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2008 Scion XD Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2008 Scion XD

New Car Test Drive
© 2008

The 2008 Scion xD replaces the Toyota division's cute, efficient xA. Introduced four years ago, the xA was a popular subcompact. Scion's grand plan is to offer new models frequently, so it was time for the xA to go. While the xD is all new, shoppers can think of it as the second generation of the xA. In spirit and execution, it remains essentially the same: A small, efficient, relatively inexpensive four-door hatchback aimed at young, stylish buyers.

The new xD has a boxier roofline and more bulbous hood. We think it has lost some of the distinctiveness of the xA, but the xD can be dressed up into a unique, good-looking car, and that remains part of the Scion plan. The new xD is designed for easy personalization, and Scion offers dozens of dealer-installed parts, starting with an array of custom wheels.

On paper, the Scion xD has the right stuff. It has a longer wheelbase and wider track yet virtually the same overall length as the xA; that means shorter overhangs for a sportier appearance suggesting more agile handling. With a 1.8-liter engine making 128 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque, the xD is substantially more powerful than the 1.5-liter xA model it replaces (by 20 hp). The new xD's engine also benefits from the latest version of Toyota's VVT-i, or variable valve timing, technology for strong power and good fuel economy.

The xD comes well equipped, with air conditioning, a high-watt Pioneer stereo and a full complement of power accessories.

The xD sets the class benchmark for safety equipment. Front, side and curtain-style airbags are standard, as is a sophisticated anti-lock brake system. The xD is available with optional electronic stability control, which isn't even offered on most cars in its class.

In some respects, however, the xD falls short of the xA it replaces. The xD is heavier than the xA, by 300 pounds, so acceleration is diminished, particularly with the automatic transmission. Also, EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings are poorer, but that's complicated by the EPA's new testing methods for 2008 models which degrade on paper fuel economy for most cars. The xD is rated at 27/33 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission. And despite its slightly larger exterior dimensions, the xD provides less interior space than the old xA did, and less than key competitors such as the Honda Fit. The xD's interior loses 1.5 cubic feet of volume overall, and a significant four inches of rear legroom.

The good news is that the Scion xD is a roomy little car, with lots of headroom and comfortable space for four medium-size adults. The new rear seat is particularly handy. It reclines, slides fore and aft to maximize passenger or cargo room, or quickly folds totally flat, creating an excellent cargo space measuring a maximum 35.7 cubic feet.

The xD's overall performance is spry. Ride quality is acceptable in most circumstances, and while it isn't the sportiest performer in its class, it can be fun to drive. We recommend the five-speed manual transmission, because the weakest link in the xD package is the optional automatic. It's a conventional four-speed and, with the XD's free-revving engine, it feels like it needs more gears.

Model Lineup

Scion xD ($14,550); xD automatic ($15,350)

Walk Around

The Scion xD is essentially the same size as the Honda Fit, its most obvious competitor. It's quite a bit smaller than the Nissan Versa and Dodge Caliber.

The xD is only half an inch longer than the old Scion xA, on a wheelbase that's 3.5 inches longer. That means shorter overhangs, engineering that should result in a better ride and more room inside.

We're a bit disappointed with the styling, and the more generic look Scion is taking across its new line. The new xD looks too much like the new xB. The old xA was a sporty little thing and the old xB was a unique box; now the xD and xB are each sort of a blended box. There are significant differences between them, but those differences may not be as apparent to people on the street as they should be, especially for a brand whose cornerstone is distinction.

The xD roofline is boxed in at the rear corner with a wide C-pillar (like the xB). Its fender flares have lost some of the xA's smooth shapeliness, and its hood is longer and quite bulbous, in place of the xA's cool steep slope from the top of the windshield to the front bumper. The halogen headlights are sleek, but they're pinched in a shape at odds with the roundness of the hood, which has a chrome Scion emblem stuck on the front.

The standard steel wheels measure 16 inches in diameter, and the wheelwell gaps have been tightened, which is good. But none of the three wheelcover styles do much for the car. A sharp set of wheels goes a long way toward bringing the xD alive, and that's part of Scion's personalization platform. We've seen xDs with the six-spoke, 18-inch polished alloy wheels available from Scion dealerships, and they totally change the bulky looks of the car. The 17-inch black alloys look great too, and those who don't want to spring for new tires can choose 16-inch alloys. With wheels and a rear spoiler to extend the lines of the roof, the xD looks more like something worth showing off.


Scion has dared to be different, by its own edict, and that's obvious from the driver's seat of the 2008 Scion xD. The aesthetic appeal lies more in the interior's unconventional elements rather than clean, elegant design, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. From the functional perspective, the xD interior works well, with only a couple of things worth complaining about.

Materials used inside the xD are generally good for a car in this price range. The expansive plastic that covers the dash and door panels has a woven-grain, matte finish, and it's more appealing than the glossy hard stuff in some inexpensive cars. The shiny black plastic trim pieces look like piano lacquer, and better than fake wood or metal.

The seats are covered in dark charcoal fabric and are quite handsome, especially when compared to the cloth that comes with some other cars in this class. The upholstery isn't plush, but it feels sturdy. The front seats are firm but not too firm, and provide decent bolstering, which is good because many xD owners will be ripping around corners after they add Toyota Racing Development suspension components.

Switches are well placed, with the audio system above the air conditioning controls in the center stack. All the knobs are big and easy to find, though those for the climate controls have a slightly loose, jerky feel.

