As a result, the Scion xB feels tight. And it's quiet, with little wind noise and no squeaks or rattles. Inside, it's roomy and has a nice interior with controls that are easy to operate. The driver and passengers sit upright in chair-like seats and enjoy excellent visibility. As its looks suggest, the xB offers better cargo capacity than your average compact car.
It's easy to drive with good brakes and a smooth clutch, but it's no hot rod. Shifting into lower gears is needed for quick acceleration.
It comes standard with power windows, mirrors and door locks; tilt steering wheel; tachometer and trip meter; 60/40-split folding and removable rear seat; remote keyless entry. It also comes standard with a six-speaker, AM/FM/CD Pioneer sound system engineered to read MP3 files and wired to accept an XM Satellite Radio receiver; the system has been revised for 2005 for clearer MP3-CD sound and now features a customizable screen.
And it comes well-equipped with active safety features: antilock brakes (ABS) with Brake Assist (which increases braking pressure in emergency situations) and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (which apportions braking force to the tires with the best grip); Vehicle Stability Control (which attempts to restrain a vehicle from spinning out of control by adjusting the application of throttle and brakes); and traction control (which reduces front wheel spin under acceleration).
Other than the choice of transmissions, Toyota offers no factory-installed options for the xB. Instead, a buyer selects from some 40 accessories to be installed either by Toyota at the port of entry or by the dealer. These comprise both appearance and functional items. Among the eye-candies are clear tail lamp lenses, rear bumper applique, body side graphics, LED interior lighting, carbon fiber shift knob, sport pedals, and an instrument panel applique. Adding function are a leather-wrapped steering wheel (red or gray), front strut tower brace, fog lamps, cup holder illumination, removable roof rack, 6-CD changer, satellite radio tuner and antenna, cold-air induction system, and an assortment of handling and performance goodies from Toyota Racing Development.
The Scion xB looks like nothing else on the road. Sheets of flat metal and glass on the sides join at right angles with a flat roof, a flat hood and a flat liftgate. Only the barest hint of a curve softens the front end and windshield. A Honda Element looks curvaceous when parked alongside this exercise in extreme angularity.
The wheels and tires look tiny under the boxy exterior. Aftermarket alloys that fill the wheel wells would likely improve its looks.
Tall doors open wide. Top-hinged outside door handles fit smoothly into the xB's slab-sided styling, but they're less ergonomic and less friendly to fingernails than open, full-round handles like those found on the xB's more traditionally styled sibling, the xA. A bonus in a smallish vehicle like this one is that six-footers can walk beneath the open liftgate without fear of gouging an eye or cracking a skull.
Our xB came in Black Cherry with an Exterior Package ($758) that included a rear spoiler, a big but subtly colored Logo Brown graphic on the side, and appliques on the fuel filler and B-pillar designed to look like carbon-fiber.
Gauges are centered on the top of the dash instead of being directly in front of the driver. Scion says this makes the instruments easier to see because they're closer to the driver's line of sight through the windshield and focal plane. No doubt this also saves cost in a car built for markets around the world that use both right-hand and left-hand steering. We found the blank landscape between the spokes of the steering wheel takes some acclimation. At night, we kept wondering, "Where are the dash lights?" Once acclimated, the driver finds a large, black-on-white speedometer, a small tachometer and a small fuel gauge.
The broad expanses of glass make outward visibility stellar, good for heavy traffic and tight parking spaces. Big outside mirrors afford a good view rearward.
Interior quality is better than decent, especially given the xB's price point. Fit and finish are up to Toyota standards. The stereo is mounted above the air conditioning controls because they're operated more often. Temperature and ventilation settings are adjusted with basic knobs, buttons and lever. But the stereo plays to people used to directional buttons and PDA cursor pads.
The xB's exterior styling suggests a roomy interior and it delivers on this promise. Compared with the Honda Civic and VW Golf, the xB leads in virtually every passenger compartment measurement, and generally not by small amounts. Remarkably, the xB offers more passenger room than the larger and taller Honda Element. Scion xB delivers about 6 inches more front and rear headroom and 3-5 inches more legroom than Civic and Golf offer. Amazingly, the xB boasts nearly 3 inches more front-seat headroom and 7 inches more rear-seat headroom than the Element, despite the Element being 6 inches taller. The Element does offer a lot more front-seat hip room, however, and slightly more rear-seat legroom.
For hauling booty away from the local flea market and garage sales, the xB offers a smidgen more space than the Civic and the Golf. The Element easily tops the xB, however, offering 74.6 cubic feet of cargo space versus the xB's 43.4 cubic feet.
Ordering the available subwoofer takes up 2 square feet of floor space in the cargo area. Worse, it's mounted right smack in the middle rear of the cargo area and is really in the way when loading or unloading materials. Also, the subwoofer on our car rattled over bumps.
Cubby space is normal for the class. There are the usual map pockets in the doors, cupholders front and rear and so on. There's a nook in the lower half of the dash to the left of the steering column, a cranny to the right of the column and a shelf-like opening above the glove box.
Acceleration is adequate and lives up to our expectations. Torque peaks at rather high engine speeds, so revving it up in lower gears is advisable for merging onto freeways. Scion xB gets excellent gas mileage: 31/35 mpg on the EPA City/Highway test with the manual, 30/34 with the automatic.
The automatic is responsive enough. Gear changes with the manual shifter could have been crisper, but clutch take-up is smooth. Brakes feel solid and hold well on steep hills.
The Scion is a small Toyota. With that comes quality design and assembly, which translates into minimal wind noise; no odd vibrations, buzzes, squeaks or rattles; and no harshness, really, at least nothing beyond what might be expected in a relatively lightweight, short-wheelbase car.