With funky styling and a reputation built around the tuner crowd and the sound-off set, the Scion xB almost single-handedly established the market for little boxy city cars in the North American market. However, the current generation xB faces stiff competition from the likes of the even-quirkier Nissan Cube and the upstart Kia Soul.
So, does the larger, softer 2010 Scion xB still have what it takes to stand out? We took one for a spin to find out.
Styling and profiling
The styling of the first-generation xB was a little box that you either you loved or you hated; everyone had an opinion about it. This new xB is bigger, rounder, and, well, more anonymous. It's been stretched in every direction and has gained a startling 700 pounds over its bantamweight precursor. What you get for this trade-off is more space for storage and for people. You also get a slightly longer wheelbase, which brings with it the positive side effect of a more planted feel at highway speeds.
From the driver's seat of the boxy Scion, you're presented with a sparse steering wheel with minimal controls on its spokes. Beyond that, there's a blank expanse of dashboard and then the open road. Instead of mounting the instrument cluster in front of the driver, Toyota has chosen to put the gauges for tachometer, fuel, and coolant temperature, and the huge digital speedometer at the top-center of the dashboard, where they can be easily viewed and commented on by backseat passengers.
We found it annoying to have to look to the other side of the vehicle to check our fuel level during the daytime, but at nighttime the big bright digital speedometer proved to be quite the distraction as it flicked through numerals at the edge of our periphery like some kind of flashy eyeball magnet.
Moving down from the instrument cluster is the center stack that houses the climate controls, which feature big, easy-to-understand knobs, and the infotainment system, which we'll discuss in the next section.
Finally, there's the shifter assembly, which is planted in the middle of an expanse of cheap silvery plastic that feels brittle and hollow to the touch. The chintzy feel of this plastic is in high contrast to the rest of the interior, which is generally composed of good-quality soft plastics.
Power and performance
Under the xB's hood is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 158 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque thanks to VVT-I, Toyota's brand of variable valve timing. This is a very similar mill to the one that handles motivational duties in the larger Toyota Camry without complaint. In the lighter xB, the engine really shines. Acceleration is good and there's enough torque to make the little wagon feel confident at any speed.
Power is transmitted to the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission with sport and manual shift modes. Typically this is where we complain about how crappy the automatic gearbox was and how it impinged on our fun, but the Scion's slushbox is not bad for a torque converted automatic. It won't blow your mind with its quick shifts, but from within the xB's performance envelope, it won't disappoint, either. The standard five-speed manual will probably net you more grins for performance driving, but the xB doesn't really seem built for that lifestyle.
Interestingly, the automatic transmission doesn't come with a fuel economy penalty; it's 22 city and 28 highway mpg, regardless of configuration. Our real-world testing kept the trip computer reporting about 22 combined mpg, thanks to our lead-footed stoplight sprints and San Francisco's hilly terrain.
Steering is your typically over-boosted Toyota electronic power steering setup, which impedes any communication between the road and your fingertips. However, the xB is light on its toes and is a very competent cruiser.
Even when equipped with our optional TRD lowering springs, the xB never felt harsh, even over potholes and expansion joint ridges. Of course, the lowered suspension's limited travel meant that over larger bumps, the xB's body got jostled about a bit, but we didn't feel any of the cringe-inducing crashing about that we've gotten in other lowered vehicles. And because the parts are covered under your warranty, you can take your modified xB to the dealer for maintenance without fear.
The fast and the infuriating
The cabin tech offered in the Scion xB is something of a mixed bag. The standard rig is a Pioneer audio system with iPod/USB compatibility. However, ours was equipped with optional Bluetooth hands-free calling, an Alpine premium audio receiver with GPS navigation, and a pair of 7-inch LCD monitors with DVD playback in the back of the front headrests. This all sounds very good on paper, but the implementation of these features leaves much to be desired and the usability just isn't on par with the competition from Honda and Ford.
Let's start with the infuriating Bluetooth hands-free system. Scion has decided to go with an add-on module from BLU Logic rather than an integrated OEM system. There are only three buttons (one for call answer/end and a pair for volume up and down), all of which are located in the small control panel near the driver's left knee. That's right: there are no steering wheel controls for hands-free calling. There's also no voice command and no voice prompts for setup. So, advanced functions--such as pairing a phone--can only be accessed with a combination of button presses and holds. Expect to be seeing a lot of the user's manual for the first few days of ownership.