Our last taste of the Scion xB came more than two years ago, when we reviewed a 2005 model and came away favorably impressed with the package despite a lack of available tech options for the interior. One of the two models (with the xA) that led Scion's 2004 entry into the U.S. market, the first-gen xB was sized for the city but with a surprisingly large interior and a cheekiness that helped it outsell the other Scions handily.
For 2008, predictably if unfortunately, the xB has gotten bigger, thirstier, and pricier in its second iteration. The lovable ugly-duckling styling that made it noteworthy at its original launch has given way to rounded edges and a less blatant two-box shape. Whether these nods to convention attract a wider swath of buyers or alienate the model's devotees remains to be seen, but some of the different-drummer attitude has been sacrificed, and we miss it.
However, the news is far from bad. If the Scion has grown up a bit on the outside, a similar maturation has bestowed the interior with an extensive list of tech options and more usable cargo space than the airy cabin of the original xB. Bluetooth for hands-free calling is the only major absence on the available options list, but otherwise our complaints about the earlier xB's thin gadget offerings have been answered with a vengeance.
Test the tech: Epic Japanese-Italian three-way
How many cars offer occupants the ability to watch three separate DVDs simultaneously? We're hard-pressed to think of any, let alone with a sub-$23,000 sticker price like the Scion we tested. With this capability in mind, we tested the tech in the 2008 xB with a simultaneous in-car movie trilogy viewing. After briefly considering the obvious father-son overtones of the original Star Wars trilogy, we decided that the "scion" relationship was best portrayed in the Godfather saga. Plus we've seen Star Wars too many times.
Each of the rear-seat players includes a two-channel wireless headphone set with volume control, and a single two-mode remote controls the playback features of both. Yes, the kids can each watch their favorite DVD, but they will still engage in sibling bonding while fighting over the remote. The players tilt forward out of the seatbacks for top-loading of discs and snap back rigidly into place for viewing, so the seatback angles determine visibility to an extent, although we felt comfortable watching the 7" screens through a range of possible front seating positions.
In the cabin
The new xB offers a broad array of cabin electronics as options, in direct contrast to the entry-level-only original version, which offered an auxiliary audio input as its main nod to interior tech. The 2008 model adds a standard dedicated iPod port and cable, which charges the iPod and offers full control via special menus on the 7-inch touch screen when the navigation option is present.
The xB's standard 160-watt six-speaker setup includes two tweeters and works nicely with the touch screen, which offers controls for focusing the sound. An equalizer and various sound processing options are also handled through the nav screen. One option our tester didn't include was the upgraded Pioneer premium audio system, which has an extra sound processing setting for owners who add aftermarket amplifiers. The single-CD slot is behind the tilting nav screen, and the system played both MP3 and WMA discs without fuss, showing complete ID3 tagging information.
In terms of space, the redesigned xB's interior doesn't have the TARDIS-like feel of the earlier car's, in which the seats sat low and headroom was vast. But the new car's larger dimensions, including an extra four inches in the wheelbase and an entire foot of overall length, make for more cargo space and rear-seat shoulder room. Interior storage spaces are well-designed, with a shelf above the glove box and the center armrest cubby both sized to fit CD jewel boxes. Another great touch is a shelf beneath the rear seat cushion, which can hold the headphones or other small items. A covered organizer over the spare wheel allows small electronics and other flat items to be out of sight when the car is parked.
The rear seats split and fold 60/40 for some variation in cargo/seating configurations. During our week with the car, we used it to pick up a 50-inch Samsung HPT5064 plasma TV, which it swallowed in the box with the rear hatch closing easily.
On the interior safety front, driver and passenger airbags are standard along with side and side-curtain airbags. A tire pressure monitoring system is also standard. The gauge cluster is much improved over the original xB's tiny tach-in-speedo arrangement. Four main round dials (digital speedometer/odometer, analog tach, fuel level, and engine temperature) now sit in the center of the dash, angled slightly toward the driver. To their left is a digital readout that shows the current gear alongside a clock, average or instant MPG, or miles to empty.
Under the hood
Along with its increased size and heft, the 2008 Scion xB gets almost a full liter more engine displacement than the original car's anemic 1.5-liter four. Horsepower is up from 108 to 158, but more significant is the torque increase from 105 to 162 pound-feet. The 2.4-liter motor in the new xB retains the four valve per cylinder DOHC layout of the smaller engine as well as Toyota's VVT-i variable timing system.
Standard chassis safety features include traction control and Vehicle Stability Control. Brakes are discs all around (an upgrade from the first xB's rear drums), with ABS, electronic brake force distribution, and emergency brake assist.
EPA fuel economy ratings (the more stringent 2008 numbers) for the Scion xB are 22mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. Our week with the xB was spent almost entirely on city streets, during which we may have been slightly more heavy-footed than the average driver on our way to a 21.7mpg average, according to the car's onboard computer.
Very few pundits predicted the sales success of the original xB, which makes Toyota's decision to soften its funky character and move it slightly upscale seem sort of risky. But looks aside, the new xB is an improved car in most respects and when carefully optioned can be just as much a (relative) bargain as the earlier version.
The base MSRP of our test car was $16,600. It had a fair amount of purely cosmetic options (carpet set, rear bumper applique, illuminated cup holder and door sills) that we would leave off of a car we ordered ourselves, which would save around $800. We would keep the navigation system, alloy wheels ($795), DVD players, and security system ($469). All told, the car we tested retailed for $22,765, including a $580 destination charge.
At this price, and with so many well-executed tech features available, the 2008 Scion xB is a great value. Only its lack of Bluetooth kept us from giving it higher than an 8 in our Comfort subrating.