By on February 1, 2010

Big changes were afoot in the Scion back in the summer of 2007, as the brand’s pioneering crop of Yaris-based funkmobiles gave way to a second generation of models aimed at expanding the brand’s appeal to American consumers. Oddly enough, the biggest changes came for a new model with an unchanged name: in a single generation, the the tiny xB went from freaky, fuel-sipping urban runabout to a bloated, Camry-based beast. In contrast, the less-successful xA underwent a far less radical change as it morphed into the xD, saving it from the initial scorn of Scion purists and keeping the brand’s Yaris-based roots alive. Not that the xD has been in any way rewarded for staying (relatively) faithful to its brand’s mission: like the xA it replaced, the xD has never sold better than its larger, less brand-faithful stablemates. Which begs the question: is the xD a bad car, or was the original vision of a funky, urban micro-car brand a dead-end dream?

Surprisingly, this dichotomy isn’t as overly-reductive as you might imagine. After all, the changes made in the transition from the xA to the xD were well-modulated to give American consumers the positive elements of the Yaris platform with the upgrades that could have given the first generation of Scions a fighting chance.

The underlying platform was changed little from the xA, but crucially, the engine was upgraded from a 1.5 liter buzz-box to an altogether gruntier 1.8 liter Corolla unit. Though hard-core purists always enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with American traffic with a mere 103 horsepower, the tiny engines on the first generation of Scions practically required a manual transmission and careful planning to prevent moments of ass-clenching terror on freeway onramps and other high-power-demand driving scenarios. For jaded enthusiasts, these challenges were a revelation in the driving-a-slow-car-fast fun; for the mass-market, this meant popular automatic-transmission models could come across as downright dangerous, even on short test drives.

With an extra 25 horsepower on tap, the xD cures the first-generation’s power-deficit problems, feeling downright rorty in lower gears. The larger engine gives up some of the free-spinning refinement of the 1.5 liter unit, but the rough, raw grunt makes it far more accessible to American tastes. More importantly, the extra performance doesn’t come with the handling and fuel-economy penalties of the Camry-sourced 2.4 liter engine found in the tC and new xB. In fact, even with the very noticeable extra power and 300 lb weight penalty, the xD only gives up a single highway mpg to the xA, coming in at 27 city, 33 highway. 

Indeed, if Scion had simply bunged this engine into the first-generation of xAs and xBs (or better yet, offered it as an option), there’s no telling where the brand might have gone. Especially since so much the first-generation’s charm remains intact. The interior is generally improved over the spartan xA, offering more style and higher-quality materials while losing none of the original’s functional simplicity. Sure, nobs wiggle, buttons jiggle, and the quality appears to be little better than what you can find in late-model Kias, but these are symptoms of the price point and overall an improvement on the first generation of Scions.

Handling is similarly well-preserved, offering crisp turn-in, and firm cornering after some initial lean-in. If the xD’s handling compares poorly to an xA’s, it’s probably because the extra power makes it easier to load up the car’s simple suspension and disturb its composure (a job that’s made easier by the xD’s Toyota-standard numb power steering). On the flip side, the extra power means you don’t have to plan corners out a week in advance in order to find the limits of the xD’s sufficient grip.

Absent any compromises in handling and ergonomics, the benefits of the xD’s power upgrade must be balanced against the its frustratingly unnecessary packaging compromises. Though the xD’s physical dimensions are marginally larger than the xA’s, the extra inches never translate into a noticeable improvement in interior space.

Front leg room is the only interior metric that’s much-improved on the xA, as pushed-forward A-pillars create a more spacious, crossover-like feel up front. Small reductions in headroom go unnoticed, but hip room is down by about 3.5 inches up front and in the second row. The second row’s legroom is also reduced to below 34 inches, eliminating any space advantage in this metric that the xD might have offered over a Yaris (let alone its competitors). Similarly, and despite a larger wheelbase and length, the xD fails to improve on the xA’s cargo capacity, offering only 10.5 cubic feet to the xA’s 11.7. Another non-improvement: the class-leading lack of visibility out of the rear quarters.

