Review and photos by
Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com
You would think Canada has enough small cars already, but Toyota disagrees, as it launches its value-oriented Scion brand north of the 49th for the 2011 model year. Their argument seems valid: Canada has a big appetite for little wheels. It’s odd enough that the U.S. market got Scions before us unlucky Canucks, but even more eyebrow-raising is that the company waited nine years before officially introducing Canadians to the brand’s three-model line-up.
Admission to the Scion party comes for as little as $17,200 for the xD, the subcompact pictured here. You won’t recognize the look based on anything else in the Toyota portfolio, but what’s underneath is nothing new: the xD is built on the same platform as the Toyota Yaris, swapping that car’s little 1.5-litre engine for the 1.8-litre used in the Corolla and Matrix models. That’s a significant upgrade that I’ll get to in a moment, but the xD is also significant for its standard equipment list, which includes 16-inch wheels, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows/locks/heated mirrors, Bluetooth and a Pioneer six-speaker stereo with auxiliary and USB inputs.
To get that kind of kit in a Yaris hatchback, you need to choose the LE with Convenience Package, which brings most of those items, but leaves out the six-speaker stereo (the Yaris gets four), Bluetooth and the USB input. You also get a little more cargo space in the Scion: 10.5 cu. ft (297 litres), compared to 9.3 (263 litres).
And then there’s that bigger motor. The Yaris’ 1.5-litre’s 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque are adequate for the car, and average for the class, but the xD’s 1.8-litre makes 128 hp and 125 lb-ft, which is a big bonus compared to what’s common in subcompacts. In fact, even when hooked up to my tester’s optional four-speed automatic (a five-speed manual is the default), the xD is notably quicker than a Yaris, such as the RS hatch (also automatic) I tested earlier this year.
I’d suggest that the 1.8-litre is the smoother motor, too, but any comment on that will have to be reserved until Toyota sends us an xD that doesn’t have my tester’s optional sport muffler (a $610 extra), which makes the car much louder. I liked this kind of thing when I was younger and no doubt many young buyers will enjoy the sound, but this, to me, sounds a little like my last winter beater, which I got rid of after the exhaust rusted off.
The xD’s official, Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption estimates are 7.6/5.9 L/100 km (city/highway) with the automatic transmission; my tester had a hard time doing better than 9.0 in city driving, despite a motor that should have been mostly broken in, with about 2,500 km on the clock.
My tester also had a $1,070 set of springs that lowered the ride height by about an inch and starched up the ride significantly; its 18-inch wheels, a $1,720 add, not including 225/40R18 tires, ramped up ride harshness over rough roads as well. Little cars don’t tend to do a great job of filtering out the crashes, booms and bangs of rough roads, and the big wheels and low-profile tires certainly didn’t help in this case, and in fact, seemed to contribute to increased tire noise on just about every kind of pavement. The wide tires also contributed to squirmy steering over uneven pavement.
There is an up-side to my car’s non-standard wheels and suspension, and that’s the right-now handling that make this car much more entertaining, in spite of the dull-feeling steering.
The xD shares the Yaris’s touchy throttle and spongy brake pedal; everything here works more or less as you’d expect it, but the add-on wheels and suspension are best avoided if you value pampering over performance.
This Scion’s exterior is utterly dissimilar to the Yaris it borrows its mechanicals from, but interior space will be familiar to drivers of that entry-level Toyota. There’s enough space for people, but no surplus; the rear seat not only folds flat to expand cargo space, but also slides fore and aft. I don’t quite get the point of that feature; sliding the seat forward to augment the trunk makes the rear seat useless for all but little kids, so you might as well fold it flat anyway.
Look closely and you’ll recognize a number of dashboard parts and pieces from the Yaris, but the overall design is unique. The nifty combination speedo/tachometer in the centre of the instrument cluster (positioned in front of the driver, not top-and-centre as in the Yaris) is a little busy, and the sections to the left and right of it, where the various warning lights and telltales appear, look rather blank.
The upgraded Alpine stereo, a $535 extra, sounds terrific, but the LCD touch screen doesn’t dim along with the rest of the dashboard lights for distraction-free night-time driving. It can be dimmed manually, but it’s an annoying extra step.
As with the Yaris, the xD’s steering column tilts but doesn’t adjust for reach, which made it difficult to get comfortable: if the wheel was a good distance away, the pedals were too close; I wound up driving further from the wheel than I generally prefer, to keep my knees out of my chest. The outboard rear headrests are curiously huge, taking a big chunk out of the rear view.
To the xD’s $17,200 MSRP, my tester added a number of extras. The automatic transmission adds $900, and then there were the wheels ($1,720), springs ($1,070), muffler ($610), rear spoiler ($480) and Alpine stereo ($535). What that list doesn’t include are a set of 18-inch tires to fit the spiffy wheels; you have to buy those separately. For aftermarket rubber, you’ll have to pay at least $200 per corner (according to prices at 1010tires.com). With the automatic transmission, my tester priced out to $22,515, a fair reach from the car’s MSRP.
The larger motor and a few extra features make the xD a compelling choice compared to the Yaris, not to mention many of its other subcompact competitors; only the Nissan Versa has enough engine to compete power-wise. Where the xD falls down is when put up against Scion’s own larger xB, a larger, roomier, and more powerful car that’s also more refined over the road for about a thousand bucks more. The xD will prove to be plenty of car for many buyers, but that doesn’t make it the best car in the Scion line.
Pricing: 2011 Scion xD
Base price: $17,200
Options: $5,315 (automatic transmission, $900; 18-inch wheels, $1,720 (not including tires); lowering springs, $1,070; TRD muffler, $610; rear spoiler, $480; Alpine stereo, $535)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $24,005
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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