By on January 27, 2005

The Scion xA: big and bold, in its own little way Sciontologists are scary people. Who else would re-package a Toyota Echo and sell it to American twenty-somethings? We're talking about a Japanese sub-compact with all the edgy excitement of a five-year-old Readers' Digest (large print edition). You couldn't imagine a more cynical marketing ploy. Still, props to Toyota for having the stones to foist the "new money for old rope" routine on the world's most style critical audience.

Thanks to its exterior, the xA almost gets away it. Sure, it looks a bit like a grouper fish, but the xA is big and bold, in its tiny little way. The xA's minivan shape and clever window tinting give it a level of design intergrity that's rare for its class. Whether Gen Y would choose the Scionfish over something with more Cribs cred from the used car lot is another matter. Suffice it to say, the xA is as far removed from the Vicodin-on-wheels Echo as Adidas Ozweegos are from nursing shoes.

Rebel without a clueOnce inside, the centrally mounted instrument pod continues the aesthetic rebellion. This unsafe alternative to traditional ergonomics makes the helmspot as blank as a bumper car, and reflects the brand's skewed priorities: function follows market research. The xA's audio system, complete with 10-color display and built-in distortion (I kid you not), also tries to convince Sciontists that they're rebels without a platinum AMEX, rather than sensible car buyers.

Now THAT's funny. What could be more sensible than a small Toyota? The xA has room for five [slim] adults, gets over thirty mpg, comes with a three-year, 36k mile warranty; pollutes the planet less than a herd of polled Herefords and costs no more than a decent home entertainment system ($13k). Although no sub-compact makes sense from a safety point-of-view, the xA offers surprising survivability for one so small. Scion brand managers will hate me for saying so, but the xA is xActly the kind of car an elderly person on a fixed income would enjoy.

Beneath that black grill beats the heart of a lion.  Well, a lion cub.  Maybe "enjoy" isn't the right word. The xA is powered by the Echo's 1.5-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine. As you'd expect, Toyota's engineers have done everything they can to give the Echo/xA passable (if not passing) power: double-overhead cams, 16 valves, variable valve timing and multi-port electronic fuel injection. As you'd expect, the result is still Slow and Serious. Zero to 60 takes 10.7 seconds, with the quarter mile appearing in 17.4 seconds. Spirited it ain't.

Adequate it is. There's even a tasty chunk of powerband between 2500 and 4000rpm where the xA will do a reasonable imitation of a car with in-gear acceleration. Although peak power (108hp) arrives at 6000rpm, the engine's "Wall of Boom" soundtrack makes an assault on the redline an aural stress test. Thrill seeking xA drivers are advised to buy the 5-speed, shift like mad, plan ahead and plan early.

Take it as red: hit a pothole and it feels like someone hit the xA with a mallet. And avoid potholes. The xA's ride is surprising civilized– until it isn't. The moment you encounter a surface imperfection, it's as if someone hit the car with a large mallet. Clearly, someone at Toyota figured that the youth of America can't tell the difference between the acceptable harshness of a sports-tuned suspension and the rough-riding character of a comfort-biased chassis with the comfort removed.

At relatively slow (sensible?) speeds, the xA's low curb weight and stiffened suspension deliver admirable poise through the turns. Combined with a user-friendly power-assisted rack and pinion steering system, the set-up is responsive enough to embolden a young driver's reckless nature. Uh-oh. Spank the xA and you're headed straight to Hell in a hand basket. The steering loses all precision, the drum brakes fade and the torsion beam suspension gives up. Push it that little bit too far and terminal understeer will slide you across the road like a fallen figure skater heading for the boards.

Toyota would have you believe the customizable xA is Gen Y's whip.  Maybe, maybe not. All of which begs the question: is the Scion xA really a young person's car? Given the large number of elderly xA buyers– given ANY elderly buyers– the answer is an unequivocal no. The only thing separating the xA from any other generic Japanese econobox is the car's shape and the 46 factory-made tuning bits– which aren't half as cool as Scion thinks they are.

In fact, Scion's youth orientation is fatally flawed. When it comes to selling to hipsters, the moment you win, you lose. Brands like Nike and Adidas circumvent the exclusivity vs. mass market problem by inventing new shoes and sports apparel on an hourly basis. Car manufacturers can't use the same template, no matter how many after-market parts they devise. But they CAN create a fundamentally desirable car that attracts a wide range of buyers. Strangely enough, that's a perfect description of the dull but worthy Scion xA.

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15 Comments on “Scion xA Review...”

  • avatar

    You have to be kidding with that “box”. It is absolutely hideous.

