After spending a week in the overpriced, harsh-riding Scion xA, the Scion xB seems like a better deal. For about the same money or a little more, the Scion xB buyer gets a model that has been running around for three years in Japan. Its
distinctive design comes in a class not noted for its uniqueness. But the xB's styling really turns heads. Its 90 degree, slab-sided style gives the vehicle a weird, yet wonderful look. The only real competition is Honda's wacky Element, although the
Scion xB is a better-looking vehicle. I found judgments about styling were mostly age-dependent. Younger people, or younger-minded people, liked its oddball looks. Others merely laughed. While the xB's boxy style may evoke envy or laughter, it
makes this vehicle incredibly practical. That big boxy shape uses every inch of available interior space with its tall styling providing excellent headroom. The upright windshield also does much to give the small van a spacious feel. That feel is no
illusion. The xB employs a 5-inch longer wheelbase than the xA. Four people fit comfortably. Legroom is excellent, even in the rear with the seats all the way back. Foot room under the front seats is good as well. The front bucket seats are shallow
but supportive, and there's lots of legroom up front. The split-folding rear bench seat is comfortably high, although the backrest is bolt upright. The short flat seat cushion is OK for short hops across town. Both front and rear seats are covered in
a quality fabric. But like all small cars, signs of cost cutting abound. Like the xA, there are no center armrests. The only power point is the cigarette lighter, which is odd for a car line aimed at younger buyers. The vanity mirrors are skimpy or
non-existent. The xB also lacks any kind of rear seat storage; there's not even a map pocket. There are, however, purse hooks. Go figure. The instrument panel is similar in look and feel to the xA. But, unlike the xA, the instruments are not
dead center. The instrument cluster is slightly to the left of the center cluster, that houses idiot lights. This makes the speedometer and other gauges easier to read. The center stack is pretty much the same, with simple controls for the climate
adjustments, and a sea of tiny buttons for the optional audio system. The standard audio system is a six-speaker AM/FM/CD system made by Pioneer. Optional is a dash-mounted six-CD changer that allows the player's display color to be changed to one of
10 colors. A sub-woofer also is available. But like the Scion xA, it's bolted in the cargo area, rendering half of the cargo area unusable. Other optional niceties include an under-seat interior light package, as well as cupholder lights that
also can change color. Toyota gilded the lily by adding a cargo net, door sill plates, sport pedals and cargo mats. Most Scion deale
rs have a long list of enhancements that can be added to the vehicle, but my suggestion is to spend the money on wheels that are better than the standard ones. Like the xA, the xB uses Toyota Echo components, although the xB gets a longer wheelbase.
Drivetrains are identical, with a 108-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine hooked to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Vehicle stability control and traction control are standard. Acceleration is adequate with one person
aboard. The automatic transmission downshifted constantly on hilly terrain, upshifting soon after, then downshifting again for more power. Like an old VW microbus, acceleration is a relative term. Gas mileage was slightly lower than the xA, at 30 mpg. The
xA uses regular fuel. Handling is better than you would expect. Despite the tall profile, the xB corners pretty well because of the vehicle's low center of gravity. Still, body lean comes on quickly.
Ride is better than the harsh xA, soaking up bumps a bit better. It won't surprise you that the xB generates a lot of wind noise at highways speeds. Road tire and engine noise intrude as well, making the xB a noisy little box when traveling fast.
If I were choosing between an xB and an Element, I'd chose the xB for its superior styling and better handling. While the xB is slow and lacking in some small interior details, it makes up for it with the amazingly funky style and a very
practical package that's cheap to feed. That makes the xB the Scion of choice. Congratulate Toyota on its ability to give an old model a makeover capable of attracting a younger audience. And my xB? I'll take it in orange, skip the