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Scion's marketing people like to refer to the new 2008 Scion xD as a "Little Deviant," portraying it as car for those who refuse to follow the crowd. The xD's exterior styling does break the mold of the rounder Scion xA that it replaces. Its large, facemask-like front end gives it a stocky, aggressive profile, while a strip of mesh and two faux air inlets struggle to suggest that the car has some performance credentials. A high beltline and Scion's signature boxy styling treatment at the rear end ensure that no one is going to mistake this for a four-door Toyota Yaris liftback. Mechanically, the xD fits between the Yaris and the newly redesigned Scion xB with a 1.8-liter four cylinder plant. For all its appeal to the tech-savvy generation, the xD comes with precious little in terms of standard cabin gadgetry apart from an as-standard full speed iPod adapter, which allows drivers to browse and select songs using the car's stereo controls. The options list, however, is long and varied, giving would-be tuners plenty of options for deviating in their own way.
iTunes on the highway
Along with the latest Scion xB, the 2008 xD is the only car we have seen with an as-standard full-speed or "intelligent" iPod connector. The system makes use of a socket buried deep at the foot of the car's central stack, which uses a proprietary cable (included with the price of the car) to connect to a standard 30-pin iPod port. Unlike the xB test car we had earlier this year, our xD tester did not come optioned up with an in-dash navigation system, meaning that we had to do without a touch-screen virtual iPod interface. Instead, all control of the iPod was transferred to a double-DIN sized Pioneer-branded in-dash stereo with a simple, single-line black-on-green monochrome LCD display.
With iPod selected as the source, drivers are presented with a top-line menu comprising all the standard iPod categories (playlists, artists, songs, albums, and so forth), which can be browsed through using the jog dial on the right-hand side of the head unit. To make a selection, just push the dial in and you are taken to the next menu level for each category, where pushing the jog dial to the left or right enables you to search between entries. Pushing the jog wheel up takes you back to the top level menu.
The xD comes with as-standard iPod connectivity in the form of a socket at the bottom of the central stack.
Despite its basic appearance, the stereo's display shows enough characters (around 16) to provide useful information on tracks, albums and artists. We are less impressed with the jog dial's ability to let drivers search through long lists of songs or tracks in a particular category. While the controller can be used to scroll through FM and AM frequencies, there is no such facility with iPod menu entries, meaning that you are going to have to push down hundreds of times if you want to get to your ZZ Top tunes on your 30GB iPod. We also found it frustrating that the system does not allow drivers to back up one menu level at a time, instead forcing users to return to the top-level menu (and the default playlist category) every time they want to make a new selection. This is particularly annoying for those of us who have more than one album by a particular artist on our iPods.
The jog dial on the right of the stereo can be used to browse songs and albums, but pressing up takes you right back to the top-level menu.
For all its usability glitches, the as-standard iPod interface in the xD is at least better than the one we tested recently in the xB, which, for some bizarre reason, required the car to be stationary before drivers could browse or select iPod tracks.
In the cabin
If the Little Deviant deviates anywhere, it is in its cabin layout and design. Upon getting into the driver's seat, the xD owner is faced with a curious instrument arrangement in the form of a single dial, which doubles as a speedometer and a tach. This design is particularly disconcerting when accelerating, as the two needles move in opposite directions in a pincer-like motion. Other than an electroluminescent bar chart for a fuel gauge, the instrument cluster is otherwise unremarkable apart from its lack of instruments. Less, in this case, being very much less.
The xD's sole instrument dial acts as both a tachometer and a speedometer.
Panning right, the xD's black lacquer-trimmed central stack looks curiously out of place against the soft black plastic of the dash and appears to have been stuck on as an afterthought. As noted above, the xD's standard stereo is a double-DIN size, Pioneer-branded system producing a maximum of 160 watts with the help of six speakers around the cabin. In addition to its iPod compatibility, the stereo can handle MP3, WMA, and AAC encoded discs, giving full ID3 tag readouts for tracks, artists, and albums. The standard stereo is also prewired for Sirius satellite radio, although activation costs an extra $449.
