2006 Scion xB Expert Review:Autoblog
The Scion xB is just a weird car. Let's get it out there. This isn't your everyday econo-box, even though it sure fits the "box" part of that term. The xB gets 30 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway but it doesn't look as sedate as it's Toyota Echo cousin. The box shape is the single defining attribute of this vehicle. There is no escaping it. People stare, make fun and then ask "Hey how much does that cost?"
When they hear the answer that our test vehicle, well equipped with power windows and locks, automatic transmission, 6-disc CD-player and stuff like ABS costs $15,115, including delivery charges, they're pretty shocked. So are we. Even though you won't get any incentives or ability to haggle with salesmen, the xB is pretty affordable for what it is.
The interior is spacious and versatile with rear 40/60 seats that are a snap to fold flat. Ergonomically the xB will put off many people. Whoever came up with center-mounted gauges was clearly off their rocker. After a full day of driving I have not yet looked at them while in the act of moving. That's not just confusing that's dangerous. Even worse when you flick on the left turn signal the arrow starts blinking to the right of the field of vision. Just plain disorienting. We'll see if a week of the xB gets us adjusted to the strange configuration but it's looking doubtful.
I was so impressed with the responses to the xB series we started yesterday got such an eager response I decided to pump out Day 2's findings first thing this a.m. One of the main faults of the xB is found in the ergonomics. No matter what you do the seating position never seems close enough to the dash. I'm about 5'10 and I found myself sliding the seat as close to the steering wheel as possible because the center-mounted gauges were so far away.
Unlike the Mini Cooper, which has a wall-clock sized tach inches from the driver's face, the xB's speedometer is at least 8 inches farther away than the stereo and environmental controls. Combine that with the relatively small size of the gauge and I find myself not even looking at it for most of my drive time. Otherwise the stereo controls are a bit tricky to get used to and I'm not finding the volume control too easy to use either. A/C however, is as simple as it should be.
What I like about the interior is what many people call fit and finish. That really means quality folks. Scion uses something that Mitsubishi also puts in their interiors and I can't understand why everyone else doesn't do it. Since every car has tons of plastic these days, these companies stamp geometric patterns into rugged black plastic. This gives it a nice tactile feel of grip and, unlike plastic stamped to look like leather, a level of quality. The best way to explain the xB's plastic is that it has dimples similar to a golf ball. Mitsubishi uses a more criss-cross pattern. Both should be studied by every company trying to make hip cars.
And how cool is the steering wheel? It feels great in the hands too.
The xB is getting a lot of use and is a great city car. Its tiny engine doesn't offer a single thrill however and I find myself content to just point and go. Even though the xB only has 108-horsepower it does handle fairly well. Decent size wheels and a tight suspension make for quick turns and sporty feel.
Of course two of the much talked about features of the xB are the shape and the Scion aftermarket parts. Since this is a test vehicle we couldn't pick the aftermarket parts that would be put in. The only thing Autoblog got were a few red neon lights under the dash. There's a small power button by the shifter in the floor that turns them on and off. The effect is pretty neat on my white Adidas, but I doubt I'd actually throw down money for these. I'd prefer the offered cold-air intake in the engine to add a little more power.
Since the xB is basically a box it's time to show off the back. With the rear seats folded flat the back is very cubicle and can fit very tall as well as wide items. There's not a lot of depth back there but it would probably be perfect for a large TV etc. I've left the seats flat since the rear speakers are actually in the cargo area and not near the back seats. I want to write a whole day's entry on the stereo so that will have to wait. I'll also post a picture of that dimpled plastic I promised yesterday.
A few days ago one reader said the only thing he wanted to know about the xB was if it blew around the highway like its econobox shape suggest it would. After a two hour trip north yesterday, the xB handled the highway like a champ.
Of course the 108-horsepower does not allow rapid merging and takes some time to get up to speed. At a toll stop my unscientific 0-60 time was around 12 seconds. And that's being generous. But with the speed up to 70 mph the xB handled the highway superbly. It was surprisingly quiet despite the open cargo area. There's no better area than Chicago to test crosswinds and on a moderately windy day the xB did not feel any effects from wind. I think that's due to the low ride of the car and not it's boxy and un-aerodynamic shape. The only noticeable problem was slight body shudder over extreme bumps on the highway.
After a long weekend behind the wheel I'm still impressed with the interior fit and finish and the solid build. Doors feel significantly heavy, seats are supportive and the handling is deceptively responsive for such an awkwardly shaped vehicle.
Lots of people point and stare at the xB. Some even laugh at it. But when driving it you become protective of the little car. Sure it might be homely and doesn't go too fast but it has plenty of other good qualities.
