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2008 Scion xB test drive

Sometimes bigger really is better

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2008 Scion xB left-front article

2008 Scion xB

Photo © Aaron Gold
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2008 brings us the second generation of the xB, the mini-box-on-wheels from Toyota's Scion division. The new xB is decidedly less box-like and decidedly less mini: A foot longer, three inches wider, and with a much larger engine, the new xB now has enough interior room to qualify it as a proper family car, at the expense of an increased appetite for unleaded. Can bigger really be better? I tested two xBs, one manual and one automatic, in order to find out. $16,230 base, $20,273 and $20,587 as tested, EPA mileage estimates (new 2008 formula) 22 MPG city, 28 MPG highway.

First Glance: Big changes -- but with good reason

Larger exterior photos: Front -- front with TRD wheels -- rear

When I first saw pictures of the all-new 2008 Scoin xB, I knew I wasn't going to like it. Scion had ditched the original xB's boxy shape and small size -- so what was the point? I figured the new xB had totally jumped the shark.

But five minutes after seeing the new xB in person, I was singing an entirely different tune. The xB does most of what the old car does: It's still great at hauling bulky cargo, it's still easy to drive and park, and it still turns heads. But with its new-found size, the xB has moved into the realm of proper family cars. Forget about comparing the xB to mini-cars like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris -- in terms of interior space, the xB now bears closer comparison to small crossover utility vehicles such as the Honda Element and Jeep Compass.

I won't debate the merits of the xB's styling; that's a matter of taste, of which I have very little. Personally, I'm tired of cars that all look alike, and anything different is good. I especially like the xB's design details, such as the pug nose and the asymmetrical rear bumper with its single back-up light (link goes to photo). But the xB's true beauty comes from within.

Continued below...

In the Driver's Seat: The family-size Scion

2008 Scion xB dashboard left side

xB featuers an asymmetrical dash with lots of storage space

Photo © Aaron Gold
Larger interior photo

Where the old car made you choose between four passengers and lots of stuff, the new xB combines a usefully large cargo bay (21.7 cubic feet with the seats up) with a back seat that is cavernous by compact-car standards -- leg and headroom compare favorably with a small SUV, if not a minivan.

Up front, the xB's squared-off shape and tall driving position give the driver an unusual (but relatively unobstructed) view out the windshield. I expected lots of blind spots what with the wide pillars toward the rear of the car; in fact the sightlines are excellent, aided by big rectangular side mirrors. The new xB is easy to park and a joy to thread through urban traffic. Still, the driving position isn't quire perfect: The steering wheel tilts up and down but does not telescope in and out; positioning the seat a comfortable distance from the pedals put me a bit too far away from the steering wheel. But the transmission shifter is mounted "rally style" on an extension of the dash rather than on the floor, meaning it's a shorter reach from the steering wheel -- very nice.

And there are more styling details to love, particularly the asymmetrical dash. Its multitude of flat surfaces have been put to good use, providing lots of storage space for odds and ends. The center-mounted gauge cluster returns in a new, bigger form with an easy-to-read digital speedometer. There's a new emphasis on safety, too: Front-seat-mounted torso (side) airbags and two-row side curtain airbags are standard, as are four-wheel antilock disc brakes and electronic stability control.

On the Road: More power, more fun, more thirst

One common complaint about the old xB was its lack of power. The new xB's increased size meant a slightly bump in power wouldn't do, so Scion took the sledgehammer approach: Out with the 103 horsepower 1.5 liter engine and in with a 158 horsepower 2.4 liter engine (the same size engine found in mid-size cars like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord). Even with its added bulk, the xB zips in a way that the old car could only dream of. Though the four-speed automatic is a bit archaic, it accelerates with just as much zeal as the 5-speed manual. The downside to the added power (and the added size and weight) is fuel economy. The days of the 35 MPG xB are over. I achieved just under 25 MPG with both manual and automatic cars, which is below your average compact, on par with a mid-size sedan, and no surprise considering the xB's toaster-like aerodynamics.

The xB is wonderful to drive -- it's lots fun to fling 'round the curves, though such flinging takes some getting used to as the tall driving position emphasizes the sensation of body lean in turns. (Don't worry -- she'll swing, she'll sway, but she'll hold.) One of the xBs I drove was fitted with a set of sport springs ($250 plus installation) from Toyota Racing Devlopment (TRD). Such springs usually make for a much harsher ride, but in the xB they reduced (but did not entirely quell) the xB's floatiness on uneven roads without adversely affecting ride comfort. In fact, the reduced body motion actually made the ride more comfortable -- which is why I'd recommend the sport springs, even xB buyers who don't fling.

Journey's End: The xB I've always wanted

2008 Scion xB left rear view

2008 Scion xB with TRD wheels and sport springs

Photo © Aaron Gold
Despite the decrease in fuel economy -- by far the car's biggest flaw -- I love the new Scion xB. Here, finally, is a vehicle that combines Scion style with family-friendly accommodations and a budget-friendly price: $16,230 including must-haves like power windows, mirrors and locks, Pioneer CD/MP3 stereo with iPod jack, cruise control and air conditioning. Scion offers a huge array of avaialble add-ons from snazzy wheels to carbon-fiber trim to a navigation system (my favorite: multi-color illuminated cupholders). One of the two xBs I tested had an array of go-faster equipment from TRD; the other had twin DVD movie players embedded in the back seat headrests ($1,599 -- a pair of portable DVD players would be cheaper). All in all, Scion buyers can chose from over $13,000 worth of extras.

The original xB found favor with buyers who saw it as a super-frugal micro-SUV; those people will probably be disappointed by the new xB. If you want small size and max economy, I'd check out the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa, though you might do just as well with a used first-gen xB.

In terms of space, the new xB bears comparison with small four-cylinder CUVs such as the Honda Element and the Hyundai Tucson; it also fares well against small, fun-to-drive hatchbacks like the Volkswagen Rabbit, Mazda 3 and Suzuki SX4. The xB matches or beats all of these cars on practicality, and trumps them on style and individualism. If what you want is a family hauler with unique styling, than look no further -- the xB is the car to buy. -- Aaron Gold

Next page: Pros, cons, who should buy it, and specs

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