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2008 Scion xB Review

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2008 Scion xB

2008 Scion xB

When the Scion brand debuted as Toyota's youth-oriented line, the expectation was that the xA hatchback would account for most sales, with the xB second. After all, the xA, a subcompact hatchback, was in a category known to be popular with the young, young at heart, and young in wallet. The xB was something else entirely.

Based on the Japanese-market Toyota bB, the Scion xB was a peculiar-looking box on wheels. In style, it was very Japanese, and while some aspects of Japanese culture - animation for example - have cult followings in the US, many Japanese-style cars have been less than popular when introduced on this side of the Pacific.

Scion and Toyota needn't have worried. While the xA and the tC coupe (introduced a year after the xA and xB) sold quite well, the quirkily-cute xB became the poster child for the Scion franchise. And not only did it sell to the intended buyers, urban twenty-somethings, it proved remarkably popular with older "empty nesters" - their parents and grandparents. Everyone, it seemed, loved the box.

Of course, when queried, xB owners admitted that the little box wasn't quite perfect. For one thing, although it was remarkably roomy inside, with excellent space utilization thanks to that slab-sided body and huge, tall greenhouse, it could be a little bigger. Not too much, mind you - Scion buyers were not looking for an SUV or even crossover - but maybe a little more length would help. As would a little more power, as the 1.5-liter, 108-horsepower engine provided great gas mileage but got worked pretty hard at common American highway speeds.

Scion listened, and the result was the second-generation xB, introduced last summer. It's a foot longer, with a four-inch increase in wheelbase, and three inches wider. That's enough to add useful space without compromising its fit into tight urban parking spaces, or negatively affecting handling and a fun-to-drive experience. And since a bigger car requires a bigger engine, and the 2.4-liter, 158 horsepower powerplant from the tC coupe was available, performance has been significantly improved. Yes, fuel economy is down, but still good, especially considering the added and useful size and performance capability. And, while the new xB is recognizably a Scion xB, it has a much bolder and more American Custom look.

Easy customization has been a Scion characteristic since the beginning, and the 2008 xB that has been mine for the past week is a fine example. It was set up for sport, with and air filter, suspension pieces, and wheels sourced from TRD (that's Toyota Racing Development) and wide, sticky tires. To complement those "go" upgrades, it also had a rear spoiler and carbon fiber side window trim, also right out of the Scion catalog. Inside, the security system and Pioneer iPod-ready AM/FM/CD/MP3 & WMA CD were also factory options. And those just scratch the surface, as there are many other Scion dealer-installable parts, not to mention a healthy aftermarket. Whether you want additional style, comfort, utility, or performance, there is something available that can make each Scion unique.

APPEARANCE: Chopped, channelled, and stretched. Longer, lower, wider... it's the classic custom car look, and it plays as well today on a Scion as it did 50-plus years ago on a tricked-out `49 Mercury. The xB restyling gives the car a more substantial look. A lower greenhouse and higher beltline, plus the noticeably greater length, give it the classic custom proportions, and the look is further enhanced by the more rounded lines of the hood and fenders and thick C-pillars. Surprisingly, it's a tenth of an inch higher than the old xB, but the extra length and new proportions disguise that and make it look lower. The long, narrow headlights are another custom-car styling element. And the TRD 19-inch wheels on my test car? One of my neighbors said it all: "That's your car? I didn't think it was when I first saw it in front of your house because those wheels couldn't come with it, right?" Wrong!

COMFORT: Scion describes the xB's interior theme as "lounge-like". That may be a bit of exaggeration, but it is comfortable and not at all crowded. Head- and leg-room are first-rate for all five passengers, and a flat floor makes the center rear position reasonable. The front seats are better than expected in the xB's price class, and can be fully reclined for sleeping or cargo-carrying (well, across the front passenger seat, anyway...). The rear seat folds 60/40, to improve the already commodious amount of space behind. An underseat storage tray provides a reasonably secure spot to store items like small cameras or audio players, laptops, small purses, and similar items. The color scheme and materials are standard sporty compact, with dark cloth upholstery and dark interior panels offset by bright trim. As in the original xB, the instruments are in the center of the dash, placed forward toward the bottom of the windshield. While initially unusual, you'll adapt quickly, and that position is easier to focus on and forces the driver's eyes to keep moving - both good safety features. As before, the standard equipment level is high, with power windows, door locks, and mirrors, remote keyless entry, a rear window defogger and wiper, and air conditioning all standard equipment.

