-woofer we had in the xA.

The xB had all the necessary power accessories - mirrors, windows, door locks, remote entry. There was no vanity mirror behind the passenger visor, a fact that bothered my wife. There was a small one behind the driver's visor. All four doors had assist handles.

Overall, I liked the xB very much. It is a very practical vehicle. It ain't pretty, but it makes a lot of sense. It's economical, and it's fun.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate