Young, hip and different? Or practical fuel-efficient micro-SUV? When Toyota launched the Scion brand, it intended the xB as the former. But in the year since going on sale, the xB has found a fan base with folks in their mid-30s. Sure, it's shaped like a packing crate, but so are most refrigerators, dressers, and, well, packing crates, all objects designed for maximum space efficiency. Come on, people. Love the box. $13,680 3 yrs/36,000 mile warranty, 5 yrs/60,000 miles powertrain.
Among the Fast-and-the-Furious set (of which I am a Honda-owning wannabe), there's a fascination with cars and parts that can only be purchased in Japan. There's even an acronym, JDM (Japanese Domestic Market). People spend all sorts of money to import JDM parts, so Toyota figured, why not bring over a whole car? Several Japanese manufacturers offer cube-shaped minicars in the home market, where overcrowded urban streets highlight the need for small size and space/fuel efficiency. Toyota simply plucked up a model called the bB and added the Scion nameplate. Voila! Instant hit, right? Yes, but perhaps not in the way Toyota planned. The average xB buyer is about 35 years old. Turns out the xB's appeal here in the States is the same as back home: small size and space/fuel efficiency. The xB can haul large, bulky cargo (tall plants, moving boxes, big dogs) and plenty of it, yet still return 35+ MPG and slip into impossibly small parking spaces. And with a base price around $14,000, including power windows, locks and mirrors, power steering, air conditioning, a CD player, antilock brakes, and traction control, it's a heck of a bargain. Practicality, thine initials are xB.
In the Driver's Seat
xB's Odd Dashboard, Surprisingly User-Friendly© Toyota
The xB offers a comfortable, if somewhat unconventional, driving position. The xB's windshield is more vertical than most, and the driver looks over a squared-off hood. The minimalist instrumentation (fairly big speedometer, tiny tachometer and fuel gauge) is in a pod on the center of the dash, a handy location once you get accustomed to it. Obviously there's no shortage of headroom. The back seats are adequate provided the people you put back there aren't prone to complaining. The xB's short length necessitates a choice between back seat room and trunk space; packing the xB to the gills requires folding the rear seats. Unfortunately, the trunk of my test car was occupied by a huge tube-shaped subwoofer (bass speaker, not shown in the photos), part of an optional ($775) stereo system with enough power to bring down low-flying planes. Speaking of options, most of the xB's are purely aesthetic: tape stripes, colored lights for the floor and cupholders, etc., stuff Scion's marketers thought would appeal to the young'uns who want to be different, just like everyone else. For those seeking practicality, these options are mostly useless doo-dads that can easily nudge the xB's price well above $18,000. Skip 'em.
On the Road
The front-wheel-drive xB's mechanicals are essentially similar to the Toyota Echo, with which it shares the 108 horsepower 1.5 liter engine. The 5-speed manual transmission has a loose-feeling shift linkage, but the clutch is light which makes urban driving more of a pleasure than a chore. If you do a lot of highway driving, the stick-shift is the way to go, as the automatic version runs out of breath at higher speeds. The xB is at its best around town, where you can take advantage of its short length (just under 13 feet, nearly two feet shorter than a Toyota Corolla) and ultra-tight turning circle (36 feet). On the highway, the choppy ride and lack of cruise control (it's not even optional) turn into annoyances. Bottom line: The xB's not especially involving to drive, but it's small size makes it nippy and responsive, and it consistently returns upwards of 30 MPG. Score!
Passengers or Cargo? Your Choice© Toyota
Forget about the xB's youth-market hype. What we've got here is an ultra-practical mini-hatch that's easy to drive, easy to afford and easy to love. Best of all, it's a Toyota, which means with proper care it'll last practically forever. And if the shape looks awkward, trust me, it grows on you. Besides, it's easy to find in crowded parking lots! If your list of new-car must-haves includes economy, quality, and practicality, make sure you check out the Scion Box. I mean x-Box. Er, xB.