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Scion-Braun xB Rampvan Test Drive

A little closer to normal

By

Scion-Braun xB Rampvan with ramp deployed

Scion-Braun xB Rampvan with ramp deployed

(C) Aaron Gold

Introduction

The Scion/Braun xB Rampvan is a wheelchair-accessible version of the popular minicar from Toyota's Scion division. Its small size limits its scope, but for those who can fit under its 50" tailgate the xB Rampvan represents a whole new chapter in accessible motoring. The xB Rampvan looks like a regular car, gets 30+ MPG, and isn't limited to van-accessible parking spaces. Base price approximately $32,000 ($16k Scion xB + $16k conversion), price as tested approx. $34,200.

First Glance: Looks like a regular car

One of the xB Rampvan's most appealing factors is that it looks like a regular car. Aside from the raised rear suspension and the "BRAUN RAMPVAN" lettering, which blends nicely with the rest of the badging, the Rampvan looks like any other Scion xB.

One of the xB's more appealing factors is the wide variety of customizable appearance options, virtually all of which can be fitted to the Rampvan. My test car had snazzy wheels, an OBX shift handle, custom steering wheel, and carbon-fiber dash trim, among other doo-dads. Functional equipment such as air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks, CD player, power steering and rear wiper/defroster are standard on the xB.

Conversion and Operation

The Braun conversion consists of removing the back seat, lowering the floor behind the front seats, cutting the rear bumper and making it part of the hatch lid, and installing the ramp and its associated hardware. The rear suspension has to be raised in order to accommodate the lowered floor, so Braun replaces the xB's steel springs with air springs which allow the car to "kneel" when the ramp is in use.

Operation is completely automatic -- just press a single button and watch the show. The rear suspension drops, the hatch lid swings open, and the bi-fold ramp lowers. Another button closes up the xB, as does putting the car in gear.

With the ramp deployed, head clearance is 50" under the tailgate with another 3/8" in the back seat area. Little adults and children will have no problem wheeling into the Rampvan, but taller wheelchair occupants might find it too much of a squeeze. For scooter users with limited mobility or an able-bodied companion, the xB is brilliant -- wheeling the scooter into the back of the xB is a lot faster and easier than using a hoist.

The Wheelchair Perspective

Since I'm not in a wheelchair, I employed the help of Mike Hansel to test the xB's accessible features. Mike has osteogenesis imperfecta (aka brittle bone disease). He is a little adult and uses a manual wheelchair.

Mike thought operation of the ramp was easy, but the ramp angle was a bit steep. He liked the flexibility of the rear ramp, which eliminates the worries of someone parking next to the car and blocking the driver in or out, as with a side ramp. What about parallel parking? "I rarely need to," he said, "and you can always park just in front of a driveway or fire hydrant, so there'll be room." Because Mike is short in stature, he had no problems wheeling into under the hatch.

In the Driver's Seat: Getting there is NOT half the fun...

The xB Rampvan cannot accommodate a wheelchair in either front seating position; drivers and front-seat passengers must be able to transfer themselves into the front seat. The Rampvan does have tie-down to accommodate a full-size wheelchair as a back-seat passenger.

My test vehicle had an optional power transfer seat (about $2,200) which slides back and swivels inward. Though installed in the driver's position in my tester, it can also be used for a passenger.

Unfortunately the limited dimensions inside the xB make it difficult to use. Though Mike is short in stature and his wheelchair is narrower than most, he found maneuvering space inside the xB to be tight. The xB's floor is 60" long behind the rear seats, 31" wide at the entryway and 48.5" wide immediately behind the front seats, and the transfer seat takes up a lot of that room. With the seat transfer position his wheelchair still protruded slightly from the back of the Rampvan. Swiveling the driver's seat also posed a problem: Too little clearance between it and the passenger's seat. With the passenger's seat adjusted to its full forward position, there was barely enough room for his legs. "My legs are short, but paraplegic or quadriplegic wouldn't make it," Mike said. With the passenger's seat moved back, the driver's seat doesn't have room to swivel at all. This poses a serious problem: If a passenger slides the seat back and forgets to move it forward, the driver is going to have a heck of a time when he or she next needs to use the transfer seat.

Front airbags can pose a potential danger to smaller occupants. The xB Rampvan does not have an airbag disable switch, but according to Bob Swaim, national manager of Toyota's mobility programs, owners in the US can petition NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) for a waiver that will allow them to have the airbags legally disconnected.

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