First Drive: 2008 Scion xB

Scion's probably not going to want to hear this, what with its obsessive drive to gain the hearts and minds of this country's youth, but the lasting image I have of the xB is of a gray-haired woman in my neighborhood who drives one, complete with a sticker on its side touting AEM performance parts. Doesn't quite align with the image Scion wants, does it? No matter, because here at KickingTires we think that if a car fits your needs, it doesn't matter if you're 17 or 70 years old.

The redesigned 2008 xB, which is on sale now and has a starting price of $15,650, is the second generation of Scion's successful mini-box first introduced for the 2004 model year. The new xB remains as distinctive as its predecessor, even though the edges have been rounded a bit here and there. It rides on an all-new platform, is 12 inches longer than before and features a more powerful four-cylinder engine borrowed from the company's tC sports coupe. Scion lent me the keys to the new xB for a brief drive recently, and I came away impressed with its overall execution and pleasantly surprised by its fun-to-drive nature. A full review will be forthcoming, but here are some initial impressions.

The xB has firm suspension tuning, but wasn't harsh on the suburban Detroit roads I drove it on. Steering-wheel responses are quick and lively, and the brake pedal has a natural, reassuring response when stopping.

The xB's larger and significantly more powerful 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 158 hp and teams with either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. The xB scoots easily in and out of traffic and accelerates up to highway speeds with ease. The center-mounted tachometer is a bit difficult to read at a glance, though owners will likely get used to its location over time. I tested a manual-transmission xB, and even though the shifter is a bit notchy at times, it's precise and easy to move through the gears quickly.

The previous xB's 30/34 mpg (city/highway) rating with the automatic wasn't especially thrifty considering its small 1.5-liter four-cylinder and modest curb weight. The new model gets 22/28 mpg using the EPA's tougher fuel economy tests for 2008, but it's also considerably heavier (about 600 pounds) and then there's that bigger engine.

The front of the cabin is airy, and there's plenty of headroom for tall drivers. The seats, while basic-looking, were comfortable during my short drive, but we'll have to see how they hold up during a longer trip. Rear-seat room is impressive, with lots of legroom and a nicely angled backrest. This is a deceptive little car in terms of space efficiency because it has a lot more room inside than its diminutive footprint suggests.

So far, Scion's new xB seems like a worthy successor to the first model, and I imagine it will continue to attract buyers looking for a distinctive small car, regardless of how old they are. If you have any specific questions, leave them in the comments and I'll try to answer them there.

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