This is the final post for the most talked about car I've reviewed to date. Who knew the little Scion xB would spark so much discussion, dissent and praise. In the end there are a lot of pros and cons associated with this cubical vehicle.
First and foremost are the looks. If you can't see yourself driving it then stop reading. Well, maybe not stop reading but if you can't get by the looks there's no way you'll want to drive one. Those that do like the looks will get an extremely solid car that just happens to have a very puny engine. 108-horsepower moves the car efficiently (30/34 mpg) but not at breakneck speeds. With the pedal to the metal the xB still struggles. I literally hammered the gas pedal as far down as it could go on the tollway and it struggled to get up to speed.
So if performance maniacs won't be thrilled who will? Anyone in an urban area will find the car's size, economy, handling and utility welcome traits. Like I said yesterday I've been driving almost exclusively with the rear seats folded flat. I like the visibility that allows, along with being able to throw whatever I want in the back and it looks practically flush.
For those that have been diligently following the series, here is a picture of the dimpled plastic pattern I mentioned early on. Sorry to take so long to upload a picture of it. It's just one of the many fit and finish features that are top notch. I also planned an entire review of the stereo but never got to it. The 6-disc Pioneer system is bass heavy but offers real power. I was impressed with the fidelity and found the color changing display a bit superfluous.
In the end the xB is a nifty niche vehicle that will have its supporters and detractors. But the elements that are shared with every car can be held up to anything in the economy class. Oh and about 5 days in I did finally get used to the center mounted speedometer. Although I still hate the left blinker being so far to the right.
New Car Test Drive
Stylish, inexpensive and practical.
The Scion xB is a box on wheels with strong styling that grabs attention, often from members of the opposite sex. It's a five-passenger wagon that doesn't look like a wagon. Nor does it look like a Toyota, though it's built by Toyota and carries the company's high standards of quality, durability and reliability.
As a result, the Scion xB feels tight. And it's quiet, with little wind noise and no squeaks or rattles. Inside, it's roomy and has a nice interior with controls that are easy to operate. The driver and passengers sit upright in chair-like seats and enjoy excellent visibility. As its looks suggest, the xB offers better cargo capacity than your average compact car.
It's easy to drive with good brakes and a smooth clutch, but it's no hot rod. Shifting into lower gears is needed for quick acceleration.
Scion xB ($13,680) comes in one body style and is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Buyers choose between two transmissions, a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic ($800).
It comes standard with power windows, mirrors and door locks; tilt steering wheel; tachometer and trip meter; 60/40-split folding and removable rear seat; remote keyless entry. It also comes standard with a six-speaker, AM/FM/CD Pioneer sound system engineered to read MP3 files and wired to accept an XM Satellite Radio receiver; the system has been revised for 2005 for clearer MP3-CD sound and now features a customizable screen.
And it comes well-equipped with active safety features: antilock brakes (ABS) with Brake Assist (which increases braking pressure in emergency situations) and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (which apportions braking force to the tires with the best grip); Vehicle Stability Control (which attempts to restrain a vehicle from spinning out of control by adjusting the application of throttle and brakes); and traction control (which reduces front wheel spin under acceleration).
Other than the choice of transmissions, Toyota offers no factory-installed options for the xB. Instead, a buyer selects from some 40 accessories to be installed either by Toyota at the port of entry or by the dealer. These comprise both appearance and functional items. Among the eye-candies are clear tail lamp lenses, rear bumper applique, body side graphics, LED interior lighting, carbon fiber shift knob, sport pedals, and an instrument panel applique. Adding function are a leather-wrapped steering wheel (red or gray), front strut tower brace, fog lamps, cup holder illumination, removable roof rack, 6-CD changer, satellite radio tuner and antenna, cold-air induction system, and an assortment of handling and performance goodies from Toyota Racing Development.
The styling of the Scion xB is polarizing. Most think it's the hottest machine on the planet or the ugliest thing on four wheels. It drew numerous accolades, looks of approval, and positive hand signals from people in Miami and South Florida.
The Scion xB looks like nothing else on the road. Sheets of flat metal and glass on the sides join at right angles with a flat roof, a flat hood and a flat liftgate. Only the barest hint of a curve softens the front end and windshield. A Honda Element looks curvaceous when parked alongside this exercise in extreme angularity.
The wheels and tires look tiny under the boxy exterior. Aftermarket alloys that fill the wheel wells would likely improve its looks.
Tall doors open wide. Top-hinged outside door handles fit smoothly into the xB's slab-sided styling, but they're less ergonomic and less friendly to fingernails than open, full-round handles like those found on the xB's more traditionally styled sibling, the xA. A bonus in a smallish vehicle like this one is that six-footers can walk beneath the open liftgate without fear of gouging an eye or cracking a skull.