  • avatar

    believe it , or not the look has grown on me. Proud owner for the last 7 months . Its a sub-compact(not even a compact) , so it doesn’t jive with everyones tastes.. thats for sure. If gas mileage matters any bit to you.. go xA. If you like to have fun driving your car.. for the $$, the xA does not disappoint. Build quality is also very-very good. Basically, go test drive one.. and see for yourself. Everyone has different tastes. I drove a Fit auto sport, and thought it was alright. But considering it was almost $2K more(only thing really extra it had was a bit more interior room + CC), to me I could not disgrace the Toyota tradition/line. VVT-i(DOHC w/xA) blows away VTEC(SOHC w/Fit) overall- w/durability + torque.

  • avatar
    motown missile

    Hey, I love mine…it fits into parking spaces larger cars like the Nash Metrpolitan have to pass by, and it’s great on gas. I’ve gotten as much as 40 MPG on the highway with the automatic trans, and with the back seats down it’s got plenty of cargo space. Too bad Toyota replaced it with the unspeakably ugly xD.

    • 0 avatar
      Anne C

      I am 57 yrs old and I love my scion, XA  dont believe that stuff that it is slow, I got a speeding ticket in it!! so becareful  lol
      It is  a great car, I went from Central NC to Tenn and still had a quater of a tank left! mine is a 2005, and it is paid for and car dealers call me all the time wanting it!! Eat your heart out car dealers you will not get mine till it falls apart, but I take care of it, having oil changed every three thousand miles, and keep it in tip top condition!
      It is always ready to go whenever I am!! I am KEEPING MINE!!!

    • 0 avatar

      yeah- the xA almost looks like a baby matrix. the xD has a 1.8, but just too angular in styling

  • avatar

    Where I live regular gas is now $4.32 per gallon and will undoubtedly continue to rise. A Prius would be nice but they command close to $30,000 and get only 7 more miles per gallon than my 2005 XA with automatic. I bought the XA because I was tired of getting the sweats every time gas prices jumped. I am 6′ 2″ and weigh 267 and I find the XA comfortable inside thanks to the excellent seats. Plus more leg room than in my wife’s Camry. An XA is an affordable, fun car to drive (tight steering, quiet interior and superior fit and finish) that gets great mpg. My worst was 35mpg and my best 37.5mpg (no highway driving just a combination of city and rural). I drive about 40 miles a day and was spending a small fortune on gas in a SUV and 6 cylinder pickup. I liked the XA so much I bought a second one (2006 model and the last year with the 1.5 litre engine). I believe that it has the same gas engine that is in the Prius. When I have a need for speed I take out my 350Z Roadster. But for daily commuting you can’t beat the Scion XA. I drove a few Honda Fits but the passenger seat didn’t go back as far as the driver’s seat and for me that is a big NO,NO! The Fit and the XA are almost identical in size. With the back seats folded down I was able to transport a new in the box water softener from Home Depot. It was a squeeze but it did make it. My only complaints with the XA is that Scion does not offer factory cruise control and no armrest between the front seats (but the armrests are available for less than $100). The Scions seem to hold their value very well. What cost about $15,000 new are selling for $12,000 after 3 years of use. The latest word is that the Scion brand scored higher in initial quality than did Toyota this year. I plan to mate our two XA’s and sell their offspring. I may never have to buy another new car. By the way, I belong to the silver generation and have owned over 25 cars in my lifetime. No regrets whatsoever with my decision to buy an XA or two.

  • avatar
    Steaming Pile

    @mallman – I love my xA. I’ve had it for about 2 1/2 years, and I still love it, especially when I hear that the price of gas has gone up yet again.

    Want better mileage? I don’t know about the automatic, but with the five-speed the sweet spot is 52 MPH. Stay there and watch your mileage go comfortably north of 40.

  • avatar

    Dear Steaming Pile, the gear ratios of the automatic and the manual XAs are likely different. If you could find out, what are your RPMs when you are driving 52 miles per hour? I would be interested to know how different my RPMs would be at the same speed.

  • avatar

    Since the xA is no longer made, this comment must serve as advice to used car seekers. The first thing to know is that all xA’s are basically the same, varying only in transmission. They were marketed with a whole slew of factory add-ons that you could choose from, and the dealer would install for you. In reality, the dealers just sold what they had and downplayed the whole “custom tailored” thing. So when shopping it will be difficult to compare values since the potential for different add-ons is high. I bought mine dead-stock with the 5-speed. I chose the Scion primarily because it offered the most standard features for the best price. Secondarily because it had interesting styling and was a hatchback. After driving it for a while I added a few minor cosmetic things, but the best things to add are the front strut tie rod and the rear anti-sway bar. As Robert’s review notes, the handling at highway speed is somewhat nervous. These two adds fix that. Even my wife noticed how much better it handles. The ride is still a little jouncy, and the wind noise is bad, but around town it’s a blast. I get an honest 34 mpg, with about half city half highway driving. I drive fairly agressively, too, so you can do better if you want. The center console is no big deal, you will get used to it in 10 seconds. I really enjoy my xA, and am happy to drive it everyday. As far as I’m concerned the xD is hideous, and I expect that down the road the xA will retain its value much better because a) it’s not as hideous and b) it gets better mileage. Sure, in the future I might be tempted by one of the many small cars that might hit our shores, but for now, there’s no challengers for my Scion xA.

