Having wrested the title “world’s largest car manufacturer” from General Motors, Toyota’s already committing some of the same mistakes that brought GM down. The all-new 2008 Scion xB is a blot on Toyota’s relatively unblemished copybook. It bristles with classic GM-think: dumb it down, fatten it up and cheapen it out.
The original xB was a brilliant design, an instant cult-classic, as iconic as the first VW Beetle. The box fresh box elicited the same emotional responses as the old bug: children, freshly-minted motorists and the young at heart all loved it. The xB was barely longer than a MINI and almost as much fun to drive, with the accommodations of a Tahoe and 30-plus mpg.
If the last gen xB evoked images of a lacquered bento box lunch, the new xB evokes a big, sloppy hamburger wrapped in greasy paper. Toyota’s drive to assimilate into the American heartland is relentless; its Texas Tundra brand BBQ sauce-stained fingerprints are all over this little porker.
The xB has gained 650 pounds, a foot in length, and three inches in width. Obviously, there’s a price to pay at the gas pump for that corn-fed heft. EPA numbers are down almost 25 percent for the city cycle (’06 adjusted), from 28 to 22 mpg.
That xB’s extra 12 inches are totally wasted; it all goes to making the hood longer. More room to mount a set of Texas steer horns? And since height is reduced, the XB actually loses usable passenger space.
The throne-like seating position has lost four inches of leg room. Headroom has also diminished. Ditto the back seat, where my 6’4” frame once sat in limo-comfort, with a good four inches of clearance to the front back-rest. Now my knees graze the horrendously cheap-feeling fabric of the front seats.
The xB’s front seats might as well have been lifted straight out of a 1971 Chevy Vega. Where the old thrones were nicely bolstered and contoured, with a nubby textural two-tone fabric, the new ones are molded blobs covered in a dreary monolithic black fabric. The Chevy Aveo’s seats put these to shame.
Toyota must have scored a volume deal from GM for vintage interior molds; the door panels are now harder than a trigonometry quiz. The xB’s lamentable polymerization also includes the upper arm-rest surface where my elbow likes to rest. At least the Vega had a little cushion there.
The xB’s interior package suffers mightily from the reshaped dimensions, the new seating position and the new model's higher belt-line. The xB’s superb view– favored by many of its elderly patrons– has been cruelly reduced. Now one sits deep and low, Hummer style, peering out gun-slit windows. And less of them: the rear three-quarter windows have disappeared.
The cute, perfectly positioned, oval-shaped analog instrument cluster that once perched atop the xB’s artistically shaped and textured dash has been replaced by four small oval, orange-lit displays. They're buried low and deep in the middle of the ponderous dash. The nervously-flashing digital speedometer is yet another 1980’s GM throw-back.
The new XB has the Camry’s 2.4-liter 158hp engine. It’s a competent and smooth mill that makes the new xB a faster vehicle, but a less engaging one. The old XB’s little 1.5-liter engine had an eager willingness and mechanical presence that made every trip to the pizzeria fun, especially with the stick.
In another GM-esque move, the Camry’s five-speed automatic didn’t make the bean-counter’s cut; the xB’s old four-speed slushbox soldiers on. Buyers opting for the manual tranny now row their boat with a shifter that protrudes from a large extension from the bottom of the dash– which enhances the perception of lost interior real estate. Equally annoying, the vague-acting clutch pedal sticks up higher than the brake pedal.
The new XB is faster, but the fun (and challenge) is gone. The new-found heft and softer ride takes XB handling from MINI territory right to into Camry Land. And we all now how engaging and exciting THAT is.
The xB’s electrically-assisted steering lacks the crispness and linearity of the former hydraulic unit. There were times I swear I could feel the electric motor on the other end of the steering column muttering at me under its breath– in a way that reminded me of my fifteen year old son.
Is there anything good to say about the new, ostensibly improved Scion XB? Yes. It now comes with cruise control and more air bags.
In fact, the new xB doesn’t deserve the Scion moniker, which established the brand's U.S. reputation as a provider of affordable automobiles with style, efficiency, quality, innovation and fun. Maybe Toyota could get a deal on the Oldsmobile name from GM.