Toyota says its redesigned Scion xB crossover vehicle is intended for consumers under 30, but the product doesn't seem exclusive to that group.
The remake of the xB has made it larger and more powerful, with lower fuel economy than its predecessor, creating a vehicle that's more geared toward an older crowd, including Generation X families and empty-nest baby boomers.
In fact, a few twenty-somethings I showed my recent xB test vehicle to said they wouldn't be interested, although some others thought it was "cool."
Even if they don't go for it, though, that should be OK because the xB has plenty of appeal for the aforementioned older buyers.
But it goes against the whole Scion image Toyota has been trying to create, that of cool-but-inexpensive small cars with great fuel economy that the under-30 consumers would crave.
This newest xB is big enough for Mom and Dad and three kids, even teen-agers - it's that roomy in the back seat. And even with the rear seat in place, it has more than 21 cubic feet of cargo space. With the rear seat folded, that area expands to nearly 70 cubic feet.
Prices begin at a quite-reasonable $16,140 (with $580 freight) for the five-speed manual-transmission model, up $1,620 from the previous generation. With a four-speed automatic, our test vehicle began at $17,180, an increase of $1,770.
And with the extras included on ours, the total sticker was $18,227. That's still a bargain compared with some of the slightly larger compact crossovers, such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. Those begin in the low $20,000s, and can run into the high $20,000s with all the options.
EPA fuel economy for the new xB is 22 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway, with either transmission. In comparison, the previous model (last built for 2006) has a rating of 28 city/31 highway with automatic transmission, using the new 2008 EPA formula. But according to the EPA's www.fueleconomy.govÖ Web site, some owners were reporting up to 40 mpg on the highway.
The decreased fuel economy is a direct result of a more than 50 percent increase in power. The new xB has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that cranks out 158 horsepower. The previous model, made from 2003-2006, had a 103-horsepower four-cylinder engine. It also was lighter. The new model weight 3,020 pounds (3,066 with the automatic gearbox), while the previous model was just 2,415 pounds (2,470 with automatic).
The new xB is 167.3 feet long, with a 102.4-inch wheelbase. That compares with 155.3 inches long and a 98.4-inch wheelbase for the first generation. This newest model is wider as well, at 69.3 inches vs. 66.5 inches before. But overall height is almost identical.
Toyota created the Scion brand in 2003 to try to bring more young people into the Toyota fold, aiming all three Scion vehicles at the under-30 crowd. But people of all ages took to the new models, and even though they have lowered the overall age of Toyota buyers slightly, efforts to limit sales to people under 30 have been quite unsuccessful.
Some buyers, particularly of the xB, have been folks nearing or past retirement age. Along with the xB in the Scion lineup are the slightly smaller xD wagon, and the sporty tC subcompact coupe.
The xD is a new model for 2008, replacing the original xA, which went out of production along with the first-generation xB at the end of 2006.
Toyota is determined to keep the median age of Scion buyers under 30, so these cars are not advertised anywhere that people over 30 might be likely to see them - such as in newspapers or magazines, or on television. Instead, they're being promoted on the Internet, at rock concerts, and at other venues aimed at the under-30 crowd.
Scions aren't easy to find at dealerships, either. Dealers are encouraged to keep very few in stock. Scion buyers are expected to order their vehicles on the Internet for delivery at the local dealership of their choice.
The vehicles are designed to be personalized, and that is largely done during the ordering process. As the new xB came to market in May, more than 40 factory-supplied accessories were available. More than half of Scion buyers accessorize their vehicles, Toyota said.
Setting up Scion sales this way is designed to discourage older consumers, who are used to finding the cars they want in the dealer's inventory, and buying on the spot. While we will have to change our buying habits to get an xB, Toyota won't refuse to sell us the car.
The cavernous size of the xB's cabin - at least for a car with such a compact exterior - is its best selling point. The seats - front and rear - are suitable for large and tall people.