Our xB came in Black Cherry with an Exterior Package ($758) that included a rear spoiler, a big but subtly colored Logo Brown graphic on the side, and appliques on the fuel filler and B-pillar designed to look like carbon-fiber.
The design of the seats indicates the xB is not intended to be a sports car. The seats are more like chairs than car seats, raised somewhat above the mostly flat floor. Side bolsters on the seat back and seat bottom cushions are minimal making for easy entry and exit. The floor-mounted shift lever falls readily to hand, as does the hand-operated emergency brake. Pedals are ergonomically placed.
Gauges are centered on the top of the dash instead of being directly in front of the driver. Scion says this makes the instruments easier to see because they're closer to the driver's line of sight through the windshield and focal plane. No doubt this also saves cost in a car built for markets around the world that use both right-hand and left-hand steering. We found the blank landscape between the spokes of the steering wheel takes some acclimation. At night, we kept wondering, 'Where are the dash lights?' Once acclimated, the driver finds a large, black-on-white speedometer, a small tachometer and a small fuel gauge.
The broad expanses of glass make outward visibility stellar, good for heavy traffic and tight parking spaces. Big outside mirrors afford a good view rearward.
Interior quality is better than decent, especially given the xB's price point. Fit and finish are up to Toyota standards. The stereo is mounted above the air conditioning controls because they're operated more often. Temperature and ventilation settings are adjusted with basic knobs, buttons and lever. But the stereo plays to people used to directional buttons and PDA cursor pads.
The xB's exterior styling suggests a roomy interior and it delivers on this promise. Compared with the Honda Civic and VW Golf, the xB leads in virtually every passenger compartment measurement, and generally not by small amounts. Remarkably, the xB offers more passenger room than the larger and taller Honda Element. Scion xB delivers about 6 inches more front and rear headroom and 3-5 inches more legroom than Civic and Golf offer. Amazingly, the xB boasts nearly 3 inches more front-seat headroom and 7 inches more rear-seat headroom than the Element, despite the Element being 6 inches taller. The Element does offer a lot more front-seat hip room, however, and slightly more rear-seat legroom.
For hauling booty away from the local flea market and garage sales, the xB offers a smidgen more space than the Civic and the Golf. The Element easily tops the xB, however, offering 74.6 cubic feet of cargo space versus the xB's 43.4 cubic feet.
Ordering the available subwoofer takes up 2 square feet of floor space in the cargo area. Worse, it's mounted right smack in the middle rear of the cargo area and is really in the way when loading or unloading materials. Also, the subwoofer on our car rattled over bumps.
Cubby space is normal for the class. There are the usual map pockets in the doors, cupholders front and rear and so on. There's a nook in the lower half of the dash to the left of the steering column, a cranny to the right of the column and a shelf-like opening above the glove box.
The ride is firm. You hear and feel every bump. At first, the xB didn't generate a lot of confidence when braking and cornering, especially when they're done at the same time, but confidence in its capabilities increases with time behind the wheel. Body lean in corners is minimal, notwithstanding the tallish glass house. It's difficult to envision the xB in a situation requiring the vehicle stability control system, but it's standing by in the event it's needed, ready to eliminate any skidding. Steering assist is about right. Some torque steer was evident, and there's a bit of kick back over uneven trolley tracks but nothing untoward on either account.
Acceleration is adequate and lives up to our expectations. Torque peaks at rather high engine speeds, so revving it up in lower gears is advisable for merging onto freeways. Scion xB gets excellent gas mileage: 31/35 mpg on the EPA City/Highway test with the manual, 30/34 with the automatic.
The automatic is responsive enough. Gear changes with the manual shifter could have been crisper, but clutch take-up is smooth. Brakes feel solid and hold well on steep hills.
The Scion is a small Toyota. With that comes quality design and assembly, which translates into minimal wind noise; no odd vibrations, buzzes, squeaks or rattles; and no harshness, really, at least nothing beyond what might be expected in a relatively lightweight, short-wheelbase car.
The Scion xB features trendy styling, a roomy cabin, and is priced aggressively. When it comes to moving stuff around, it's better than a compact car. Because it's a Toyota, owners should expect and expect and demand solid quality and the durability and reliability associated with the marque.
Scion xB ($13,680).
Options As Tested
alloy wheels ($665); wheel locks ($59); Sound Package ($774) includes AM/FM/6CD, Bazooka Tube subwoofer; security system ($429); Light Package ($879) includes Luxaura LED enhancement, cup holder illumination, fog lights; Logo Brown Exterior Package ($758) includes rear spoiler, body-side graphic, B-Pillar applique, fuel-filler applique; Preferred Package ($366) includes carpeted floor mats, cargo mat, cargo net, ACSCO door sill enhancements, rear bumper applique.
Scion xB automatic ($14,480).
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