Younger is way better, right? Everybody wants to look younger, feel younger, be considered to be younger (unless we are younger, in which case the opposite applies). The 2009 Scion xB could qualify as instant youth potion for baby boomers. With a base price of $16,700 ($17,944 as tested), the 2009 Scion xB arrives with a 3 year/36,000 miles basic warranty, a 6 year/60,000 miles powertrain warranty and EPA fuel economy estimates of 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway. Saddle up for the Fountain of Youth.
First, glance: Bigger is much better
The first generation xB started the Scion craze in 2004. A 2,399 lb box with unbelievable interior space, the original xB made a big splash featuring its low price and high fuel efficiency (26 mpg city/31 highway). The kids loved it, and relished the opportunity customize their xBs with a long list of factory-approved accessories along with a robust aftermarket.
For 2008, Toyota (Scion’s parent company) messed with success by providing xB a serious makeover, adding 12” long and 5” in width to the tiny terror and bumping the engine from 1.5 liters to 2.4 liters. During this process, the xB gained 631 lbs to a curb weight of 3,026 lbs, and lost 4 mpg city/3 mpg highway. But, as Aaron Gold mentioned in his review of the 2008 Scion xB, “With its new-found size, the xB has moved in the realm of proper family cars.”
xB still seems like xB, despite the increase in size. It looks like someone applied and to the old design, beefing up the details and adding some panache. The assertive front, with incised halogen projector headlamps, eccentric drilled grille and racy lower fascia, is clean and expressive. The flat hood leads directly into the shoulder line, as well as the thin, flat roof uses up very little visual space in profile. Blacked-out B-pillars offer the illusion of a single long daylight opening (“DLO” in designer-speak), which makes me wish for a convertible xB – wouldn’t that be cool? The 16” steel wheels wear plastic hubcaps, and can be my first target for customization. The Scion accessory catalog lists wheels approximately 19” for fitment to xB, so that’s what I’d get.
In the Driver’s Seat: Uh-oh, it’s magic
2009 Scion xB interior left
2009 Scion xB interior
Photo © Jason Fogelson
Larger interior photo
Stepping in the xB is sort of a David Copperfield illusion – so much space hiding behind such a tiny exterior. Having its high roofline, the cabin feels like a cathedral. Seating is rather upright, more dining area chair than low-slung racer. I had no issue getting comfortable and right into a good driving position with the tilt adjustable (no telescope) steering wheel and height-adjustable driver’s seat. One place where xB’s low priced betrays itself is in thin seat cushioning and cloth-only seat cover material. On longer drives, I craved more support as well as a suppler surface. Another cost control feature is the centrally-mounted instrument panel. Instead of manufacturing a left-hand drive, US-style dash along with a right-hand drive, Japan-style dashboard, Scion mounts the instrument panel in the middle of the dash, probably saving millions of yen. I never really liked it, although i was able to adjust to the gauge location. I felt like my eyes were away from the road longer reading the xB’s central gauge cluster than they could have been with a conventional, above-the-wheel cluster. At freeway speeds, every millisecond counts.
The xB’s back seat benefits from the vehicle’s increased wheelbase and length. In the old xB, it felt as if you were sitting directly on the rear axle, with every bump telegraphed to your spine. The existing xB supplies a more comfortable perch, and the increased width gives more elbow room for two or three passengers. The xB is now a real family car, especially when you factor in the 21.7 cubic feet of luggage space behind the seats.
On the Road: Floggable
I have to admit, I’ll trade a couple of miles per gallon for further driving excitement almost every time. xB offers a pretty good balance going on right out of the box. With a double-overhead cam 2.4 liter in-line 4-cylinder engine, xB produces 158 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. That doesn’t sound like much in these events of 300 hp sedans, but it’s good enough to make xB plenty of fun to drive, in spite of a 4-speed automatic transmission (a 5-speed manual is additionally available). Although the roofline is comparatively high, the xB feels as though it has a low center of gravity during cornering maneuvers. I’d explore some of the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) chassis and suspension enhancements to make the drive even sportier. I may even dip into my IRA to put some of the TRD engine and transmission parts in my xB – who needs retirement funds when you’ve got a supercharger as well as a quick shifter on your whip?
Pretty respectable considering how much I was enjoying its performance, though i drove my test vehicle just about everywhere during its week in my care, and yes it responded to my flogging by returning 20.8 mpg – lower than the EPA estimates.
I also enjoyed xB’s standard Pioneer 160-watt stereo system with iPod integration. A supplied iPod cable allowed me to regulate my tunes via the multi-function steering wheel buttons and read text information on the Pioneer’s display screen – exactly the kind of functionality that I want from my iPod and car stereo. The audio quality is quite good, too.
Journey’s End: Car or CUV?
2009 Scion xB left-rear view
2009 Scion xB
Photo © Jason Fogelson
My usual beat is SUVs, and I’m influenced to lobby for xB to be classified as a crossover sport utility vehicle rather than as a car. xB certainly qualifies in terms of utility, with its big hatchback, generous luggage capacity and 60/40 split folding second row. I’m content to consider it a wagon, like Scion does, although that term has lost its meaning. If I were shopping for a small SUV or family wagon, I’d certainly consider the xB as an affordable, stylish choice.
I’d look at the xB against other box-shaped vehicles: The Nissan Cube, Kia Soul and Honda Element in particular. I’d also measure it against other fun-to-drive hatchbacks, like the Mazda3, Suzuki SX4 and Volkswagen Rabbit. I’d even measure it against small crossover vehicles just like the Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Considering its good deal and great list of standard features, Scion’s xB represents a very good value. I’m not at all surprised that young drivers and first-time new car buyers flock to Scion showrooms, and therefore many older drivers have found xB too.
Despite the fact that many xBs are in the hands of baby boomers, I still believe that driving an xB got me to look younger. I even turned my baseball cap to the side and wore a big gold medallion, until my wife informed me I looked like an idiot. I guess the auto can only do it much.