The Scion xB last saw an update in 2007, so the current 2011-model-year car is long in the tooth, especially in an era when automakers are tightening their update schedules. But Scion has a trick up its sleeve, a means of refreshing the xB without a major model makeover. Scion's Release Versions offer body kits and custom paint that give the car a new look and premium equipment.
For 2011, Scion is producing 2,000 xB Release Version 8.0 models. Don't expect much choice with the Release Version 8.0--it comes in one color, Voodoo Blue, with matching patterned cloth and embroidery inside. The Kenstyle body kit adds nicely styled ground effects down the sides of the xB and across the rear bumper.
Of course, new clothes don't mean a new engine, or really anything besides cosmetic changes. The xB remains a roomy, practical, and funky-looking car with adequate power and aftermarket electronics.
At the same time, its tech has become stagnant. Its 2.4-liter engine comes up short on the horsepower-per-liter scale compared with competitors' direct-injection, turbocharged engines. The automatic gearbox only has four gears, and as a consequence, fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Modern tech in the power train should easily push this car into the 30s for fuel economy.
Sitting in the driver's seat, the xB's slow tech can be partially overlooked. Although a relatively small car, it feels decidedly roomy inside. Driver and passenger won't be bumping elbows, and rear passengers will enjoy the foamy feeling of the seats. As the square body suggests, luggage room is ample in the cargo area.
Squeeze the gas pedal and the xB takes off smartly, no fuss, no muss. Electric power-steering boost responds with good engagement, and makes you work just enough to pull the wheel around. With the automatic transmission option, the shift pattern shows sport and manual modes.
But once under way the limitations of a four-speed transmission quickly become apparent. Modulating the accelerator can lead to clunky shifts and big power changes as the car flips back and forth between gears. In manual mode it shifts readily, but putting it in sport mode pretty much means third gear.
The xB handles surprisingly well, given its shape. Taking it through a set of turns on a mountain road, we found it stayed nicely planted, with limited body roll. It is, of course, no sports car, but its stability comes as a surprise.
On the flip side, the care Scion took to screw down this suspension results in an occasionally rough ride. Potholes should be avoided at all costs, as they make the hard points of the suspension slam together so that you might pull over to check if the wheels are still attached.
Using Toyota variable-valve-timing technology, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine cranks out 158 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers, paired with CNET's average of 25.1 mpg, show a tried and true power train that fails to exploit newer efficiency technologies.