The Scion xB is a box on wheels. Completely redesigned for the 2008 model year, it is now in its second generation, a bit less boxy looking than the first generation models (2004-2007). For 2010, the only changes are to the audio systems.
When it comes to interior space, you can't beat a box. Utility-wise, the xB is somewhat like the Honda Fit, with front-wheel drive, five doors, room for five passengers, good cargo space and lots of versatility. But it looks nothing like the Fit.
Inside, there is lots of cargo capacity, and versatility is enhanced with front seats that fully recline and 60/40-split rear seats that drop flat with one pull of a lever. So, not only does the Scion xB do a good job of hauling passengers, it quickly converts into a little utility van, as well.
Power is from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 158 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, and utilizes Toyota's Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) to help deliver a broad torque band and good fuel economy; the xB is EPA-rated at 22/28 mpg City/Highway with either the standard five-speed manual transmission or the optional four-speed automatic.
The xB features electric power steering, which does away with belts, pulleys and hydraulic fluid. All in all, the xB is nimble, responsive and fun to drive around town.
For 2010, new audio systems include a standard Pioneer unit with iPod/USB connectivity, a programmable welcome message screen, and an RCA output. An optional Alpine Premium system includes a 4.3-inch color touch-screen monitor, HD Radio technology, and optional navigation.
Scion xB with manual transmission ($15,850); with automatic ($16,800)
Believe it or not, the Scion xB sort of has the limo look going for it. Maybe even a gangster look, like a sedan from the '20s. It's the roofline with the thick C-pillar that's located all the way at the back of the car, and the uninterrupted dark tinted windows. The roof-to-floor B-pillar is hidden between the doors, covered by parts of the black frames around the windows.
There's also a subtle 1.5-inch taper from the height of the windows at the front of the front window to the rear of the rear window, adding to the effect of reducing the squareness and making the xB look longer. The optional rear spoiler, as on our test xB, extends the roofline even more.
In front, the look is cohesive, with a thin black grille that's almost flush with the bumper below it. The headlamps are shapely and swept back, although they stick out at the sides, like bubbles. Below the thick plastic bumper under the grille, there's another black grille that sucks in air for the bottom of the radiator. At each side there are thin vertical black rubber things, apparently meant to be faux air intakes for brakes. They lend depth to the otherwise massive and flat valance.
Even though it's a box, the long body, wide C-pillar, rounded fender flares, and integrated nose make the xB look not so squared-off from any angle.
The interior of the Scion xB fits with the exterior looks. The driver has a commanding view of the road. That's exceptional if not unique, for a car of this size. The short nose, big windshield, elevatable driver's seat, and far-away dashboard create this feel. You become aware of the distance to the windshield when you reach to adjust the rearview mirror, which is quite a stretch from your shoulder. The glass is nearly upright and doesn't sweep back very much.
There's not much of a stretch from the front-seat passenger's knees to the good-sized glovebox. It's mounted low so it folds down, possibly on the passenger's shins. Above the glovebox there is a long thin tray which might be useful if it had a liner that offered some grip, instead of the hard, slick vinyl.
Charcoal is the only color for the fabric seats, which are comfortable and well bolstered, although they're shapeless and light on padding in the rear. The fabric isn't as sturdy, outdoorsy or cool as that in the Mazda3, but charcoal makes the most of the cloth. The xB seats five. The three kids who rode in the rear seat of our xB didn't have a problem, but three adults would. Two adults wouldn't be uncomfortable though, because you can easily slide your feet up under the front seats.
For rear-seat passengers, there are two cupholders that pop out of the back of the console between the front seats, a bottle holder in each door, and clever trays under the rear seats for storage of flat things like books and portfolios.
That wide C-pillar that enhances the exterior styling creates a blind spot when pulling out onto the highway at a 45-degree angle. Even knowing it was there and trying to peer around it, we managed to pull out in front of a car we couldn't see.
There are no gauges directly in front of the driver, which is a bit weird; but the row of four of them on the dashboard just to the right of the steering wheel makes up for it, because they're good. At the far left is the information display, revealing things like fuel mileage and range. Then comes the clock, which is highly readable; unlike so many, the color is orange and it has an eave to reduce being washed out by sunlight. The digital speedometer is excellent, with big numbers that are, like those on the clock, easily readable. Beyond these are the gas gauge and temperature gauge.
