My wife laughed when I pulled a white Scion xB into the driveway. "That looks like a bread truck," she said.

But when she climbed inside, her laugh softened to a smile. The cabin was so much bigger than she expected, and the sticker price was a surprising $16,260. It was then that her "Give-A-Care Meter" went up visibly.

By the time we folded the back seat and loaded the cargo hold with boxes, we were both thoroughly smitten with this little box. Not only does the xB hold a lot of stuff, considering that its wheelbase is barely longer than a Mini Cooper's, but it drives nicely and handles like a small sedan, not a baby UPS truck.

The xB is an amazing vehicle for the money when you consider that standard air conditioning, power windows, AM/FM stereo, tilt wheel, keyless remote, anti-lock brakes, traction control, brake assist and vehicle stability control are standard equipment. It is a good value as well as a packaging success.

Scion calls the xB an urban utility vehicle, and that's a good description. The Scion is Toyota's youth brand, and the xB is targeted at youth who want a vehicle that is not only a private space on wheels but also one that is radically different from the mainstream. Thus, the box.

With the xB, however, Toyota has created a vehicle concept that transcends age. This little box also holds a fascination for baby boomers who want a practical, economical and inexpensive vehicle that is the functional equivalent of a minivan. Compared to a minivan, the xB is the automotive equivalent of "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids."

The 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine's 103 horsepower felt stronger than I expected, and while it won't win any stoplight drag races, it moves out with reasonable alacrity. Fuel economy is rated at 30 miles per gallon in the city and 35 on the highway. Highway mileage would surely be higher if the shape weren't so blunt, but the xB is a city car at heart and a practical car in function.

The instrument panel has the speedometer located at the base of the windshield near the center of the dash. It's not far from the driver's line of sight and adjusting to it is easy. The stereo has control buttons on the steering wheel, but many functions still have to be done by hand.

The upgraded stereo has a built-in jack for an iPod, which can be controlled by the radio's buttons. Scrolling through playlists is not as easy as it could be because the right-side knob is pretty far from the driver. Sound quality is good but not overwhelming.

The seats are tall and upright, like dining room chairs. That's why it is possible to cram four of them into such a short vehicle and still have plenty of legroom, especially rear-seat legroom.

The front seats have great lateral support, and the dash is far away, so that the cabin feels incredibly spacious. Headroom is generous, but that's never an issue for me because I'm only 5-foot-8 on a good day.

The rear seat back folds forward to create a flat load floor. Small storage bins are located under the rear floor. The Scion would be even more versatile if the front passenger seat folded flat to make one long hauling space.

Side airbags are not available, and should be for a vehicle of this size.

A special edition xB has a rear-seat entertainment center with LCD screens mounted in the back of each front headrest.

Price
The base price of an xB with automatic transmission is $14,830. The test car had cargo and floor mats, upgraded stereo with iPod jack, rear spoiler and an armrest. The sticker price was $16,260.

Warranty
Three years or 36,000 miles.

Engine: 1.5-liter, 103-hp 4-cyl.

Transmission: automatic

Front-wheel drive

Wheelbase: 98.4 inches

Curb weight: 2,470 lbs.

Base price: $14,830

As driven: $16,260

Mpg rating: 30 city, 35 hwy.

At A Glance

Point: The xB is a terrific vehicle for the price. It is small yet spacious, has distinctive styling and drives like a small sedan. The interior has plenty of leg-room and the back seat folds for hauling.

Counterpoint: Side airbags should be available, if not standard. Operating an iPod with the right-side knob of the stereo could be easier.