Saturday, October 13, 2007

2008 Scion XB -- The New Box

When Toyota introduced their brand new Scion brand in 2003 as 2004 models, one of the cars was a box. Known as the xB, it caught on and has become an icon with the young tuner crowd.

Fast forward to 2007. A new 2008 xB has arrived, and, although it’s still a box, it’s a much bigger one. It’s a foot longer, nearly three inches wider, and sits on a four-inch longer wheelbase. Oh, and it weighs 600 pounds more—at just over a ton and a half. It looks twice as big as the old model, thanks to rounded corners, bolder wheelwells, and a higher beltline.

At least the advertising folks understand that nobody is looking for beauty here. The face is flat as a washing machine, but wears long headlamps that wrap boldly around the corners. The bumper features vertical scoops that look like they’re for front brake cooling; and the upper and lower grille textures don’t match. The windshield remains defiantly vertical compared to nearly every other car on the road, including the xB’s new sibling, the xD.

Inside, the center instrument pod remains, but now it is neatly broken into a series of four small gauges. Everything about the new xB is bigger, tougher, and feels more like a miniature Hummer than a pint size van. Materials remain inexpensive but not cheap-looking, black plastic is offset by metallic silver plastic, the cloth seats are comfortable, and it’s overall a nice place to sit while driving down the road.

Moving is one thing the xB really does well now, because the old anemic 103-horsepower engine has been replaced by the 158-horse powerplant out of the shapely Scion tC coupe. With a manual five or sequential-shift four-speed automatic, the front-wheel-drive car has surprising go-power.

The bigger engine earns EPA numbers of 22 City, 28 Highway. I averaged 22.3 mpg, which is not econobox territory, but is nearly twice what I got in two previous weeks of driving giant SUVs. Also, the EPA Green Vehicle Guide gives the new box a pair of 7’s—in Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases, which makes it a Smartway recommended buy.

Scion keeps its monospec roots. That means when you order your xB, you choose only the transmission and one of six colors. The paint list includes Super White, Classic Silver Metallic, Black Sand Pearl, and the more riveting Nautical Blue Metallic, Blackberry Crush Metallic, and Hypnotic Teal Metallic. My tester was silver, but I’ve always been partial to the Blackberry Crush.

The standard car is packed with good features, and there is a huge selection of add-ons that join the car at the port of entry if you order them. Standards out of the box (so to speak) are power steering, windows, locks, and mirrors. Then, you get air conditioning, remote keyless entry, and a whole passel of airbags. For active safety, the xB comes with four-wheel antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, two electronic aids that make the brakes work more evenly and powerfully—automatically. You even get a first-aid kit!

You can buy custom goodies from Scion directly and there is a huge industry for other add-ons, including body kits, sound systems, electronic goodies, and more. It’s all about customizing and making the xB your own. That’s also how a car with a base price of a mere $16,600 goes out the door for $22,765!

My tester featured a navigation system, on a cool screen that flipped out and onto its back to allow feeding of a CD into the drive. My tester also replaced the 16-inch steel wheels and wheel covers with some smarter-looking alloys. The backs of the front seats wore video screens for showing DVDs to the fortunate back seat passengers. And I got to use the four-color interior light kit to show off the cupholders and footwells (I liked green best). I admired the illuminated door sills with the Scion logotype.

You might think from what I’ve said so far that I’m not very keen on the xB. That is not true. I love the utility in its still small package, the attitude of cruising around in a block, and the comfortable interior that was ideal for commuting. I do miss the cuteness of the last xB, but this one really moves, and I enjoyed flaunting the demographic by being seen in it as a guy with a gray beard. The fact is, the previous xB was a hit with smart old folks because of its practicality, ease of entry and exit, and low price.

The sunvisor doesn’t shade more than the front half of the side window, but I couldn’t find anything else to complain about. The Scion folks say their owners wanted a bigger box, and in this case, the people have spoken.

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