Scion XA Review

scion xa review

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.

Once 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.

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.

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.

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.

Comments
Join the conversation
2 of 15 comments
  • JamBones JamBones on Nov 16, 2013

    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!!!

  • JuliaV JuliaV on Mar 31, 2014

    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!

  • ScarecrowRepair The 1907 Panic had several causes of increased demand for money:[list][*]The semi-annual shift of money between farms and cities (to buy for planting and selling harvests)[/*][*]Britain and Germany borrowing for their naval arms race[/*][*]San Francisco reconstruction borrowing after the 1906 earthquake and fire[/*][/list]Two things made it worse:[list][*]Idiotic bans on branch banking, which prevented urban, rural, and other state branches from shifting funds to match demands. This same problem made the Great Depression far worse. Canada, which allowed branch banking, had no bank failures; the US had 9000 failures.[/*][*]Idiotic reserve requirements left over from the Civil War which prevented banks from loaning money; they eventually started honoring IOUs illegally and started the recovery.[/*][/list]Been a while since I read up on it, so I may have some of the details wrong. But it was an amazing clusterfart which could have been avoided or at least tamed sooner if states and the feds hadn't been so ham handed.
  • FreedMike Maybe this explains all the “Idiots wrecking exotic cars” YouTube videos.
  • FreedMike Good article! And I salute the author for not using the classic “Lucas - prince of darkness” trope, well earned as it may be. We all know the rap on BL cars, but on the flip side, they’re apparently pretty easy to work on (at least that’s the impression I’ve picked up). On the other hand, check the panel fits on the driver’s and passenger’s doors. Clearly, BL wasn’t much concerned with things like structural integrity when it chopped the roof off a car designed as a coupe.
  • Mongo312 Had an 89SE, 92SE and an 03SE all with stick. The 03 took almost 3 months to find because there were so few produced with a manual transmission and dealers didn't want to give them up. Ended up buying one from a dealership in San Antonio and having it shipped here to St Louis.
  • Bullnuke About 15 years before the TR-8 my brother-in-law put a 301 Chevy small block in a TR-3A. Needed a U-joint in the steering to clear the headers, a modified '59 Pontiac radiator, and a drive shaft that was basically two U-joints end-to-end. It was a scream to drive, basically a small block Chevy with 3-deuces on wheels. 142mph in the quarter - we learned that the original wire wheels were a no-go on this thing at the drags...
Next