Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, CanadianDriver.com
New to Canada for the 2011 model year, the Scion xB is one of three Scion vehicles now available in this country, those being the small xD hatchback, the compact xB hatchback, and the compact tC sporty coupe/hatchback. The two-seater Scion iQ micro-car will arrive this Spring.
Scions have been available in the U.S. since 2003, but the cost of establishing a new automotive brand in Canada, a much smaller market than the U.S., deterred parent company Toyota from making that decision until last year. Still, given Canadian’s preference for smaller, more affordable cars, particularly hatchbacks, Scion seems like a natural fit for this country.
With their sub $30,000 pricing, unique styling and available sporty accessories like premium audio systems and sport mufflers, Scion’s cars are designed to appeal to younger buyers. This strategy has been working in the United States where Scions have the lowest average buyer’s age of 38. The Scion dealership experience is also less traditional with computers set up in the showroom to help customers build their cars the way they want them and trained advisors to help customers through the buying process.
However, one drawback for Scion in Canada is the cars’ limited availability. At the moment, Scions are only available at Scion/Toyota dealerships in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
The second generation xB, which was redesigned in 2007 and “refreshed” for 2011, is based on the compact Toyota Corolla/Matrix platform. It’s a larger car than the first gen xB (which was never sold in Canada) that was based on the subcompact Echo platform. Though there are some styling similarities, the new xB lost some of its sharp edges but gained more power, better handling and a larger interior.
Starting at $18,270, the xB comes with a 158-horsepower 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine and a standard five-speed manual transmission or optional ($1,020) four-speed automatic. Official fuel economy numbers are (L/100 km) 9.5 city/7.2 hwy when equipped with either manual or automatic transmissions.
The xB’s boxy shape gives it some practical advantages over rounder, more traditional hatchbacks like the Matrix and Mazda3. For a compact car, the xB’s interior feels roomy, offering generous headroom and legroom for front and rear passengers. The xB’s four doors are large and allow easy access to the raised seats. Though the driver’s seat has a high hip position, entry is easy thanks to a very low door sill and a tall roof. The manual height adjuster for the driver’s seat is largely useless as the seat cushion is already very high. For rear passengers, the raised front seat cushions provide plenty of footroom for those with winter boots or big feet. The sturdy rubber mats in my test car also proved water and snow-proof.
The driver sits upright with the steering wheel almost in their lap, and has a good view of the road ahead. There is a small blind spot at the right rear corner because of the C-pillar. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes for proper positioning and the shift lever is mounted high on a raised console for easy reach from the driver’s seat.
Bright, orange-backlit instruments in the centre dash, including a digital speedometer, and analogue tachometer, are easy to read at a glance, even though they’re further away than traditional gauges behind the steering wheel. There’s also an information display with average fuel consumption, instant fuel consumption, driving range, average speed, and estimated trip time. At night, the radio and heater controls are illuminated, but I was disappointed that some controls such as the power door lock buttons, power mirror button, and audio controls on the steering wheel, are not. An illuminated button for activating hands-free Bluetooth telephone is located on the left side of dash.
My test vehicle had the optional Premium Alpine audio system ($535) with eight speakers and a subwoofer. The face has a few dials and a small touch-screen for operating Seek, Scan and radio presets as well as adjusting the many audio settings which include various ways of turning the xB into a rocking boombox on wheels. The Alpine audio system has great sound, but the unit itself looks like an aftermarket radio that was shoehorned into the dash.
Storage areas are adequate but not comprehensive: a glovebox on the passenger side and an open bin above it; a small bin, presumably for coins, near the driver’s door; a small open bin and a 12 volt powerpoint under the centre console; two cupholders, an open bin, and an armrest/storage box containing USB and auxiliary inputs for music players between the front seats. Rear passengers have two pull-out cupholders at the back of the centre console. There are also two bins in the cargo area behind the wheelwells.
With the rear seats up, the xB’s cargo area is not quite as roomy as the Nissan Cube’s, Kia Soul’s or Mazda5’s, but its standard folding rear seatbacks and a fully reclining front passenger seatback more than double the cargo space. The rear seatbacks are carpeted but the side walls over the wheelwells are plastic which can scratch easily when loading and unloading cargo.
The rear hatch, which lifts up rather than swings out to the side like the Nissan Cube’s, has a wide and tall opening with a low liftover height, making loading and unloading larger objects much easier than with most hatchbacks and SUVs.
Driving the xB is a pleasant and somewhat unusual experience. The driver sits up very high, almost looking down on the steering wheel and dashboard. Shorter drivers will certainly find this a more appealing driving position. It’s an easy vehicle to drive in city traffic with a tight turning circle, easy, accurate steering and surprisingly stable handling. It tracks well on the freeway with very little engine noise and not much wind noise considering the shape of the car. There is some tire noise though.
The 2.4-litre engine is quite perky in city and highway driving and the optional four-speed automatic transmission, while rather outdated when you consider that some competitors have five-speed units, works well in combination with the 2.4-litre engine. It also features a manual shift mode should the driver want more control of shift points.
While it has a larger engine and more horsepower than rivals Cube and Soul it also uses more fuel, according to Energuide figures. It’s even thirstier than the new 2012 Mazda5 which has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine. Toyota has other, more modern and fuel-efficient powertrains it could use in the xB, and I suspect this will happen in the next couple of years.
My test car was equipped with $4,700 worth of optional TRD (Toyota Racing Development) accessories which really transformed its looks and its handling. These included 19-inch alloy wheels ($1,575), bigger brakes and red brake calipers in front ($1,550), a sport muffler ($600), and rear roof spoiler ($390). It was also equipped with Bridgestone Blizzak 235/45R-19-inch winter tires which weren’t included in the price.
The optional TRD Sport Muffler resonates a deep rumbling exhaust note that quickly identifies it as a wannabe tuner car. The sound is cool for a while, but after a week, I found it irritating.
What I liked best about the xB was its easy to drive nature, its comfortable ride, and its roomy cabin. For under $20,000 (without optional accessories, freight and taxes), there is plenty of car here for the owner, his/her friends, and their stuff.
Pricing: 2011 Scion xB
Base price: $18,270
Options: $5,720 (Four-speed automatic transmission, $1,020; 19-inch TRD alloy wheels $1,575; wheel lock set $50; TRD Big Brake kit $1,550; TRD Sport muffler $600; rear spoiler $390; premium Alpine stereo $535)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $25,480
Crash test results
Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and editor of CanadianDriver. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).