Despite its capability to produce lots of noise, the stock stereo is unlikely to excite many audiophiles: Aside from regular bass, treble, and high settings, the single sound-customization option is a function called Scion Sound Processing (SSP), which is controlled by a conspicuous button in the center of the stereo. Processing options run to three: SSP Feel, which produces a thumping, bass-heavy sound; SSP Hear, which has the effect of projecting acoustic output higher into the cabin; and SSP Neutral, which, as its name suggests, leaves things pretty much alone.
Scion is well known as a brand that attracts the tuner crowd and it is therefore not surprising to see a standard sized (read "replaceable") factory stereo head unit. However, options abound for those who want to upgrade the xD's cabin straight from the factory. For $389, drivers can option up the Pioneer premium audio system, which, in addition to its color screen and larger control dial, builds on the audio tweaking capabilities of the base system with an automatic sound levelizer and sound retouch. It also features an extra SSP setting for external amps. Those who want even more cabin tech can invest $1,950 in the Alpine-branded Scion navigation system with a 7-inch LCD touch screen and built-in DVD player that we saw in our review of the 2008 Scion xB.
The xD may never win any beauty contests for its external appearance, but its passengers do get to reap all the rewards from its boxy exterior profile. Headroom is plentiful for both front and rear occupants, and legroom was sufficient to comfortably accommodate your 6-foot-4-inch correspondent in the driver's seat and his equally statuesque soccer teammates in the back. For those who want to personalize the cabin of their xD, there are a number of factory-installed options including customized gear-shifter knobs, illuminated door sills, and a "4-N-1" light kit with cup-holder illumination.
Under the hood
Customization options are also plentiful for those with a performance bent. While the 2008 Scion xD comes with a single engine option in the form of a 128-horsepower, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder plant with Toyota's dual VVT-i variable valve timing, there are a host of options from Toyota Racing Department (TRD) for souping up the car. Some of these additions (rear sway bar, performance oil and air filters, shocks and strut kits) will have a material effect on the car's performance, while others (sport muffler, forged oil filler cap, selection of alloy wheel sets) are more ornamental than useful.
The xD's 1.8-liter engine is smaller than that in the tC and the new xB.
Our test car, alas, came with none of the above, and so we spent our week in decidedly unsouped driving. We did at least get the five-speed manual transmission (rather than the four-speed auto), which gave us the opportunity to put the Deviant through its paces around the streets of San Francisco. The xD's 1.8-liter engine is surprisingly torquey off the line and in downshifts, and we found our front wheels losing traction more than once. On the other end of the scale, we found the xD's brakes to be far spongier than we'd like.
We can also see why a sway bar is the first line item on the available options list, as the unmodified xD demonstrates noticeable body roll--and understeer--in cornering as it wallows through turns. On the freeway, the xD performs adequately but does admit a lot of road and wind noise, the latter perhaps due to its less-than-aerodynamic profile.
Aerodynamics? What's that?
According to its new 2008 fuel economy ratings, the EPA estimates that the Scion xD will get an admirable average gas mileage of 27 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. In our week of mixed city and freeway driving we found this to be right on, observing an average of 29.8 mpg over 200 miles.
Our Nautical Blue 2008 Scion xD tester came with a base price of $14,550 and precious few additional extras, including $650 for Vehicle Stability Control, $155 worth of floor mats, and $469 for an alarm and remote key access. All told, our tester rang in at $16,440 including delivery.
For that price, the 2008 xD finds itself up against some stiff competition in the subcompact segment, including the Volkswagen Rabbit, the Nissan Versa, and the Honda Fit. In its base-model form, the xD lacks the performance of the Rabbit but measures up well against the Fit and the Versa in terms of standard cabin amenities. For those who want to pimp their ride, however, the xD blows its competition away.