“Hot enough to boil a monkey’s bum!” I don’t know exactly what that means, but it was that hot in North Texas the afternoon I picked up my 2008 Scion xB. How appropriate that the old Flying Circus reference should flash through my mind; the xB looks like something out of a twisted Terry Gilliam animation. Now that Graham Chapman resides in an urn, all of the Pythons could fit in the xB, although 6’4” tall John Cleese would be uncomfortable in any seat. But the newly redesigned boxy Scion is more than a surreal comic sketch. Or is it? And now for something completely different…
From its inception, Toyota designed the Scion xB for people that wear their cars rather than drive them. I won’t belabor the stylistic transformation of the Scion’s scion. Suffice it to say, the xB’s breakout proportions and streamlining rob the rig of its cubist innocence. The front of the hood and roof seem crunched in places, and the backwards sweeping headlights contribute to shaping a sinister countenance. Goodbye juice box. Yo gangsta.
One gets the sense Toyota tried too hard to bottle lightning with the xB. Scion’s web site features photos of 13 vividly painted and modified xB’s that suggest creative individuality, ala MINI Cooper. Of course, in sensible Toyota fashion, each of these photos also comes with the disclaimer, “Vehicle is for show only and not street legal; modified with non-genuine Scion parts (which void the warranty and may adversely impact performance).” I’m no stylish young dude, but even I know that the kids don’t allow attorneys to crash their raves. Duh!
The overt appeal to the college age demographic is found on the center of the dashboard. For an extra $389, Scion’s Pioneer Premium Audio System gives buyers the same audio features found in the base 160W system. But the Yoof of American can load images and video into the stereo to be played on a small LCD face. Oh, and the more expensive unit’s power button is positioned almost out of reach in the upper right hand corner. That doesn’t seem like money well spent, but what do I know? I remember when radio buttons felt like an old jukebox.
The standard six speakers aren’t up to the job (i.e. thumping pedestrian’s chests at forty paces). The bass blasts feel weaker than Hugo Chavez’s threats against Pres Bush. Thankfully, Scion has provided convenient speaker jacks so owners can add subwoofers large enough to agitate pods of orcas frolicking in nearby oceans.
Speaking of false steps, the xB’s interior is plagued by numerous niggling ergonomic errors. Irritatingly enough (and then some), the driver’s seat armrest is placed above the seatbelt buckle. I don’t necessarily mind offset gauges. But the Scion’s are too small; in bright sunlight you can’t read the amber tachometer. Plug-in those subs, and you can’t hear the shift point, either.
Shifting xB’s gears has more in common with an old ’78 Ford F-250 with three-on-the-tree than a contemporary compact runabout. The xB’s stick sprouts from the dashboard; swapping cogs is more an exercise of up and down rather than forward and back. The long travel clutch requires that you lift your entire left leg and stomp down to engage. Heel toe shifting? Forgeddaboudit. Nonetheless, gearshifts snick into place with trademark Toyota goodness.
The xB is now motivated by the 158hp 2.4-liter powerplant, lifted from the ubiquitous Camry. The Scion’s in-line four-pot is well suited to the xB. Despite the model’s 600 lbs. weight increase (to 3,026 lbs.), the xB’s engine provides class-compliant get-up-and-go. I SAID DESPITE… Faint praise aside, the xB’s extra 55 horses help make the model a far more stable and relaxed high-speed cruiser than its breathless predecessor.
The penalty: Ye Olde Bento box xB got better mileage. Stylin’ SUV refuges will still love the xB’s 25 mpg observed fuel economy (EPA 22/28). Throw the xB through a few corners and these light truck downsizers will feel even more at home. Scion’s rolling brick leans like the Sears tower in a wind storm. On the positive side, the xB’s all-season high-performance 16” Goodyear Eagles resist squealing like John Gotti. Push harder, and the understeer nose plough arrives on cue. The xB’s uber shoes claw at the tarmac until they can’t– at which point they let go and skitter sideways.
So here’s the problem: underneath its obvious effort to throw some gang signs at those who know what gang signs are, the reinvented Scion xB has secretly become more like everything else on the road. While there’s nothing about the xB revision that would stop a playa from buying one, or a safety-seeking member of the sensible shoe brigade, the xB has lost its quirkiness and high mpg cred. Send this one over to The Ministry of Silly Cars, stat.