When compared to current competitors like the Fit, Soul and Cube, the xD’s packaging compares even less favorably. Though the xD’s extra power makes five-up motoring less terrifying, its compromised packaging eliminates the advantage. Ironically, then, the xD appears to suffer from the opposite problem as the redesigned xB: where the xB became overly bloated in search of PT Cruiser sales, the xA (always the problem child of the Scion lineup sales-wise) had nowhere to go as the designated smallest model of a small-car lineup.

Let’s be clear: unless you regularly roll five-deep, the xD’s packaging won’t be an immediately-obvious compromise. But if you are in the market for a small commuter, two grand less you can now buy a Toyota Yaris five-door that offers a slightly smaller facsimile of the xA experience (without 1.8 power). Or, for the same price as an xD, you buy a Kia Soul which offers first-gen xB-like MPV packaging and xD-like power. Which is exactly what the xD should have offered. Both the Soul and the xD are chuckable and punchy, offering nearly as much around-town fun and frugality and more freeway competence than their most popular competitor, the Honda Fit.

Sadly, more power is all the xD brings to the party. Well, other than the brand-standard dubious set of aesthetics and a now-questionable halo of “Toyota quality.” As just another compact car, the xD is nearly invisible in the market, lacking both the unabashed small-car appeal of the Fit and Yaris, and the practicality of the Soul. The lesson then, is that Scion’s first-generation genius wasn’t in the smallness of its offerings, but in the packaging options it opened in the subcompact class. With the xB swollen out of control and the xD not even trying to offer a distinctive package, it’s no wonder Scion has so badly lost its way.

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31 Comments on “Review: Scion xD Take Two...”

  • avatar

    Great points. This model with a taller profile/greenhouse and better interior packaging would have made for a more distinctive xD (or better yet, a far more suitable replacement for the original xB).

  • avatar

    I would have preferred they kept the xB around as-is (you can’t really redesign a BOX, after all) and make the new xB a new model for a different segment, because the two generations are nothing alike. I guess keeping both may have led to the “fat product” phenomenon, though ironically the new xB is far “fatter” than the old one.

    Regardless, the xB was overpriced IMO and no Scion has ever been more desirable than my Civic hatchback…even though it has less than 100 horsepower and must be thrashed to keep up with 21st century traffic.

  • avatar

    I own a 2006 xA with an automatic transmission, and I disagree very strongly that the car with an auto is “downright dangerous”. It’s no sports car, but it can get on and off the freeway and pass quite safely, thank you very much. I found one source that claims the 0-60 is under 11 seconds with an auto, under 10 with a stick, and another source that claims 9.4 (not specifying which transmission).

    That being said, the added horsepower that the xD has is quite welcome. The huge blind spots in the rear corners are not.

    • 0 avatar

      Srsly, Gen 1 xB here (same engine), and the source of all MY moments of ass-clenching terror result from the person in front of me, in their 2002 Caddy deciding that 20 MPH is a good speed for merging onto I-90.

      65,000 miles on Chicago highways, and nobody’s slammed into me yet…

    • 0 avatar

      +1 Two people, a dog and road trip supplies in an auto xA up and down the eastern seaboard and I’ve never come across a situation where I just had to have more power. Whenever I read auto reviewers make similar comments I wonder if they realize a lot of people never floor their cars ever and yet somehow manage to keep up with traffic.

      What I like least about the xA is the punishing ride on city streets, it just doesn’t feel like the suspension wants to move out of the way of bumps and prefers to smack into them headlong. I wonder how the xD is in comparison

    • 0 avatar

      Context is everything. The sentence reads:
      For jaded enthusiasts, these challenges were a revelation in the driving-a-slow-car-fast fun; for the mass-market, this meant popular automatic-transmission models could come across as downright dangerous, even on short test drives.
      Congratulations on being in the relatively small category of people who are versed in the art of small displacement driving. I stand by my statement that the bulk of the American market is used to having far more power than necessary, and that for this fat part of the market a first-gen Scion with AT comes across as underpowered. On the other hand, the new xD actually sells worse than the xA did, so I’m guessing that consumers of small cars tend to be comfortable with the capabilities of the 1.5 liter mill.
      The blind spots absolutely deserve a mention.