  • avatar
    xA 201

    Seeing as I have been looking for a reliable, 1-2 person car since meeting John & Jayne Shuttleworth (founders Mother Earth News) in 1976, it has been astounding than NO ONE has actually produced a personal transporter for what about 85% of trips are about: moving one person and a few small parcels 20-30 miles and occasionally across the state. Over the years a ’67 VW Bug, ’68 Fiat 1100 R (Abarth exhaust & 2 bbl side-draft Weber carb, Dunlop fabric radials) ’73 1600 (Hemi) Corolla (440,000 miles to sale) ’76 8-speed Champ, City Electric, RX-7, Geo Metro 1 L/5 speed (53 mpg) and my present Scion xA have been comprimises to that end. Still looking …

    However of all of the above, the xA is by the far the best of the lot. Power, and ease of use (not to mention NO REPAIRS in 88,000 miles since new purchase for $12,500 with an astounding MP-3 – Pioneer stereo in BASE SPEC) and real fun handeling (with front & rear anti-roll bars.) I do not understand why the (not so)SMART gets worse milage than the xA since it is 1,000 pounds lighter with 1/2 the engine displacement.

    It is really too baaad that the second generation Scions are such a dissapointment. The xBlotto2 and the xD ugli (which managed to loose 10 mpg to my xA) don’t come close in styling or actual real-world preformance. This indicates that while SOME engineers live at Toyota, they don’t actually make the production decisions …

    It is interesting to note that my varnished mahagony 17′ 6″ x 22″ scratch-built sea-kayak/ trailer/ xA generate many questions such asd “did you custom build the car too ?” Despite the best products, I do not understand the Toyota way of “bigger is better, darn the standard shift. (future Scion IQ’s)”

    A friend who drives her Aveo automatic 6 miles a day to work thinks it is great, but the local Chevy dealer would not even bother to look up a 5-speed for me since “no one wants a standard shift in America” , I bought the xA 30 minutes later and have never looked back.

  • avatar
    xA 201

    Additionally, the blank area in front of the steering wheel is a really great spot for my 11 band Amateur Radio tranciever (also not a USA product Icom Ic-706) with which I can communicate world-wide by direct transmission, no cel-phone required.

  • avatar

    Well I’m down to 1 XA. Someone smashed into my black 2006 and totalled it. You can’t find used ones anymore so I bought a 2011 Honda Fit Sport auto. It won’t match the XAs MPG of 36, I will be lucky to get 30 time will tell.

  • avatar

    Both my daughter and I each have one and we love them both!!! My son is 6’5 and he has plenty of leg room in it (unlike most compact cars). It also has tons of cargo space, my daughter and I fit her entire bedroom in both of our cars when we drove from Kentucky to California to take her to college this past summer. The gauges on the dash are not unsafe at all, its a heck of a lot better than trying to look through the steering wheel at them!!! It fits into the tiniest of parking spaces, and is awesome on gas mileage, I rarely go to the gas station anymore! It is indeed too bad that Toyota replaced it with the unspeakably ugly xD!!! I had to drive 700 miles to buy my used 2006 xA due to you could not pay me to have an xD!!!

  • avatar

    I have been driving my Scion Xa for 8 years now and I still love it. Sure it has its flaws like any vehicle you will ever buy, but all in all I think it is a great car. It is maneuverable, agile, a wonderful little city car. I have never once had a problem with it “sliding across the road like a figure skater”, and being from Ontario, Canada I think that is pretty good. We are very passionate about our good winter tires here.

    Also being from Canada I was warned that this car will not tolerate Canadian winters all that well, however I have never had problems with rust, wear and tear, or anything of that nature. My Scion Xa is now almost 10 years old and it drives as well as the day I got it.

    I do agree, this is not a car for people who are interested in going “Fast and Furious” style, but that does not mean it is not a young person’s car. It is an extremely affordable car and the fuel efficiency is amazing if that is what you are looking for. Being under 30 myself this car has never let me down, financially or otherwise. Is that not what young people (with debt to pay off from school) are looking for?

    Anyway I am not saying it is the perfect car for everyone, but if you like fuel efficiency, reliability, and the ability to park almost anywhere, then this is an awesome little car for the job!

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