SAFETY: Standard safety equipment in the xB includes variable-deployment front, seat-mounted front side, and full-length side curtain airbags. Crush boxes absorb low-speed impact energy and help protect the main unibody structure, while reinforcement of the door, roof, and rocker panel areas further improves passenger protection. NHTSA ratings are very good - four stars for driver and front passenger frontal impacts, five stars for front- and rear-seat side impacts, and four stars for rollover protection. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, vehicle stability control, and traction control are standard.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Despite its boxy shape and interior size, the xB is a car, not a small SUV or crossover. In standard trim, as were the examples I drove last summer at the press introduction, its independent MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension is tuned moderately firmly, for a good balance between ride comfort and sporty handling. The electrically-assisted power steering requires moderate touch, appropriate for its level of sportiness. My test car was a little more sport-oriented, with the standard 205/55 R16 tires (on steel wheels) replaced by P235/35 ZR19 Toyo Proxes performance tires on trick-looking TRD alloy wheels. Other suspension mods included a rear stabilizer bar and a front strut tower brace, both TRD components, dealer-installed with no effect on the factory warranty. Shorter springs and stiffer shocks are also available, but were not installed. Those oversize tires do make the steering a little heavier (and the owner's wallet $2150 lighter) but they stick to dry pavement very, very well. For full effect, add the springs and shocks. As delivered, my test xB was one fun box, and adding the springs and shocks would improve cornering a bit, with a small reduction in comfort.

PERFORMANCE: The second-generation xB weighs over 500 pounds more than its predecessor, but the switch from a 1.5-liter, 108 horsepower engine to the larger 2.4-liter one with 158 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 162 lb-ft of torque (at 4000 rpm) more than compensates. The power-to-weight ratio is improved from 22.7 to 19.1, which takes almost two seconds off the 0-60 time, handy when merging from a slow onramp to a high-speed highway. The old xB felt tapped out at highway speeds, with little extra power for acceleration above 65 mph. No such problem now. The four-cylinder engine, shared with the Scion tC coupe, is a typical Toyota design, made of aluminum alloy, with four valves per cylinder and dual overhead cams with VVT-i variable cam phasing for a broader spread of power and reduced emissions. The standard five-speed manual is the perfect transmission with which to extract maximum performance potential. A four-speed automatic with sequential manual-shift mode is also offered. With an EPA fuel economy rating of 22/28 city/highway, the new xB doesn't go as far as the old one on a gallon of unleaded regular, but it's still reasonably economical. I saw 22 mpg in city and secondary road driving and 25 with highway driving in the mix.

CONCLUSIONS: The Scion xB has grown up.


Base Price			$ 15,650
Price As Tested 		$ 20,759
Engine Type			dual overhead cam, 16-valve                          
                                aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder                     
                                with VVT-i variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 144 cu. in.
Horsepower			158 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)		162 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission		5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		102.4 in. / 167.3 in.
Curb Weight			3020 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.1
Fuel Capacity		14 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires			P235/35 ZR19 Toyo Proxes
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
			ABS, EBD, VSC, TRAC, BA standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
			  torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
			  front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		22 / 28 / 25 mixed
0 to 60 mph				7.8  sec

TRD performance air filter				$   80
TRD rear sway bar				$  250
TRD front strut brace				$  245
TRD 19" alloy wheels with Toyo Proxes tires,
  TRD spline drive lug nuts, TRD wheel locks		$ 2,150
5-piece carpet floor and cargo mats			$   155
rear bumper applique				$   69
premium iPod-capable Pioneer AM/FM/CD audio		$   389
Scion security system				$   469
rear spoiler					$   423
carbon fiber window trim				$   299
destination charge				$   580