  • avatar

    I read this review with some initial enthusiasm because I like larger hatches and thought that this might make an interesting next vehicle for me. We have a 2007 5 door Yaris hatch that my wife and I enjoy driving and if this Xb were a decent bit larger then perhaps it could serve as a future work vehicle for me.

    Sadly it looks like Toyota/Scion did not go far enough outside the box. The first batch of Scions were definately outside the box. There are not many here in Canada but when I see them I always end up turning my head to check them out.

    I will look for the Xb in the upcoming auto show in Toronto to see if my impressions mirror yours. Thanks for your observations.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s because Scions were a US-only brand. They weren’t officially rolled out until this year.

      All those 1st Gen xBs you see are either US drivers or imports. One Nissan dealer I saw had one the year before. They were stickering for 20k CAD.

  • avatar

    This is what happens when you sell a thoroughly average car without a brand rep. or killer value proposition (like the first tc) to sweeten the pot. Scion came out strong, with good brand buzz, cheeky prodcut and marketing, but when it came time to upgrade, the engineers on hand clearly looked to Toyota’s lineup as examples of their “ideal” car (not just a parts source). This is why the Fit is delivering such a spanking, the values (besides reliability) that make the Camry succesful just don’t translate to the funky small car market.

    Just talked to Honda US and this would be considered a “modification” and not Honda is not interested. Did register it as a complaint regarding vehicle design.

    “unabashed small-car appeal of the Fit”
    My Fit’s appeal took a serious dent the past week when I discovered the ebrake ties into the ABS system. It is a useless intrusion into my cabin space now, and I might as well just have a button on the dash for this function (which would have disqualified the car from purchase consideraton btw). Is this common now among all cars? I only discovered it trying to maneuver the car in snow so I could get it into a garage, it never occured to me that it’s something that I could/should have tested for on a dealer drive. I complained to the dealer (the service manager winced and agreed with me on the complaint) and asked to be notified if a work around is possible, but I’m honestly not that hopeful. And what the hell is the point of this in the first place, liability? If you pull that handle at speed, trying to avoid an accident, you…will…die, ABS or no. The ebrake is for parking and low speed attitude adjustment, so why isn’t it setup to allow the second function? Major dissapointment.

  • avatar

    Is the speedometer actually in front of the driver? What will they think of next? It is a shame that Toyota no longer offers a car with the packaging of the first-gen xB.

    On the reliability front, responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey indicate that small Toyotas like the Yaris and xD remain among the most reliable you can buy. It no doubt helps that they have relatively few features, and so fewer things that can go wrong.

    Not yet part of the survey? Details here:

    • 0 avatar

      Is the speedometer actually in front of the driver? What will they think of next?

      I actually liked the Yaris’ gauge placement. It takes some getting used to, but if you’re like me and have myopia (or if you wear bifocals for myopia and hyperopia) it’s a godsend as you don’t need to switch between focal planes.

      It no doubt helps that they have relatively few features, and so fewer things that can go wrong.

      I would buy that were the Prius not also one of the most reliable cars you can buy, while the (also very simple) Aveo and Caliber are less so.

      Toyota, generally, makes very good cars that have a tendency to teething problems. Other than excessive teething trouble on some models and certain problematic 4Runners (AWD V8? V6? Not sure) most of what they make is uniformly reliable.

    • 0 avatar

      The Yaris is bare bones (a stereo is optional), but the xD has about as many standard features as you can find in a sub-compact car.

    • 0 avatar

      My gf likes this feature in her xA, it makes it easier to see over the hood during parallel parking (a better view of what she’s hitting, haha, jk, honey love u!) and for shorter people it feels less like you’ve been dropped into a hole, like most of the high-waisted car designs today, and more like the car was built to fit you.