But while the seats are quite comfortable, I wasn't overly impressed with the ride, which was a bit rough - almost like that of a pickup. On one freeway, the xB gave a jarring ride when going over concrete expansion joints that you wouldn't feel in the typical sedan. This could limit sales to older folks with creaky bones, who generally prefer really soft rides.
A turn-off for younger customers might be the low-fidelity base audio system in the xB. It was so bad that it was difficult to understand the announcer while trying to listen to a Longhorn football game on the FM radio. This is a 160-watt Pioneer AM/FM/single-disc CD system with six speakers and "Scion Sound Processing." I expect that many xB buyers will want to upgrade to the optional premium system, or rip out the standard stereo and install their own aftermarket unit.
Toyota calls the xB an "urban utility vehicle," and says it's aimed at "urban trendsetters," described as "hip young single men."
These consumers like to personalize their possessions, from cell phones to cars, said Mark Templin, vice president for Scion at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., the Japanese automaker's U.S. sales and marketing arm.
Toyota went to owners of the first generation for advice on how to redesign the xB, Templin said. They told Toyota that the new model needed to be larger and more powerful.
The new model has the same boxy shape and thin, narrow windows of its predecessor. But it has 32.4 more cubic feet of interior space.
Sixteen-inch wheels are standard;16- and 17-inch alloy wheels are optional ($795 and $1,595, respectively).
There are multiple interior storage areas, including dual glove boxes and secure storage areas under the rear seat and the cargo floor.
Eight cup/bottle holders are scattered throughout the interior, and, as before, rear legroom rivals that of a limousine. The cupholders in the center console between the driver and front passenger are for small bottles or cups only, however. Larger bottles have to go in the molded holders in the door pockets.
Other xB improvements include four-wheel disc brakes (the old model had drum brakes on the rear), and the antilock system with electronic brakeforce distribution is standard, along with electronic stability control and traction control. A tire-pressure monitoring system also is standard.
The front bucket seats come with seat-mounted side air bags, and the vehicle has side-curtain air bags for front and rear outboard passengers.
Available for the first time are a navigation system ($1,950), with a dash monitor that can play DVD movies while the car is stopped, and a rear video entertainment system ($1,599)that includes LCD monitors in the backs of the front-seat headrests. XM or Sirius satellite radio is optional ($449).
Among available accessories are a high-performance clutch and a supercharger (which boosts horsepower to more than 200, Toyota says).
There is only one trim level. Among standard amenities are air conditioning, power windows/mirrors/door locks, electric power steering and more.
Extras on our vehicle included a rear spoiler ($423); security system ($469); and carpeted floor mats ($155). We did not have the premium stereo, nav system or DVD player.
Similar to the policy at General Motors' Saturn dealerships, Scion vehicles are sold at sticker price with no dickering.
At a Glance: 2008 Scion xB
The package: Compact, front-wheel drive, four-cylinder, five-passenger, five-door sport-utility wagon.
Highlights: Redesigned for 2008, this is one of two new models this year from Toyota's youth-oriented Scion brand. The xB is a box-on-wheels designed for active, youthful buyers, but has great appeal for older folks as well.
Negatives: Rough ride; tinny audio system,
Engine: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder.
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 158 HP/162 foot-pounds.
Length: 167.3 inches.
Curb weight: 3,020 pounds (manual), 3,066 pounds (automatic).
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, power, antilock.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; front and rear head curtain, standard.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Cargo volume: 21.7 cubic feet (69.9 with rear seat folded).
EPA fuel economy: 22 miles per gallon city/28 highway (manual or automatic).
Fuel capacity/type: 14 gallons/unleaded regular.
Major competitors: Suzuki SX4, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevrolet HHR, Nissan Versa, Kia Rondo.
Base price: $15,560 plus $580 freight (manual); $16,600 plus freight (automatic).
Price as tested: $18,227 including freight and options (automatic).
On the Road rating: 8.2 (of a possible 10).
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