Review and Photos by
Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com
I’m a marketer’s worst nightmare: I appreciate a creative ad, but rarely pay much mind to what’s actually being advertised. Therefore, when it comes to my thoughts on the philosophy behind Toyota’s Scion line – that the brand is less about the cars themselves and more about having a part in shaping the future of the Generation Y demographic, largely marketing its vehicles specifically to these potential buyers – I don’t really get it.
But though I may not understand Scion’s marketing tactics, it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the cars themselves, and the xB is a good example. In the current line-up, the xB slots in between the smaller xD hatchback (which began its life in a previous generation as the xA) and the tC coupe. The current xB is the second of its kind, having been redesigned for 2007 into a larger, more powerful, and slightly less nerdy-looking box on wheels. The basic spec includes a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, generating 158 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque and a five-speed manual transmission; a four-speed automatic is optional.
A little background: the first Scion vehicles went on sale as 2003 models in California, followed by a stateside, nationwide launch the following year. The 2011 model year marks the brand’s official introduction to Canada, though many older models have been privately imported into Canada already.
The xB, and its xD and tC stablemates may not look like Toyotas, but the xB’s 2,600 mm (102.4 in.) wheelbase gives away its strong ties to the Corolla and Matrix. On the road, the xB feels more like the Corolla, with a firm, but comfortable, ride (as opposed to the Matrix, whose too-stiff suspension I’ve never been able to warm to); this Scion felt nearly identical in its suspension and steering to a 2010 Corolla XRS I reviewed last winter. My tester’s manual transmission had a similarly easy shifter (the baseball-sized carbon fibre shifter is an $85 extra) and a light clutch that nonetheless provided enough feel to be fun.
Despite being a generation behind in terms of Toyota’s four-cylinder engine technology (the larger 2.5- and 2.7-litre motors are more modern and efficient), this car’s 2.4 is a decent powerplant. It’s smooth and eager to rev, and generates good torque between 1,500 and 2,000 r.p.m., where you’ll often find the motor in a second-gear rolling start. That grunt also comes into play when shifting up through the gears in acceleration: the widely-spaced ratios would lead a less powerful engine to fall off its powerband with every shift, but there’s enough meat between 2,000 and 5,000 r.p.m. that this doesn’t happen, no matter whether you’re in a hurry or not. Even if this isn’t the most exciting engine in the world, it makes good power up top as well, so that merging onto a busy highway doesn’t involve taking your life into your hands.
Natural Resources Canada’s fuel consumption estimates for an xB with manual transmission are 9.5/7.2 L/100 km (city/highway); my tester averaged 10.0 L/100 km city driving.
Cruising at 100 km/h in top gear spins the engine at about 2,600 r.p.m. That’s reasonable, but the louder-than-stock exhaust (my tester had a TRD muffler, one of the accessories that can be ordered through the dealer) made for annoying engine noise at cruise.
Steering is light and easy at low speeds, and predictably overboosted on the highway, and the brakes – four wheel discs – have good stopping power and an easy-to-modulate pedal. Handling is economy-grade fun: the xB won’t out-slalom a Mini Cooper, but is surprisingly fun to toss around, considering its tall shape. A notable amount of road noise finds its way into the cabin at highway speeds.
Depending on how you view it, the xB’s main appeal, or turn-off, is its shape. It’s boxy, which rightly suggests a spacious interior, with loads of headroom in all five seats and generous cargo space. Rear seat legroom is good, but only by compact car standards. This ain’t no luxury box, but it’ll move four adults in decent comfort. The rear seat folds very nearly flat, and the large cargo door and straight-back roofline (no sporty taper here) mean this car would make one mean hauler. Toyota’s numbers rate the xB’s cargo capacity as 614 litres (21.7 cu. ft.) with the rear seats in place, and while the company doesn’t provide a seats-down figure, call it easily double, if not close to triple, the seats-up number.
Then there’s the fold-flat front seat (remove the head restraint, slide the seat all the way forward, then tilt it back, even with the rear seat cushion), enabling the transport of long pieces (if you’re hip like Toyota imagines Scion buyers to be, perhaps a surfboard; if not, a few 2×4s for the shed my dad was building when I drove this car). The cargo door measures about 43 inches (1,092 mm) wide by about 32 inches (813 mm) high, and there’s nearly five feet (about 150 cm) between the closed cargo door and the front seatbacks with the seats in their rearmost position.
Given Canada’s appetite for compact cars, Toyota has been hyping the introduction of Scion in our market since early this year, when the cars made their Canadian auto show debut in Montreal. Hype undoubtedly drives sales, but it also creates expectations; my wife, who puts up with my endless ramblings about car stuff, was disappointed in the xB’s interior. She said she expected something more upscale in look and feel, instead of Matrix-grade plastics and panel fits.
To be fair, the xB’s insides are par for the compact car course. Some soft-touch surfaces would smooth things out, and might be more resistant to marking and scratching than the hard plastics that dominate the dash, but I doubt this will be a big issue with most of the buyers shopping in the $20,000-ish price range. More importantly, the parts you need to touch work well, and for the most part, are familiar. The HVAC controls are straight out of a Corolla (or Matrix, or RAV4…) and the centrally positioned gauges will make former Yaris/Echo owners feel right at home. One obvious build-quality issue was a knocking sound from the behind the driver’s side dash over rough roads. On a different, but equally-annoying note, the sun visors don’t extend to cover all of the long side windows.
The xB’s starting price is $18,270, which includes a decent list of kit such as air conditioning, cruise control, power windows/locks/mirrors, Pioneer six-speaker audio system with auxiliary input, Bluetooth and the expected safety items: stability/traction control, anti-lock brakes and six airbags. The only traditional option (Scion calls its extras “accessories”) is a leather seat package that also adds heated front buckets for a not-insignificant $1,975. Beyond that, the list includes stuff like floor mats and a cargo cover (which should be standard in a hatchback); my tester came with a TRD carbon-fibre shift knob ($85), sport muffler ($600), wheel locks ($50) and rear spoiler ($390), which brought the as-tested price to $20,885, including freight. Toyota has Scion positioned as its high-value brand, so it’s not a surprise that the xB’s MSRP is over $2,000 less than a similarly-equipped Matrix (the XR model, which starts at $20,575).
The price alone makes the xB a no-brainer next to the Matrix, which looks and feels cheaper inside and offers less interior space; in fact, this Scion’s interior makes it a good alternative to many small crossovers, at least for shoppers who don’t require all-wheel drive.
Toyota’s vision for the Scion line was to create cool vehicles with a liberal application of practicality. I think the xB is cool precisely because of that practicality, and I believe many Canadians will feel the same way – even if they tune out when the commercials come on.
Pricing: 2011 Scion xB
Base price: $18,270
Options: $1,125 (TRD shift knob, $85; sport muffler, $600; wheel locks, $50; rear spoiler, $390)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $20,885
Crash test results