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2004 Scion xB
Mark Batchelor

Toyota wants to draw a new age into its showrooms, a younger crowd that, once there, will return over time as faithful buyers of Toyota products. But the brand name Toyota doesn't click with this crowd. Neither does the present line up, starting with the Echo and closing with the Avalon. Toyota figures the solution is a new brand, one carefully researched to appeal to the next generation of car buyers.

Scion is that new brand. The Scion xB is one of three all-new models wearing the new badge and can now be found in about 80 percent of the Toyota showrooms in California. In February 2004, Scion will expand to the South and East Coast. Scion is expected to complete its national rollout in spring 2004.

The success of the Scion xB depends in part on how it stands out in the market. There's no question it stands out visually. The Scion xB is a box on wheels. Built by Toyota to high standards of quality, durability and reliability, the Scion xB feels tight and quiet, with little wind noise and no squeaks or rattles. It rides smoothly and is easy to drive with good brakes and a smooth clutch. It's no hot rod, however, so shifting into lower gears is needed for quick acceleration. Inside, it's roomy and has a nice interior with controls that are easy to operate. The driver and passengers sit upright in chair-like seats and enjoy excellent visibility. As its looks suggest, the xB offers better cargo capacity than your average compact car. Model Lineup
Scion xB ($13,680) comes in one body style and is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Buyers choose between two transmissions, a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic ($800).

Scion xB comes standard with power windows, mirrors and door locks; tilt steering wheel; tachometer and trip meter; 60/40-split folding and removable rear seat; remote keyless entry; and a six-speaker, AM/FM/CD Pioneer sound system engineered to read MP3 files and wired to accept an XM satellite radio receiver.

And it comes well-equipped with active safety features: antilock brakes (ABS) with Brake Assist (which increases braking pressure in emergency situations) and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (which apportions braking force to the tires with the most traction); Vehicle Stability Control (which attempts to restrain a vehicle from spinning out of control by adjusting the application of throttle and brakes); and traction control.

Other than the choice of transmissions, Toyota offers no factory-installed options for the xB. Instead, a buyer selects from some 40 accessories to be installed either by Toyota at the port of entry or by the dealer. These comprise both appearance and functional items. Among the eye-candies are clear tail lamp lenses, rear bumper applique, body side graphics, LED interior lighting, carbon fiber shift knob, sport pedals and instrument panel applique. Adding function are a leather-wrapped steering wheel (red or gray), front strut tower brace, fog lamps, cup holder illumination, removable roof rack, 6-CD changer, satellite radio tuner and antenna, cold-air induction system and an assortment of handling and performance goodies from Toyota Racing Development. Accessory prices range from $49 for a shift knob to $665 for aluminum alloy wheels. Walkaround
The Scion xB looks like nothing else on the road. Even the boxy 2003 Honda Element seems almost curvaceous next to this exercise in extreme angularity.

Side body panels composed of sheets of virtually flat metal and glass join at right angles with a flat roof, a flat hood and a flat liftgate. Only the barest hint of a curve softens the front end and windshield.

Tall doors open wide. Top-hinged outside door handles fit smoothly into the xB's slab-sided styling, but they're less ergonomic and less friendly to fingernails than open, full-round handles like those found, ironically, on the xB's more traditionally styled sibling, the xA. A bonus in a smallish vehicle like this one is that six-footers can walk beneath the open liftgate without fear of gouging an eye or cracking a skull. Interior
Not to be left out, the interior of the xB offers something significant to get used to, too. Instead of their traditional location directly in front of the driver, the instruments huddle in a slight depression centered on the top of the dash. By way of explanation, the car maker says this placement makes the instruments easier to see because they're closer to both the driver's line of sight through the windshield and the driver's eyes' focal plane. It no doubt helps that this also saves cost in a car built in both right-hand and left-hand drive versions. As for driving the car, initially, at least, encountering a blank landscape of nicely textured plastic between the spokes of the steering wheel where gauges "ought" to be takes some acclimation. Once acclimated, the driver finds a large, black-on-white speedometer, a smallish tachometer and an even smaller fuel gauge.

The seats are more like chairs than car seats, raised somewhat above the mostly flat floor. Side bolsters on the seat back and seat bottom cushions are minimal, so entry and exit are relatively unhindered. The design of the seats indicates the xB is not intended to be a sports car. The floor-mounted shift lever falls readily to hand, as does the hand-operated emergency brake. Pedals are ergonomically placed.

