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Car Review: 2005 Scion xB

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In answer to your question, yes, it is the box it came in. ``It'' in this case being the Scion xB. And the xB is also interesting because it's a true cross-cultural phenomenon. ``Scion'' is defined by Webster as ``descendant or child.'' It's also the newest brand from Toyota. Lexus was created as Toyota's upscale division over 15 years ago; now Scion comes in at the other end of the price spectrum. But there is far more to Scion than low price. Few small, low-budget cars have made a lasting impression in America, as most have been mere ``transportation appliances,'' devoid of character and quality. The three Scions have plenty of character, with unique style, good performance, and Toyota build quality.

The first two Scions, the xA and the xB, were originally developed by Toyota in Japan, for the Japanese market. (The tC coupe is currently made expressly for the American market.) In Japan, with minor differences, the xA is known as the Toyota ist, while the xB is the Toyota bB. Both, but especially the bB, became very popular with young Japanese drivers. When Scion was launched in the U.S., originally on the West Coast about a year and a half ago, the company expected a fairly even split in sales between the xA and xB. To their surprise, the xB became the best-seller, and is now the Scion image vehicle.

Scion was developed as the entry-level division in the Toyota empire, with a mission to sell its distinctive cars to young people for whom, according to market research, Toyotas were seen as ``my parents' car.'' Can you say ``image problem''? And that perception showed in the poor sales of the Toyota Echo. So Scion has its own showrooms, or at least separate areas in Toyota showrooms, and a simple stated-price, ``no-haggle'' sales policy. Its cars each come in one trim level, and have a high level of standard equipment, but plenty of dealer-installed custom options are available for personalization, without the voided-warranty problems of aftermarket equipment.

Scion has been a raging success. And the xB, in particular, has been popular not only among its intended 18 to 35-year old audience, but also with a group unforseen by the product planners - older ``empty nesters,'' whose children have left home - people usually associated with large domestic sedans or SUVs. Shhhhhh! Well, as they say in the auto industry, it's easier to sell an old person a young person's car than to sell a young person an old person's car. And the box, as I discovered during a recent week driving one, is amazingly useful and frugal with fuel. There's as much useful space inside as in many mid-sized sedans or SUVs, and its easier to park and uses less gas. Plus it's kind of cute in an anti-fashion sort of way. What's not to like?

APPEARANCE: There is no mistaking a Scion xB for anything else, at least on this side of the Pacific. It takes the styling description ``two-box design'' absolutely literally, with the large box for the four-door passenger compartment, and the smaller box for the drivetrain. Although there is a slight horizontal character line halfway up each side, and noticeable wheel-arch and rocker panel flares, the edges and corners are only slightly-rounded - with emphasis on ``slightly'' - and the front, rear, and sides are as close to vertical as has been seen on a car in recent memory. A lightly-raked windshield completes the boxy look. Given its simple design, the xB should look like a small commercial vehicle; instead, it has a whimsical character all its own.

COMFORT: There is one major advantage to the xB's boxy shape: serious space efficiency. It's the best way to get maximum interior space inside of a small, subcompact exterior. With the wheels placed at the corners, there is virtually no wheel-well intrusion into the passenger space. With the front passenger seat all the way back, I asked my six-two neighbor to sit in the rear seat. No problem, and he had maybe six inches of head room and plenty of leg room. Then he sat in the front. Again, no problem, although, interestingly, he claimed to have been more comfortable in the rear. Four six-foot-plus people in a car? Try it with anything else small - or even most large luxury cars - and you may lose friends.

Interior design is contemporary Asian sport-compact, with high-quality synthetic materials and some interesting touches. The silvery plastic trim on the center stack is typical for small cars today; the placement of the main instruments at the front and center of the instrument panel, directly under the windshield, is not. The combination gauge, with speedometer, tach, and fuel level, is just to the left of center, with warning lights and informational displays to the right of it. You'll quickly adapt to it. Power windows, door locks, and mirrors, remote keyless entry, a rear window defogger and wiper, and air conditioning are all standard equipment. The seats are comfortable, and interior layout is as versatile as that of any small SUV - and roomier than some of those. With the rear seat in passenger configuration, there is still reasonable luggage space. Not only does the rear seat fold flat, with a 60/40 split, the front seats can be fully reclined. Just the thing for a quick nap on a road trip - and you won't have to travel light in the Scion xB.

SAFETY: Standard safety equipment on the Scion xB includes driver and front passenger air bags, head restraints and three-point safety belts for all five seating positions, and upscale features including antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, and vehicle stability control with traction control.

ON THE ROAD: Despite its SUV-like interior space and versatility, the xB is a car, and has a lower center of gravity than a small SUV. In standard trim it's a nimble subcompact sedan, sized right for the urban traffic wars. Its MacPherson strut front, torsion-beam rear suspension provides a comfortable ride, and standard front and rear sway bars keep body roll to a minimum. The xB handles like a car, not a truck, and a variety of suspension options for show or go are available directly from Scion, so the warranty won't be voided. It fits easily into the elusive urban or suburban parking space, too.

PERFORMANCE: Power is supplied by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is pure Toyota in its power characteristics. It's a dual overhead cam, aluminum alloy design with VVT-i variable valve timing that makes 108 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 105 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. As with many of Toyota's engines, torque comes on strong right off idle, and stays strong all the way to the torque peak. This makes for easy driving, with shift-optional engine flexibility. It also means that the available four-speed automatic, with which my test car was equipped, works very well. Acceleration is perfectly adequate for the xB's mission in life. It's great around town due to the good low-end torque. It can get to highway speeds quickly, although there is little reserve power left at 70 mph. Fuel economy is good, with over 30 mpg easily attained in everyday driving.

CONCLUSIONS: Unique style, a comfortable and versatile interior, and good fuel economy make the Scion xB a winner.


Base Price $ 14,480
Price As Tested $ 17,637
Engine Type aluminum alloy dual overhead cam inline 4-cylinder with VVT-i variable valve timing
Engine Size 1.5 liters / 91 cu. in.
Horsepower 108 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 105 @ 4,200 rpm
Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length 98.4 in. / 155.3 in.
Curb Weight 2,450 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 22.7
Fuel Capacity 11.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87-octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P185/60 R 15
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut/ torsion beam
Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 30 / 34 / 31
0 to 60 mph 9.7 sec

Scion xB Release Series 1.0 package - includes: Hot Lava metallic paint, rear spoiler, orange powdercoat Hotchkis strut tower tie bar, orange interior LED light kit and cupholder illumination by Luxaura, exclusive interior fabric, billet grille, individually-numbered badging, Pioneer AM/FM/ 6-CD audio with 10-color change illumination $ 980
7-spoke alloy wheels $ 665
Carpet floor and cargo mats $ 120
Scion security system $ 469
Rear bumper protector $ 58
Fog lights $ 350
Destination charge $ 515

Editor’s Note: CLICK HERE and rank the Scion xB specs against its competition, have fun!