Ride & Handling
Even though the xB's bricklike shape might not evoke thoughts of spirited handling, its driving experience does have a sporty feel. The xB steers with a light touch, and turns of the wheel produce lively responses. There's not a lot of road feel in the steering wheel, though, and it could really use a telescoping adjustment or adjustable pedals to better accommodate tall drivers. I'm 6-foot-1, and with the seat adjusted I was left with a long reach to the steering wheel that some drivers might find uncomfortable.
The xB has taut suspension tuning, but it's not punishing and it keeps excessive body roll in check when driving hard through a tight turn.
Going & Stopping
The xB's sole engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 158 horsepower and 162 pounds-feet of torque. This engine is significantly larger and more powerful than the one in the previous xB, and it contributes greatly to the xB's frisky personality.
The four-cylinder moves the front-wheel-drive xB with ease; the engine is a gutsy performer with plenty of low-end power that yields strong performance in stop-and-go driving and lets you squirt in and out of traffic. While it gets a bit noisy at higher rpm, the engine remains smooth.
Buyers get a choice of a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. I tested both transmissions, and they're both well-matched to the four-cylinder. The automatic's shifts are firm, and the transmission is responsive; it quickly kicks down a gear or two when passing.
The manual transmission's shift lever is slightly notchy, but its movements are precise and it's easy to shift quickly through the gears. The manual shifter is positioned high on the center console, which puts it close to the driver's right hand. The light clutch pedal is easy to get used to, but the tachometer — which gains importance when driving a manual transmission — is hard to see in its center-mounted position because of its small size and dark-orange numerals. It is, however, easy to know when to shift by just listening to the engine — you can pretend it's the old days, when many manual-transmission cars didn't have tachs.
The xB gets an EPA-estimated 22/28 mpg (city/highway) regardless of the transmission, which is slightly better than what Chevrolet's HHR small wagon achieves. (The comparison is based on the government's tougher fuel economy test that goes into effect for 2008-model-year vehicles.)
All-disc antilock brakes are standard. The brakes engage with the lightest of pressure on the brake pedal, but they feel strong and easily bring the xB to a smooth stop.
You might think wind noise would be troublesome, considering the xB's upright stance, but it is impressively absent at highway speeds. There is quite a bit of tire noise, though.
Inside the Box
The xB's cabin is rather Spartan, with its dominant styling element being the center-mounted gauge cluster. In a change from its predecessor, the panel now has a digital speedometer rather than an analog one. While it might seem like an insignificant change, the digital speedometer makes the center-mounted cluster much more tolerable as a whole, even though I'm not a fan of the concept in general and prefer a traditional gauge cluster in front of the steering wheel. On the whole, interior panel and trim fit and finish is nice, but there are a handful of low-grade elements, like shiny plastic door trim and exposed screws in the door pulls.
The xB has a standard Pioneer CD audio system. While many automakers collaborate with audio companies on stereo systems, the xB's is one of the few that has a head unit with an aftermarket appearance. That's primarily detrimental in the xB because the system's power button isn't integrated into the volume knob, as is common practice these days — it's a separate button.
On the plus side, the audio system includes two input jacks in the center console: one for connecting any MP3 player and another specifically for iPods. The latter powers Apple's portable music player and lets you control it with the stereo's buttons or the audio controls on the steering wheel.
Mesh fabric seats are standard, and even though they look pretty flat and basic, they offer good comfort and support. Front occupants get lots of headroom, but tall drivers might find themselves wishing for more rearward seat travel. A couple of Cars.com editors found the flip-down armrest on the side of the driver's seat to be a bit too high, making for an uncomfortably angled shoulder. The chairlike front seats provide good forward views, and thanks to the wide rear-door windows there's good over-shoulder visibility that's not compromised by the huge D-pillars.
Backseat room is impressive, especially when you consider the small shadow that the xB casts; there's more room in the xB's backseat than in some midsize cars. Like the front seats, the rear bench's appearance is rather unremarkable, but its relaxed backrest angle and soft seat cushioning — combined with loads of headroom — make for a comfortable spot. Even the middle seat provides decent comfort. You do, however, feel like you're sitting in a tub when in the second row, as the tall doors make for short side windows.
Standard safety features include side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags. An electronic stability system is also standard. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset crash test, the xB was rated Good — the highest score possible.
With the second-row seats up, the xB has 21.7 cubic feet of cargo room. Folding down the 60/40-split rear seat raises the total to 69.9 cubic feet, which is about 60 percent more room than the previous model had with the rear seats folded, thanks to the new xB's increased dimensions: it's a foot longer and almost 3 inches wider than the previous version.
Features & Personalization
In addition to the standard features already mentioned, all xBs have air conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, intermittent wipers, a tire pressure monitoring system, and power windows, locks and mirrors.
The only option in the traditional sense is the $950 automatic transmission, but Scion offers numerous ways to personalize the xB with various accessories. Our test car came with a few of these, including 16-inch alloy wheels and sill plates with blue illumination. Other accessories include a navigation system, premium Pioneer stereo, subwoofer, video screens in the back of the front head restraints, a carbon fiber engine cover and LED-lit cupholders.
xB in the Market
You had to give Scion credit for bringing a unique small-car offering to the U.S. market when it launched the squared-off xB for the 2004 model year. It was unlike pretty much everything else available at that time, and the xB gained appeal across generations despite Scion's concerted youth-oriented marketing efforts.
That doesn't, however, mean the new xB will also see that level of success — it's no longer the hot new product on the market. Scion's challenge will be to find a way to motivate buyers unmoved by the xB's boxy shape to give it a test drive, because once you're behind the wheel, it practically sells itself.
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