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2011 Scion xB Review
Scion’s second-gen xB is less boxy, but more square
By Mark Atkinson, Photography by Scion, Nov. 29, 2010

A big box: that’s the easiest way to describe Scion’s ‘middle child’. Bracketed by the entry-level subcompact xD and the top-selling tC coupe, the xB is the most memorable. It’s also the one most people can associate with Toyota’s youth brand, or pick out in a parking lot without needing to check the license plate.

FAST FACTS

1. A 2.4L 4-cyl makes 158-hp and gets 22/28-mpg (city/hwy).

2. Scion now offers the first two years or 25,000 miles of service for free on all 2011 models.

3. Cargo room is rated at roughly 22 cu.-ft. behind the rear seats and a total of 70 cu.-ft.

4. The 2011 xB is priced from $16,720.

But the current xB is bigger, softer and more compromised than the original, which was designed with a square rule.  The ‘new’ xB gets larger engines, adds extra cargo area and becomes more sophisticated. It also puts on weight... lots of it. But can we complain about the less-than-thrilling way a vehicle drives when its obvious selling point is simply the way it looks? Or at least the way it can look?

ANOTHER BLANK CANVAS FROM SCION, DESIGNED TO ACCESSORIZE

Scion’s buttered bread comes from its thick catalogue of accessories that customers can add at the time of purchase. These go beyond the usual bug deflectors and winter floor mats that adorn many a Camry or Sienna that heads out of the nearby Toyota dealer. The xB has 47 different accessories, from carbon-fiber window trims and 19-inch alloy wheels, to illuminated sill plates, a different steering wheel and upgraded audio and navigation systems.

Also available are Toyota Racing Development (TRD) branded parts, from big brake kits, lowering springs, performance clutches, strut-braces, sway bars and even a limited-slip differential for cars with manual transmissions.

Scion cuts down on its cost by having most of those parts installed either at port or at the dealership. The cars are all built in Japan and shipped over in one specification – pretty loaded. The customer only picks out the color and transmission and then signs on the dotted line.

ADD-ONS ALSO IMPROVE THE DRIVE

In stock guise, the xB uses a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 158 horsepower and 162 ft-lbs of torque. It uses a five-speed manual transmission, but a four-speed automatic is optional. It’s otherwise mechanically unremarkable from many other compacts of this size – it uses MacPherson struts up front, with a torsion-bar rear suspension – but unlike the sub-compact xD it does use four-wheel disc brakes.

To drive, it’s the same story. The suspension is soft, the big 205/55/16 tires have some definite cush in their sidewalls, and the electric power steering system that’s designed to minutely aid fuel economy also robs the system of any feel or feedback. But there’s obviously some strategy here – drive one with the arch-stuffing 19’s and the xB feels like a different car. There’s weight and more life. Beyond the expected improvements in handling from switching from a higher-profile all-season to a lower-profile performance tire, it quietly explains that Scion expects most of its customers to modify their vehicles far beyond the norm and that the systems need to be prepared to accommodate those desires.

POWER AND FUEL ECONOMY BOTH JUST ADEQUATE

The xB could use a boost in the performance department – just shy of 160 horses isn’t bad, but when you load one up with four people and gear, things slow down considerably. It’s slower still with the bigger wheels because of the added unsprung weight...  A swap to the new tC’s 180-hp 2.5-liter would help, as would its six-speed transmissions.

The xB’s fuel economy isn’t terrible at 22/28 mpg (city/hwy), but that’s been blunted by this generation’s big increase in size and weight compared to the original.

EXCEPTIONAL CARGO ROOM

Credit the expanded dimensions for some generous hauling ability, though. Scion says there’s nearly 22 cu.-ft. of storage behind the rear seats, and that expands considerably to almost 70 cu.-ft. when the 60/40 split rear seats are folded flat.

The rest of the interior is a big blank canvas of black plastic. The center-mounted gauge pod is oriented more on the driver’s side and is easy to comprehend. The steering wheel does tilt and telescope, but taller drivers will find it a little tight. The HVAC controls are easy to use, but the stereo has fiddlier aftermarket-style buttons. Content is generous, with standard air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry, cruise control, secondary audio controls on the steering wheel. Safety isn’t to be underestimated either with six airbags, ABS, traction and stability-control standard.

THE VERDICT

The price of $16,950 is a good deal lower than the competition from, say, the Kia Soul, but the Scion is larger and more powerful. The other square-box – the Nissan Cube – is even more compact, and much weirder, albeit in a neat way. Any difference at the till will likely disappear once the Scion boosters wave the parts list past the new-owner’s eyeballs. And Scion now covers the first two years or 25,000 miles of regular service for its 2011 models, which helps the sales push too.

But Scion, the brand that exploded out of the gate with funky dance parties, well-planned marketing pushes and a different way of doing business is awful close to slipping into obscurity – or even worse, predictability.

LOVE IT
  • Blank canvas
  • Well equipped
  • Plenty of cargo room
  • Service plan
LEAVE IT
  • Uninspiring to drive
  • Transmissions need more gears
  • Dead steering

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2010 Kia Soul
2010 Nissan Cube Review
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