There's a lot of sound dampening material in the xB, and it seems like most of it must be in the firewall. Or else the engine is just quiet. You can't hear much engine noise, maybe because it's drowned out by the tire noise.
We were thankful for the halogen high beams during two fast one-hour runs on a dark, winding and lonely freeway, although we wished the low beams were brighter. And for some reason there's only one backup light, on the driver's side. Is it a Scion styling thing, like one earring or something?
Scion has put special effort into the air conditioning, and it shows. Four round vents on the dash quietly and quickly blast out cold air.
The automatic shift lever comes out of the center stack at a 45-degree angle, an ergonomic improvement introduced by Honda. The door handles, however, show little thought about ergonomics. They're horizontal, thin, barely two inches long, and tapered to a point.
Most of the slim space between the seats is taken by two fixed cupholders, a slot for a cellphone, and the parking brake lever, leaving room for only a small console compartment rearward between the seats.
The 60/40-split rear seats fold flat easily, creating good cargo space behind the front seats. The front passenger seat reclines, and that's good for naps, but with the passenger seat down there isn't any more practical cargo space because it reclines right on top of the folded rear seat, so it sticks way up there. The Honda Fit and Mazda5 remain the standards of cargo space in a small vehicle.
The 2.4-liter engine might not move the xB out of econobox territory, but it certainly powers it to the front of the field.
In terms of fuel economy, our average was 26 miles per gallon over 420 miles, most of it leadfoot running on the freeway. The latest EPA ratings are 22/28 mpg City/Highway for the xB.
Throttle response is excellent and steady. You get a lot of smooth acceleration out of just a little bit of pressing down of your foot. The revs climb right up through the numbers on the tachometer, until the transmission upshifts at 6100 or 6200 rpm (even if it's in manual mode). The engine doesn't feel like it's working hard, it feels like it loves every chance it gets to leap between 3000 rpm and 6000 rpm.
Just don't forget that the Scion xB is not a sports car. We passed a truck going uphill on a two-lane, and with our foot on the floor we wished for even more quickness. Or maybe it was the five-speed manual transmission we were wishing for. Or a five-speed automatic.
The four-speed automatic kicks down a lot. This might be an annoyance if the xB weren't so eager about wanting to zoom forward. Every time it kicks down to third, it's happy. Give it a bit more gas at 75 mph on the freeway, and it kicks down to third and tries to get you up to 85, even if you hadn't quite intended to go that fast.
Seventy miles per hour in fourth gear is a comfortably low rev range, so there's lots of room for the engine to play, without screaming. The engine makes its peak torque of 162 pound-feet at 4000 rpm, and you can feel the engine come on there.
It's fun and nimble to drive around town, and the electric power steering gives good feedback to the steering wheel.
The great brakes add to the around-town fun, not because you use them hard in the city, but because they're smooth, tight and responsive, with pedal pressure that's just right. And when you need them, they'll be there. The front and rear rotors are both big for a small car, about 11 inches, and the front rotors are ventilated so they stay cooler under hard use. They're equipped with ABS, and with EBD, which balances the front and rear braking forces, and Brake Assist, which in certain panic-stop situations will increase braking and help to deliver a shorter stop.
But if you take the xB out on back roads to play, don't expect the transmission's manual mode to be very manual; about half the time it seems to be on its own program. Also, if you plan to drive the corners hard, you may want to invest in TRD suspension components from your Scion dealer. The xB wasn't made for that. The wheels jounce around on bumpy surfaces. But worse than that, the ride isn't quite up to sharp spots on the freeway, especially at higher speeds.
The Scion xB offers some fine features, including a good fabric interior and 60/40-split rear seats that easily fold flat, creating an excellent cargo compartment behind the front seats. From the driver's seat, the xB provides an unusually high feeling of command for a small car. It's nimble, fun to drive, and the brakes are outstanding, although the ride can be jagged over certain types of bumps.
Sam Moses drove the xB in the Columbia River Gorge before filing this report to NewCarTestDrive.com.