2008 is a big year for Scion: Along with an all-new xB, Scion has replaced the subcompact xA with a new entry level model called the xD. Why Scion changed the name is beyond me; the xD picks up exactly where the xA left off, offering buyers a subcompact five-door hatchback that aims to be stylish, practical and efficient. Does it succeed? Read on. Base price $15,170, EPA fuel economy estimates (using the new 2008 formula) 26-27 MPG city, 32-33 highway.
First Glance: Same idea, new wrapper
I always liked the Scion xA. Not because it was hip, not because it was trendy, but because it was small. So when I heard the xA was going to be replaced by the 2008 xD, my first thought was "Please, please, don't let them make it any bigger!"
They didn't -- not really. Just as the xA was based on Toyota's subcompact Echo, the xD is based on the Echo's successor, the Toyota Yaris. Compared to the xA, the xD is just a half-inch longer and an inch wider, albeit with a 3.5" longer wheelbase (the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels), a move which should increase passenger space. Operative word: should. As it happens, the new xD has slightly less interior volume, rear legroom and cargo space than the old xA. To quote Homer Simpson: "DOH!"
Aside from that little glitch, I like what I see. Actually, in terms of the styling, I love what I see. The xD uses the same simple five-door hatchback shape as the xA, but with new details. I'm especially enamored with the flat line that curves from atop the fenders around the front of the hood. I drove two xDs; one was red (link goes to photo) with Toyota Racing Development (TRD) springs that lowered it down on its custom TRD wheels. I thought it looked exceptionally handsome in a grown-up-toy kind of way. But the other car -- painted an uninteresting silver with stock 16" steel wheels and plastic hubcaps -- was nearly as pleasing to the eye. For those who like to customize, the xD makes a great blank canvas.
In the Driver's Seat: Lots of storage, a few odd details
While the outgoing xA was known for its center-mounted instrument pod, the xD uses a more conventional layout with the gauges right in front of the driver. When I first got in, I was puzzled by the big plastic piece stuck to the panel in the spot where the speedometer goes -- but when I fired up the ignition, the dashboard lit up and I saw that it was a divider between the speedo and the tach. I'm no Raymond Loewy, but were I designing the xD's interior, I probably would have stuffed that piece of plastic inside the panel.
Plastic doohickeys aside, I really like the xD's cabin. It's brimming with storage space, including a double glovebox. Sightlines are mostly good, though the big pillar between the rear and side windows blocks over-the-shoulder visibility (as seen here). One major improvement over the old car: The rear seat headrests are now the "shingle" type that slide down in front of the seat, so they don't block the driver's view out the back window.
Despite having less rear legroom than the car it replaces, the xD is still surprisingly friendly to back-seat passengers. The back seats fold flat and slide forward up to six inches to increase cargo room -- but doing so opens up a big gap that's bound to swallow something you need. And while the old xA included a cargo cover -- as every hatchback should -- the new xD doesn't, instead offering it as a $259 add-on.
On the Road: More power, more weight
The xA's 1.5 liter engine had a tendency to run out of breath on the highway, something Scion addressed by fitting the xD with a bigger (1.8 liter) engine. It's output of 128 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque bests the old motor by 25 hp and 24 lb-ft -- but the extra grunt is offset by the xD's extra 280 lbs of weight.
I spent a week each with both manual and automatic versions of the xD. Small cars are usually better off with a manual, but that wasn't the case with the xD. The automatic had plenty of pep, but the five-speed manual felt sluggish, particularly on steep hills where I frequently had to downshift to 4th (and sometimes even 3rd) to keep up with traffic. The problem seems to be the gearing in the transmission, which is set up for good fuel economy rather than snappy acceleration, though fuel economy isn't as good as the old xA. I averaged 28 MPG in the stick and just shy of 27 MPG in the auto. The latter figure came as a pleasant surprise, considering it's an old-tech 4-speed gearbox. I'd almost always rather have a manual, but when it comes to the xD I think the automatic is the way to go -- it makes the car feel much more powerful and the affect on fuel economy is minimal.
Handling-wise, the xD is competent and responsive, though not quite thrilling. Short-wheelbase cars tend to have a choppy ride, though in the case of the xD that extra wheelbase length comes in handy -- the xD is comfortable on all but the most bumpy roads.
Journey's End: xD leads the pack in style, if not in value
The $15,170 xD comes loaded with standard equipment, including power locks, windows, and mirrors, air conditioning, CD stereo with auxiliary audio and fully-integrated iPod inputs, antilock brakes, front-seat-mounted torso airbags and two-row side curtain airbags. There are only two options that affect the car's functionality: An automatic transmission ($800) and electronic stability control ($650).
But wait-- there's more to the xD's sticker-price story. Scion calls them accessories, and there are scores of 'em: premium audio ($689), sport pedals ($79), LED taillights ($375), navigation system ($2,250), and even the world's most awkward remote engine start system (unlocking the doors shuts off the engine, so once you get in you have to start it back up again, $529). Altogether there are more than $8,500 worth of add-ons.
If you don't dip into the accessories, the xD is a pretty good deal, though the Honda Fit undercuts the xD's price tag by a little and the Nissan Versa undercuts it by a lot, while the Suzuki SX4 offers all wheel drive for just a few bucks more. The Fit is more fuel-efficient, the Versa is more spacious, and the SX4 is more fun to drive -- but if styling is your thing, the xA is definitely the best looking of the bunch. If you believe, as (for those of you old enough to remember Billy Crystal on Saturday Night Live) Fernando did, that "it's better to look good than to feel good," then, dahling, the 2008 Scion xD is the subcompact for you. -- Aaron Gold