The broad expanses of glass make outward visibility stellar, easing some of the stress often triggered by urban traffic and tight parking spaces.

Interior quality is better than decent, especially given the xB's price point. Fit and finish are up to Toyota's standards. The stereo is mounted above the air conditioning controls, where logic says it should be. the A/C settings are adjusted with basic knobs, buttons and lever. But the stereo plays to people to whom directional buttons and PDA cursor pads are intuitive. The Scion's interior stylists missed the boat on the dash-mounted vents. Eyeball shaped, these could have been allowed to rotate in all planes, like those on the Toyota Tercel. Instead, the xB's pivot only vertically.

As severe as the xB's outside is, it delivers on its promise of a roomy inside. Next to the two cars Toyota expects the Scion to go head to head with, the Honda Civic and the VW Golf, the xB leads in virtually every passenger compartment measurement, and generally not by small amounts. Remarkably, the xB offers more passenger room than the larger and taller Honda Element.

Scion xB delivers about 6 inches more front and rear headroom and 3 to 5 inches more legroom than Civic and Golf offer. Amazingly, the xB boasts nearly 3 inches more front-seat headroom and 7 inches more rear-seat headroom than the Element, despite the Element being 6 inches taller. The Element does offer a lot more front-seat hip room, however, and slightly more rear-seat legroom.

For hauling booty away from the local flea market and garage sales, the xB offers a smidgen more space than the Civic and the Golf. The Element tops the xB, however, offering 74.6 cubic feet of cargo space versus the xB's 43.4 cubic feet. And be forewarned, ordering the subwoofer speaker requires forfeiting about 2 square feet of the cargo area's floor space.

Cubby space is about normal for the class. There are the usual map pockets in the doors, cupholders front and rear and so on. There's a nook in the lower half of the dash to the left of the steering column, a cranny to the right of the column and a visually symmetrical, but taller and wider, shelf-like opening above the glove box. Driving Impressions
The Scion is a small Toyota. With that comes quality design and assembly, which translates into minimal wind noise; no odd vibrations, buzzes, squeaks or rattles; and no harshness, really, at least nothing beyond what might be expected in a relatively lightweight, short-wheelbase car.

But as far as the xB's driving and handling dynamics are concerned, steering assist is about right and response to inputs is directional. Some torque steer was evident, and there's a bit of kick back over uneven trolley tracks but nothing untoward on either account. Clutch take-up is smooth, although the gear changes could have been crisper. Brakes feel solid and hold well on steep hills.

Acceleration is adequate and lives up to our expectations. Torque peaks at rather high engine speeds, so revving it up in lower gears is advisable for merging onto freeways. Scion xB gets 31/35 mpg on the EPA City/Highway test.

Body lean in corners is minimal, notwithstanding the tallish glass house. It's difficult to envision the xB in a situation requiring a steadying hand from the vehicle stability control system, but it's standing by in the event it's needed. Summary
Looks matter, in cars more than in most material things. Thus, perhaps the most remarkable impression from driving the xB was the lack of turning heads drawn by the stand-out body style. Even so, there may be something to be said for being the first on the block to have one. The federal government calls the Scion xB a small wagon. In any case, the Scion xB is a Toyota, indicating the potential of many years of trouble-free, squeak-free ownership. It's also aggressively priced.

Model as tested
Scion xB ($13,680)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Sport Package ($353) includes pedal covers, shift knob and front strut tower brace; Exterior Package ($758) includes body side graphic, rear spoiler and B-pillar and fuel filler door appliques; Light Package ($879) includes LED interior light kit, cup holder illumination, and fog lamps; carpet floor and cargo mats ($120); alloy wheels ($665); Scion Security ($429); Sound Package ($774) includes AM/FM/6-disc CD changer and subwoofer

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
xB ($13,680)
Safety equipment (standard)
driver and front passenger dual-stage airbags; first-aid kit; antilock brake system with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist; Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control; head restraints and three-point seatbelts in all five seating positions
Safety equipment (optional)
1.5-liter 16-valve inline-4
5-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
air conditioning; center console; cargo area under-floor storage; first aid kit; six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo; power door locks, outside mirrors and windows; remote keyless entry; tilt steering wheel; rear window defogger and wiper

Engine & Transmission
1.5-liter 16-valve inline-4
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
108 @ 6000
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/drum with ABS, EBD, and Brake Assist
Suspension, front
independent Macpherson strut with stabilizer bar
Suspension, rear
torsion beam with stabilizer bar

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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