The gauges are mixed bag. The primary display, which Scion calls a concentric combination meter, is a speedometer and tachometer in one package, centered over the adjustable steering column. It's designed to be different, but in this case it's not better. With the tachometer and speedometer needles moving in opposite directions around a circle, it's hard to process the information at a glance. The gas gauge is a bright, easy-to-read LED to the left of the steering column, and the xD comes standard with a multi-information display that allows the driver to toggle between the odometer, trip meters, instant fuel economy, average fuel economy, distance-to-empty and average vehicle speed. Not long ago, such trip computers were reserved for luxury cars.

The 160-watt Pioneer sound system with six speakers is loud and clear, and plenty for a car this size. Dealer-installed upgrades are available for buyers who want more. The standard system is wired for iPod, MP3/WMA, and satellite, and includes an auxiliary input jack. Like the trip computer, the redundant audio controls on the steering wheel spoke are the exception in this class.

Somehow, despite gaining three inches in wheelbase, the Scion xD has less interior space than the xA model it replaces. It's lost one inch of legroom in front, and passenger volume overall has decreased, from 86.0 cubic feet to 84.5.

The xD's rear seat is quite roomy when rear-passenger space is maximized. The rear seat easily slides forward or backward six inches, adding space for either cargo behind the seatback or passengers in front of it. With the rear seat moved full forward, there's enough legroom for a 12-year old; with the rear seat moved back, there's room for medium-sized adults. Head room is expansive, and with the front seat set for a 5-foot, 10-inch driver, there was enough rear legroom for a 5-foot, 9-inch rear passenger. Moreover, the rear seatback reclines 10 degrees, which remains a rarity in all cars. The rear-seat headrests rise a long way from the seatback, allowing more comfort for passengers when the seat is occupied, and better rearward visibility for the driver when the seat is empty.

Cargo volume is good, which is important if it's stuff you carry more than passengers. The rear seat folds totally flat, opening 35.7 cubic feet of space behind the front seats. That's less than the Honda Fit (41.9 cubic feet) and substantially less than the Nissan Versa hatchback (50.4). Small compartments under the xD's cargo floor hold the jack tools and leave some extra room, though not

Driving Impressions

The Scion brand is supposed to be different by design, but it's still a product of Toyota, and on the road the 2008 Scion xD tends to reveal its Toyota roots. By this we mean that the xD travels straight down the middle of the road, in the figurative sense, as Toyota's vehicles often do by design. It's neither a standout nor a slouch in any particular dynamic category, and it's finished to satisfy the broadest possible cross-section of buyers.

Our driving included a wide range of conditions, from hard twisty corners to a crowded, choppy stretch of Los Angeles freeway to casual errand-running through suburbia. The xD's suspension is neither too soft nor too firm and responsive. It's tuned for a balance between decent ride quality and decent response. In typical circumstances the xD handles well, with a crisp, moderately sporty feel, and its driver will quickly develop confidence in how it will react in any situation.

If you really push the xD, however, as we did through some tight switchback corners, its front end presses down toward the pavement and the front tires quickly start to slide. The driver's natural inclination is to lift a little off the gas pedal, and the xD responds by plowing safely through the curve. It's not as responsive or inspiring as a Honda Fit Sport, for example, but that is probably the smart approach, because most drivers will probably never drive it hard enough to find out. Those who do will likely invest in some of the Toyota Racing Development parts offered specifically to improve handling.

The ride is good, particularly when the road is relatively smooth. The xD is comfortable, without wallowing in a way that makes the driver think the car is floating around underneath. Moderate bumps are no problem either, as there is enough suspension travel to soak up the shock before it travels up into the cabin. But when the bumps come one after another in rapid succession, the xD gets a bit bouncy and unsettled. If those bumps are big, the front wheels can shake at moderate speeds, and the rear-end feels a bit skittish. The xD's torsion-beam rear axle simply can't keep the rear tires planted as firmly as a fully independent rear suspension.

The 1.8-liter engine in the xD makes 128 horsepower, which is 20 more than the engine in the prior xA, and there's also 20 more pound-feet of torque. On the other hand, the xD is 300 pounds heavier than the xA, so the more powerful engine has more mass to get rolling. In total, the xD's acceleration pretty much matches the xA model it replaces, and with the five-speed manual transmission, it's more than adequate. The engine's power is biased toward the high end of its rev range (peak horsepower comes at 6000 rpm), so if maximum acceleration is the goal, it's best to keep the four-cylinder spinning at high revs. That's easy to accomplish with the manual transmission and an enjoyable experience to boot. With the manual transmission, the xD can hold its own with the fuel-swilling, big-engined carnivores that populate the urban jungle.

In stop-and-go freeway traffic, the xD's throttle response can be abrupt. It takes a bit of practice to get on the gas smoothly, each time the traffic moves again, without producing a little jerk. But the driver will learn, and smooth things out in reasonably short order. The only real complaint in the xD's powertrain is the optional automatic transmission.

The xD has a four-speed automatic, where many small cars now offer five-speeds or continuously variable (CVT) automatics. We're not getting into a most-gears contest here, because it's a matter of what works. And with its high-revving four-cylinder engine, the xD's automatic simply doesn't perform all that well, except perhaps for the pokiest of drivers. In short, the automatic transmission does not offer the spry acceleration of the manual, especially at slower speeds.

The automatic is

The 2008 Scion xD replaces the xA. It's slightly bigger, heavier, and costs a little more, and it offers slightly less interior space. It has a bigger engine, and with the manual transmission performs well. With the optional four-speed automatic, it's much less zippy around town. It comes standard with a full complement of safety features, except for electronic stability control, which is the only available option. The name of the Scion game is adding components purchased from a Scion dealer to create your own distinctive and higher performing xD. If that's the plan, it's a great place to start. Off the rack, compared to the competition, the xD is only fair to middling.

Sam Moses reported to from Hollywood, with J.P. Vetttraino in Detroit.

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