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