2008 Scion XB Take Two

William C Montgomery
by William C Montgomery
2008 scion xb take two

“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.

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  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Jan 08, 2009

    I find it very hard to take any vehicle seriously that has one rear back up light (where did the other one go) that makes it akin to a cyclops and no dash in front of me when i'm driving. No instead we are greeted with a land o plastic dash, 1990's GM dash located wrongly in the center with tiny look alike guages, garbage seat material, high price tag, overweight and downright putrid styling. If my kid brought one of these home for a test drive I would ground him for a month.

  • Stephan Wilkinson Stephan Wilkinson on Jan 08, 2009

    There are many perfectly good cars that have just one backup light. After all, how many do you need? Would four be a help to you, or are you just big on symmetry?

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.