Toyota claims the xB is "all about attitude". Roger that. Anyone willing to drive a van that causes children to point and laugh– and let's be clear about this: the kids are laughing AT the xB, not WITH it—needs a bullet-proof 'tude. Maybe that's why Toyota markets the xB under its youth-oriented Scion brand: the company reckons that only the arrogance of youth could protect an xB owner from the constant snorts of derision garnered by this, this, thing. And yet…
Unlike the Pontiac Aztek, an SUV so gruesome it turns onlookers to stone, the xB is not a heavy-handed pastiche. Sure, there's a bit of bread van, a touch of funeral hearse, a soupcon of the old mini, a hint of an industrial air conditioning unit. But the xB is what it is, in a non-apologetic kind of way. If you like owning something "distinctive", well, Scion's boxy four-door is certainly that. The xB is at least as visually arresting as a Ferrari, Bentley or Aston— for $14k.
At that price, pistonheads would be forgiven for thinking that the xB must be an empty style statement: a slow, uncomfortable and nasty-handling tin-can, sold solely on the basis of its eccentricity and much advertised customizability. Nope. The xB is a complete package, offering more-than-merely-adequate poke, superb ergonomics and, gulp, fun.
Make sure no one's looking, cover your eyes and enter the belly of the beastie. The windscreen is widescreen. The driving position elevated. The dinner plate-sized speedo sits on the top tier of the dash, with an inset rev counter and fuel gauge. The idiot lights, clock and odometer cluster nearby. The radio and rotary climate controls occupy the center pod. The window buttons, indicator stalk and lights are right where they should be. And that's it. What else do you need? Nothing. Put that in your iDrive and smoke it.
While we're at it, let's credit Toyota for being the first manufacturer to realize that buyers at the lower end of the market prefer, no, need premium ICE. The xB's Pioneer unit is MP3-compatible and satellite radio-ready, with three EQ modes. The optional 6-CD player offers 10 display colors, including "lithium". The company's unabashed determination to appeal to Gen Y is also reflected by their decision not to fit a distortion limiter to the 160-watt sound system. Full volume is Hell on wheels, but it's probably a blessing in disguise, as Neighborhood Watch groups will no doubt attest.
If you're dead set on deafening your crew, the xB will accommodate three XXX Large Homies, with Bidness Class leg room. Should street style somehow mutate towards top hats, you're covered there as well. Turf out two cohorts, fold down the rear seats and the refrigerator-shaped van can fit a refrigerator. In short, the xB is a mini-MPV in drag— I mean, with drag
The xB attempts to surmount its flying brick aerodynamics with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Toyota has blessed the xB's mini motor with double-overhead cams, 16 valves, variable valve timing, multi-port fuel injection, the works. Although the autobox variant ambles from 0 to 60mph in 10.6 seconds, it feels significantly faster. Yes, overtaking requires more forward planning than a military invasion. Sure, highway onramps demand perfect timing and every single one of the xB's 108 horses. But around town, the unrelentingly angular Scion is a seriously willing, nippy little machine.
The xB's handling accounts for much of the van's fun factor. The xB serves-up a pleasing amalgamation of rack-and-pinion steering and a well sorted suspension (with anti-roll bars fore and aft). Aesthetically challenged hooligans can carry a surprising amount of speed into the corners, without surprising themselves. You wouldn't mistake the xB's road manners for a BMW's, but the front-wheel-drive econo-box is a lot more satisfying to drive than many equally commodious, gas-guzzling SUV's.
The xB's brakes are another pleasant surprise. Again, the numbers aren't particularly impressive. Car and Driver reports that the front disc, rear drum set-up can haul the xB from 70mph to rest in 200 feet. At lesser speeds, in the midst of urban conflict, you can give the xB's brakes a proper pasting, confident that the [standard] ABS and traction control system will help prevent a blizzard of insurance paper work. The pedal feel is not bad, you know, considering.
Considering what? That the xB is more of a fashion statement than transportation? Well it ain't necessarily so. Despite Toyota's clever ad campaigns aimed at style-conscious early adopters, old fogies are buying the van in droves. In fact, 51% of xB buyers are over 35. And why not? The xB is an excellent steer that offers utility, reliability and spectacular value for money. Maybe the key to understanding/living with/appreciating the xB's quirky appearance is to be old enough not to give a damn.