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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.
If your phone has its own built-in voice command functionality, the BLU Logic system will access it for dialing. If it doesn't, then you'll need to initiate calls from the handset, which sort of defeats the purpose.
Fortunately, call quality was pretty good thanks to a discrete dash-mounted microphone with noise canceling. A neat hidden feature is A2DP audio streaming, but the lack of controls and integration with the audio system means that you'll still be picking up your handset to play, pause, and skip.
Speaking of the audio system, tunes and calls alike were routed through the six-speaker audio system, which features two tweeters mounted in the A-pillars and a driver in each of the four doors (none of which is a subwoofer). Sound quality on a flat EQ curve was only so-so. The highs were clear, but the midrange and bass possessed a hollow, weak sound. Tweaking the EQ for more bottom end yielded slightly meatier--if not also slightly distorted--bass response.
Our xB was equipped with an optional Alpine-branded premium headunit, which featured a two-knob interface (one for volume and a dedicated search knob) and a 4-inch color touch screen. The unit boasts a single-slot CD player, XM Radio compatibility, and built-in HD radio tuning, and makes use of the xB's standard USB and auxiliary inputs for adding external sources. Power output is boosted to 200 watts max, up from 160 from the base unit. Our unit was also upgraded with a GPS module that enables turn-by-turn navigation.
User friendliness is where, again, things start to go awry. Firstly, the tiny touch screen is located on the passenger side of the unit's faceplate, which makes reading maps, typing addresses, or choosing songs quite difficult from the driver's seat. This is compounded by the touch screen's slow response times and iffy accuracy.
Secondly, while the unit is quick to recognize and start playing from a connected iPod, browsing audio on a connected iPod is gruelingly slow. This is because the unit doesn't have an index of the media stored on the device. So, every time you hit the search button to choose, for example, a new artist, the unit must read the data directly from the device. This means that scrolling through long lists can take forever. And if you take your attention away from browsing for a few seconds, the search times out, returning you back to the home screen and forcing you to start your search all over again.
Honestly, we found it faster to disconnect the iPod, choose a song using Apple's interface, and reconnect to listen. Searching on this Alpine unit is that bad, which is odd because we loved most of the Alpine aftermarket units that we've tested.
Once you've chosen a source, the receiver offers a reasonable level of flexibility for tuning your audio, including three preset EQ curves, a loudness setting (which is best used only at low volumes), and a feature called MX, which supposedly increases the clarity of voices and instruments, but didn't really improve the sound quality very much in our opinion. There is also at least one 2.4-volt preamp output located on the unit's backside with a configurable low-pass filter for adding a much needed powered subwoofer.
The rear seat entertainment system consists of a pair of DVD headrests with 7-inch monitors. The system comes with a remote and a pair of wireless IR headphones. The DVD player is mounted behind the monitor. Just pull the monitor forward to expose the slot, insert the disc of your choosing, and then push the screen back into the headrests. Do your best not to lose the remote, as the bezel-mounted controls are extremely limited.
Looking back over our experiences, it's apparent that the bulk of our complaints about the xB aren't with the vehicle itself, but with the poor assortment of cabin technologies. We actually rather liked the xB's peppy acceleration and zippy handling provided by the TRD lowering springs, but the xB isn't a performance car. It's a more relaxed, stylish lifestyle vehicle. However, we were anything but relaxed every time we tried to make a phone call or choose an album and were met with resistance from the electronics. The competition from the aftermarket and other OEMs is just so much better in both scope and usability of the infotainment systems.
The 2010 Scion xB bases at $16,420. If you want the four-speed automatic transmission, then bump that sticker price up to $17,370. Then come all of the a la carte options that Scions are known for. Add $299 for the BLU Logic hands-free calling system, $1,198 for the Alpine premium receiver with navigation, $449 for satellite radio, $469 for the Scion Security system (why is this not a standard feature?), and $1,599 for the rear seat entertainment. Other aesthetic add-ons include illuminated door sills, a mesh grill insert, fog lights, TRD lowering springs, 16-inch alloy wheels, and floor mats, which boost our xB's as-tested price up to $23,538. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Throwing caution to the wind, one could easily bump the xB's price up to $32,000 with performance accessories and styling options.
The xB is one of the few examples of a vehicle that we'd recommend that you buy stripped down and later add your own better tech. If that sounds like too much work for you, take the $17k you would have spent on the stripped xB and pick up a fully loaded Kia Soul. You'll probably have much more fun.
|Model||2010 Scion xB|
|Trim||w/ automatic transmission|
|Power train||2.4-liter VVT-i four-cylinder|
|EPA fuel economy||22 mpg city/28 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||21.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional plug-in navigation unit|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional w/ A2DP audio streaming|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-disc CD player|
|MP3 player support||Standard USB port with iPod playback|
|Other digital audio||HD radio, satellite radio, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||Six-speaker basic audio w/ optional Alpine premium receiver|
|Price as tested||$23,538|