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2009 Scion xB Review
A bigger box, but just as funky
By Eric Eikenberry, Apr. 20, 2009

The original xB had an edgy hip-to-be-square savoir faire. It was a full backhand to the face of conventional aerodynamic styling, which says a car must be wind-carved in order to offer useful fuel economy. Esoteric and functional with a minimalist bent, it’s been marketed by Scion as a broad tableau on which to project each owner’s taste in styling. Would Toyota be able to infuse xB 2.0 with the same verve?

FAST FACTS

1. The second-generation xB gets a much larger 2.4-liter 4-cyl engine with 158hp and 162 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Cargo room is much-improved over the old model with 21.7 cubic feet, or 69.6 cu.-ft. with the rear seats folded flat.

3. Scion offers a long (very long) list of options to help you personalize your box.

Well, the verdict is in and it’s… mixed. Just like xB 1.0, version two’s styling is a love-it-or-leave-it affair. We’d call it appliance-like but that’s an insult to attractive refrigerators everywhere. The nose of the car features a prominent “chin” which is slightly out of proportion to the body. It’s not as purposeful-looking in stock form as the first five door hatchback design, which we prefer. That said, we’ve peeked at the TRD catalog (helpfully included in the glove box) and found a very tasty body kit, which moves the body from “appliance-like” to “phat.” If you’re too old to know what that means, odds are you won’t be considering an xB anyway.

On TRD springs, with TRD wheels, a TRD body kit and rear wing, this softly-rounded lunch box shows its true stylish potential. Be prepared to spend more money immediately.

IS BIGGER BETTER?

The new xB is larger in all dimensions, particularly in regard to useful space behind the rear seat. A weekend suitcase will fit back there, laying down lengthwise between the seat and the door. Ditto a large camera case. Golf bags will go in sideways, as well as snowboards. This trumps the first one handily, which had about as much trunk space as a small convertible.

In terms of actual numbers, cargo room is 21.7 cubic-feet with an incredible 69.6-cubic feet when the rear seats are folded flat.

The Scion-logo carpeted floor mat kit (a $155 option) is money well-spent and it helps move the interior from “utilitarian” to “semi-utilitarian.” There are still acres of visible plastic, but Toyota has at least seen fit to dress it with an attractive checkerboard pattern reminiscent of carbon fiber weave. There’s seat-matching cloth inserts on the door, but the portion where your arm rests is just plastic. Get the black interior and you’ll be writing letters to Scion in the summer to inform them that “cloth on the armrest, plastic on the door” would have been a better choice.

The interior styling won’t dazzle you in the same way that a Mini Cooper does, and the offset “Quad Cluster Instrumentation” appears to have been stolen from a powerboat. We’d have been happier to see it straight in front of the driver where it belongs. All of the gauges are well-lit and legible in sunlight or darkness, always a concern when the speedometer’s a digital readout and not a swept needle design. Everything else about the dash is conventional. Vents, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, power mirror controls, and power window controls have that familiar buttery-smooth Toyota tactile feel. You’ll find them logically-placed, just where you’d expect.

EXCELLENT iPOD INTERFACE, BUT STANDARD STERO LACKING

Both the base and up-level factory Pioneer in-dash units have iPod inputs and will play MP3 CDs. The iPod interface works well with the song titles displaying on the radio face. Placing the plug-in for the cable on the inside of the center console would have been the prudent choice though. On the outside, you’re left with an iPod dangling on a cable, and it isn’t long enough to get it into the front cupholder’s rubber cubby insert. It’s left rattling loosely in the rear cupholder, against the hard plastic. The rubber cubby only fit’s the front hole.

Thankfully there’s no need to access the iPod because the controls on the face are deactivated. If you get lost frequently, choose the GPS unit. It features the same high-power directory found in all Toyota models, even those from Lexus! Our review vehicle, with it’s $17,944 (including Delivery Fee of $620) suggested retail price came with the stock, 8-speaker, 160-watt audio system. Front stereo tweeters turn all high-frequency sounds into flat mush. Turning down the treble reduces the annoyance, but doesn’t eliminate it completely. One area where Scion cut costs we suspect.

DON’T FORGET TO DUCK

While this is a very minor point, individuals blessed with an abundance of vertical inches will find the rear hatch door to be a challenge. It swings up and out of the way to a nearly level position exactly five feet, eleven inches from the ground. We know this because the reviewer is exactly that height, and utilizing proper posture while standing, could firmly touch the hatch door on the underside with the top of his head.

Those of you over six feet, you’ve been warned. There’s plenty of height inside the spacious cabin, so if you only test drive it without looking in the rear before purchasing one, don’t blame us when you’re left with a welt on your forehead.

ON THE ROAD: MORE POWER, LESS FUEL-ECONOMY

In all other categories, driving, turning, stopping, we rate the 2009 xB as a competent daily driver. The “sport-tuned suspension” is, in fact, quite good, even on the bumpy Los Angeles freeways. The four-wheel disc brakes bite well, and the rears are a step up from the drum brakes on the previous model. By going up to a larger displacement 2.4-liter engine with 158hp and 162 ft-lbs of torque, the four speed sequential automatic transmission is happier.

The downside is a decrease in fuel economy, both from the previous model and from others in its segment. Look for 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. The steering offers decent precision with a smooth feel. It goes where you point it with a minimal amount of under-steer for a front-wheel drive box on 16-inch wheels.

THE VERDICT

If it has Toyota’s typical no-fuss reliability (which we suspect it will) the xB will be a great small commuter car for tens of thousands of happy, content customers for years to come. You don’t have to like the appearance if it’s not yours, but you’d better get used to it. We think you’re going to see them everywhere. Just don’t be surprised to see them rolling around two inches off the ground and covered with body kits, big wheels, and chrome bling. Truthfully, they look best that way!

PLUS

Great forward and side visibility, almost like a pickup truck with a short hood.
iPod adapter interface works great.
Usable interior room, especially at the rear, has improved.

MINUS

Front seats not comfortable for long trips with static (and uncomfortable) headrest angle.
Tilt steering moves only one inch! Telescoping steering would have been nice.
Poor quality standard audio system.

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