2005 Scion xB
The Scion xB proved to be a bigger seller than Toyota anticipated, and it's easy to see why. This inexpensive little wagon offers a host of electronic helpers to keep it safe and moving along, has an unmistakable look, provides a commanding view of the road, and represents a better overall drive than its brusque exterior suggests. The Scion xB's standard high-tech gear focuses on keeping the car pointed in the right direction rather than entertaining or informing the occupants. While gadget freaks won't get too excited about the interior, the low list price ($14,530 for the base model, $17,494 as tested) leaves ample room for personalization with options such as XM Radio, a six-disc CD changer, and a Bazooka subwoofer. Belying its extreme two-box design, the xB is a decent handler if not pushed too hard. It takes rough roads and undulating curves in stride, and while it can feel underpowered at times, the xB's light weight generally means adequate performance.
Roomy, with a view
The xB's airy interior is a welcome place to be, with high, supportive front seats and lots of room in all directions. The view out the front is excellent, with the center-mounted gauge pod allowing a low, sweeping dash that further enhances the feeling of roominess in what is a relatively small overall package. The gauge cluster itself, with multiple dials in a single circular binnacle flanked by the clock and warning lights, takes some getting used to, and the tachometer should either be larger or closer to the driver to be readily visible. The rear seats, with three three-point seatbelts and three headrests, are split 60/40 and fold flat to maximize load space. Rear-seat leg room is excellent even with the front seats all the way back, allowing use of the thoughtful small-bag hooks on the backs of the front seats. The comfortable seats in the limited-edition Release Series 2.0 we tested sport special color-keyed fabric inserts matching those in the doors and the exterior paint. As with the balance of the interior, the materials aren't exactly top quality, but they feel and look good enough for a car in this price range. The climate controls and the MP3-compatible CD stereo are laid out logically, and the six-speaker setup provides rich sound through Scion Sound Processing (basically, three preset equalizer settings). XM Radio is a $695 factory option, plus subscription.
On the road, the xB feels light and handles predictably, our test car no doubt helped by the seven-spoke alloy wheels included in the Release Series 2.0 package and the addition of an optional $225 front strut-tower brace from Hotchkis Performance. Sprouting from the center console, the manual transmission's shifter seems lengthy, but the grip falls readily to hand and, despite long throws, feels natural, finds its slots readily, and makes keeping the engine in its peak power band a welcome task. A tilt wheel makes getting comfortable easier.
Technologies such as intelligent variable intake-valve timing, antilock brakes with emergency brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, vehicle stability control, and traction control may seem relatively common these days, but the combination is an especially good value here and works well in providing efficient power and good road-holding. With only 108 horsepower and 105 pound-feet of torque from its 1.5-liter motor, the Scion took some revs to climb the steeper San Francisco hills, but acceleration was generally adequate, and highway cruising was stable in the absence of strong crosswinds. A traction control system with an override option assists with front-wheel slippage under acceleration, and torque steer was never an issue, given the engine's modest output. Toyota's variable timing mechanism, VVT-i, helps deliver impressive fuel economy ratings of 31mpg in the city and 34mpg highway, according to the EPA, when equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission as our test car was (for another $800, the automatic is rated at 35mpg highway). This mileage and the car's LEV emissions rating are impressive, considering its shape and its predictably high drag coefficient of 0.35Cd, but in our testing, interior noise levels suffer at 75db while cruising at 60mph.
Most of the xB's impressive technological wizardry is the kind you hope you'll never notice: selective throttle intervention and/or braking of individual wheels when sliding is detected front or rear, brakes that adjust the force at each wheel in response to differences in wheel speeds, and a system to generate additional braking if pedal pressure and travel suggest more may be needed in an emergency maneuver. Standard dual-stage front driver and passenger air bags are present in addition to the active electronics designed to keep occupants safe. The brakes, vented discs in front with drums at the rear, are effective if not impressive, with the standard ABS kicking in when needed. Seatbelts offer adjustable upper anchor points for front-seat passengers, a nice touch, given the seats' height in the vehicle. Side-impact door beams provide help with crashworthiness, while rugged hooks allow the addition of cargo nets (not included) to ensure items stay put in the event of a collision. A comprehensive three-year/36,000-mile warranty is standard, extending to five years or 60,000 miles for the power train. Also standard is five-year unlimited mileage corrosion protection. Three complimentary oil changes are included with every new Scion.