      For the type of driver she is, constant gauge scanning isn’t necessary, she knows what they mean but doesn’t need to be constantly reminded and prefers a clean sight line to what’s in front of her.

  • avatar

    With all the talk about sudden acceleration in Toyota products, it occurred to me that I should mention the little quirk that my xA has. First, one thing should be mentioned about the design of the gauges-the temperture light is unique in that it has two colors-red for overheating, and blue for when the engine is cold (and off when the engine is warm). It’s the only vehicle (well, the xB and probably the Echo are the same) that I’m aware of that has between a full temperture gauge and just an overheating light.

    The reason I mentioned that is because the following “quirk” only happens when the engine is cold and the light is blue. When the engine is cold, the transmission slams into gear very hard, which results in slow acceleration for awhile, followed by an unexpected boost in power once it finally finds the gear. Sudden acceleration, if you will. This doesn’t happen when the engine is warm, and is completely predictable when the engine is cold, although quite unexpected the when you experience it the first time.

  • avatar

    Everything old is new again.
    My hobby car, a 64 Chevy Impala has the Cold engine (green) hot engine (red) light system. I guess they hoped people would take it easy when the green light was on.

  • avatar

    Well, finally registered to leave a comment here. I visit this site almost daily, keep up the good work.

    I own a 09 xD, 18,000 miles, 5sp stick. 50 mi daily L.A. commute. It’s perfect as a daily commuter.

    What I like:
    I’m getting 39-40 mpg average (35 psi tire pressure all around).

    Speedometer / Tach cluster: Speedometer goes clockwise, tachometer swings counterclockwise in the same cluster.

    I did my first oil change myself at 15k miles (5 and 10k done at the dealer free). Easy to change, the oil filter is just the element, not the entire canister. No engine pan/ cover to remove either.

    Slide and fold-flat rear seats. I piled stuff into this car when I moved apartments, no problem.

    Good seats, the fabric feels pretty good, yet durable.

    I considered the yaris, versa, fit (July 2008 at the time), but the xD had a lot of features standard that were optional on the others.

    Oil consumption: It drinks oil during the summer (1 qt per 2000 miles), especially when newer and I was learning how to drive stick and revved the engine unnecessarily. Not a drop in the winter though. I blame the 0w20 motor oil being too thin for summer? Not sure. I know about the TSB for this, but afraid that’s going to mess up my gas mileage. Does anyone know more about this?

    I got the sirius satellite b/c it’s the only stick shift on the lot. I don’t use the sat radio after the trial period ended.

    It took a while to get used to the view out the back and to the passenger side for lane changes with the big rear pillar. But if you adjust all the mirrors properly (so that the side mirrors don’t show your car), it’s not too bad. The seats in the car are fairly high up. This is my first stick shift car, and the shift from 1 to 2 is still difficult for me to master / shift quickly. I had a Diamante station wagon before that had a bad transmission, so I’m trying to stay away from automatics.

    Overall, I still like this car.

  • avatar

    Is the vehicle in the images an Xd or Xb? I can’t tell.

    Competing cars are mentioned too little for this to be a review. It reads like an Art History 101 compare/contrast essay. An 8th Grader’s “Get 2 know ur new Scion” fanfic.

  • avatar

    Our 2007 Yaris 5 door hatch has a green light which comes on when the engine is cold. There is also a green light which comes on when you turn on the headlights. Not sure if the latter is a Canadian only feature or not.

    The cold engine light is a good idea. My wife tends to be very gentle with the car whilst that light is on.

  • avatar

    I am an unrelenting 1st-gen xB apologist — I love my car, and it’s only underpowered if you don’t know how to drive a slow car fast. It’s screwed together well for a cheap car, and as comfortable as anything with dealer-installed lowering springs will be (I bought mine used).

