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.
The Release Version 8.0 gets a Kenstyle body kit, with ground effects and a new rear bumper cover.
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.
A 4-speed automatic transmission doesn't allow for the most efficient engine speeds.
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.
Scion's strategy of using aftermarket stereos hasn't helped the cabin technology keep up with the bleeding edge, largely due to the units Scion offers in the cars. CNET's xB Release Version 8.0 came with a double-DIN Alpine head unit with Scion branding on the faceplate. Although this head unit includes modern sources such as HD Radio and iPod integration, it lacks Bluetooth audio streaming.
This Alpine head unit comes as part of the Premium Sound package.
Music plays through a six-speaker system that shows good detail in high to midrange frequencies, but buries bass. When we played Amy Millan's "Honey from the Tombs" CD, acoustic and light percussion instruments came through very well, while vocals were clear, but not very rich. However, on Crooked Fingers' cover of "Solitary Man," a tuba counterpoint is completely lost among the mid- and higher-frequency instruments.
The best thing about this head unit is that it can be easily expanded. It will take a subwoofer, a backup camera, and other components, including navigation. In fact, the xB handles aftermarket stereos very well, so it might be worth opting for the base stereo and upgrading the features from the vast array of aftermarket equipment available.
One area where the xB is sorely in need of an update is the optional Bluetooth phone system. Its interface consists of a set of buttons that, when pushed, cause some inexplicable beeping, with no voice prompts to explain options. This unintuitive system definitely requires a manual to operate. Much more capable Bluetooth phone systems can be had integrated with an aftermarket head unit.
The Bluetooth phone system's minimal controls and limited feedback will have you looking to the manual.
This Bluetooth phone system shows where Scion falls short of the competition. Ford's Sync system combines excellent MP3-player and Bluetooth phone support, with voice command, in cars as inexpensive as the xB. Likewise, the Kia Soul offers much better iPod and Bluetooth phone integration.
The Scion brand was established to appeal to a youth market, but the 2011 xB Release Version 8.0 falls far short of this promise. Although it's a unique-looking vehicle with practical interior space, its electronics are downright primitive. The best thing that can be said for the cabin tech is that it upgrades easily.
The xB drives easily, with a no-fuss, jump-in-and-go demeanor. But the engine shows no attempt to exploit newer efficiency technologies. And a four-speed automatic transmission would have been high-tech in 1950, but now it makes the xB's design seem more about cost-cutting than offering a compelling vehicle.
|Model||2011 Scion xB|
|Trim||Release Version 8.0|
|Power train||2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||22 mpg city/28 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||25.1 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Alpine 6-speaker, 200-watt system|
|Price as tested||$18,000|