    That said, last last year, my sister was in the market for her first new car since she finished college, and cross-shopped the Jetta (for some reason), xD, and Versa. She ended up with the Versa — the gas Jetta is horrifyingly inefficient for a “small” car (and VW dealers command 6% interest on the TDI, which is insanely bad – that would be a decent rate on a used car), the xD (much like it’s predecessors) rides like a skateboard and feels cheap for a Toyota, and the Versa was just right.

    So, that said, based on my anecdote: if you want an xD, buy a Versa, and fewer people will think you’re a weirdo.

  • avatar

    “Ass-clenching terror”.

    Thanks for the laugh, Edward!

  • avatar

    Scion xD owner here. I got mine back in May, and find it to be a fine daily driver. And have always been surprised by the lack of interest this model.I’d say the problem for the xD’s poor sales is the discount pricing anyone could get in a Vibe. + that Yaris price comparison isn’t very accurate. By the time a Yaris has the A/C,Cruise,power windows,doorlocks,mirrors,& Stereo . That $2k difference evaporates.

  • avatar

    Does a working brake pedal come standard or is it a $2k option?

  • avatar

    “Both the Soul and the xD are chuckable and punchy, offering nearly as much around-town fun and frugality and more freeway competence than their most popular competitor, the Honda Fit.”

    If the xD is better on the freeway than a Fit, then I’m suddenly not that excited by a Fit anymore. I suppose I need to go and drive the Fit, although frankly all these little cars are a bit buzzy. I’m also looking forward to seeing the new Nissan Micra here.

    • 0 avatar

      I reckon I don’t understand all the Xd hating. My 09 has almost 20,000 miles and has been a wonderful little commuter. Tina Fey (yea, I bought her when pitbulls and lipstick were all the rage) has zip coming out of her a.., and she turns on a dime. Not to mention she is never thirsty- a 40 mile round trip hiway/city commute gets me an average 35mpg.

      Also, what’s with the blind spots? If you set your mirrors in the proper manner so that you aren’t gaping at your car’s flanks, you won’t get a blind spot. The visibility in this car is spot on.

      And, yes, I test drove the Fit numerous times as I am a Honda girl at heart. But, the Fit cost a couple thousand extra money, had a much chintzier interior, and a less zippier ride. And, what’s with the mini van look? The Xd won hands down.

      Also, the Versa is a snoozer. An old lady’s Buick dressed up in Japanese sheep clothing

      Now, Tina doesn’t hold a candle to my 05 MINI Cooper S’s handling. I sold the MINI because she was never trustworthy.

      I expect Tina and I will have a long commuting affair. Who says cheap dates can’t be fun?

    • 0 avatar

      “less zippier ride”

      really? I had the opposite impression. The Fit is definitely feels down on torque, but the (much better) steering, excellent turn in and quick manual made it feel much “zippier” to me, if not as fast in a drag race. It does wash into understeer when pushed (they both do) but the Fit is much more adjustable and the rear end can be easily coaxed into swinging around a turn. The first generation Scions were better in this regard than the current ones, and better small cars for it. This is admittedly, skewed by my driving style preference.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “Fit cost a couple thousand more”. They are priced similarly, although if you are shopping automatics with navigation I suppose you can spend more on the Honda. There is no good reason to do so however.

    • 0 avatar

      If you care about features like Cruise control or an I-pod port you Have to pay for a fit “sport” which (W automatic) lists at 17,970 the xD is just 15,700.

  • avatar

    Yes, tedward, “much zippier.” Zip is in the eye of the beholder?

    Also, back in 08 when gas prices were soaring and gas suckers were being dumped right and left, Honda commanded, and got, $1,000 over MSRP for the Fit up here in the Pacific Northwest. Scion stuck with their set pricing model. And, that was assuming you could find one on the lots.

  • avatar

    Wow a speedometer in the front of the driver where it belongs. What will the geniuses at Toyota think of next? Perhaps accelerators that won’t kill you and the neighborhood dog or brakes that actually work! At least they fixed the sloth slow performance of the original lawn mower sized engines when paired to the auto tranny.

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