Brian Moody, Road Test Editor
A high level of personalization through dealer-sold accessories has always been part of the Scion formula, but with the 2009 Scion xB RS 6.0, the company has done the customization for you. The RS here stands for Release Series, a designation Scion gives to various special editions of its vehicles, and one way it manages to keep the brand fresh without reinventing the lineup every few years. Mechanically, the RS 6.0 is no different from a normal xB, but to ensure buyers stand out in the crowd (beyond the fiery paint), Scion says only 2,500 RS models will be produced.
For $18,443 ($1,743 more than a base xB) the 2009 Scion xB RS 6.0 features a numbered dash-mounted plaque, a unique grille minus the Scion logo, Absolutely Red paint, a touchscreen Pioneer audio-navigation system (one that's not available on other xB models), illuminated red door sills and special red-and-black seats. Also included are unique wheel covers that don't look nearly as special as the other upgrades, but our xB RS 6.0 had optional 17-inch rims that added $1,595 to the price, plus the TRD lowering kit ($400) that drops ride height about 1 inch.
There are plenty of competent small cars that compete with Scion's xB but only a few direct competitors with the Release Series. The stylized Honda Element SC, new Kia Soul Sport and the Nissan Cube Krom are probably the closest, although the Element is considerably more expensive.
Scion's approach to keeping its cars fresh by allowing customization at the dealer means you won't often see two identical Scion xBs on any given street corner. In fact, that may be the main reason to get one. Still, the car's appeal is more than skin deep. With a reasonable price and Toyota quality, the boxy little car's value is undeniable. Just as with the base Scion xB, the RS 6.0's interior space and high feature content at this price point make it an excellent little car that just happens to look cool.
Unfortunately, the Scion xB's driving dynamics don't match the car's fun, quirky looks. The Scion xB RS 6.0 is mechanically identical to a standard xB and that means it comes equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 158 horsepower. Acceleration feels snappy right off the line, and the 0-60-mph sprint takes 8.9 seconds. That's about 4 seconds quicker to 60 than the Nissan Cube. In the slalom, it turns in a 62.6-mph performance, which is much better than the Cube but a little slower than the Kia Soul Sport.
The Scion's brakes have a typically solid Toyota feel and the transmission shifts smoothly, although a lack of real grunt from the engine causes frequent downshifts. The steering is numb, and our testing team called the xB's acceleration "uneventful." This isn't a sports car or even a sporty compact. The 2009 Scion xB RS 6.0 is not much more than basic transportation dressed up with eye-catching accessories.
When it comes to fuel sipping, our Scion xB with an automatic transmission earns an EPA combined estimate of 24 miles per gallon. That's a little better than a two-wheel-drive Honda Element with an automatic transmission but 6 mpg behind a similarly equipped Cube. We measured a combined average of 23 mpg during our time with the car.
Even though our xB had the optional lowering kit, its ride remained composed and comfortable on most road surfaces. Because of the car's boxy shape, there is noticeable wind noise around the top of the windshield and from the side mirrors at highway speed. Similarly, road noise is not excessive, but it is noticeable.
Seating is comfortable front and back, with the rear passengers enjoying a surprising amount of legroom. Front seats are good even for long hauls but the fold-down armrest for the driver is too skinny and can be irritating to your elbow after a few hours behind the wheel.
Although the 2009 Scion xB is aimed squarely at young drivers, more mature folk may like the xB, too. The reason is simple: With a low step-in height and elevated front seats, the xB is very easy to get in and out of and doesn't require a lot of bending or stooping -- that works out great for anyone with mobility issues.
The 2009 Scion xB seats five people, and the rear accommodations are spacious enough that three adults can sit comfortably for shorter trips. The gauges are located near the center of the dash as opposed to directly in front of the driver. Although this takes a little getting used to, it ultimately proves functional. The gauge cluster includes a digital readout that supplies information like mpg, time of day or outside temperature, but not at the same time. In a system that struck us as a bit clunky, you have to cycle through by pushing a button each time you want to know the time or temperature.
The standard Release Series audio system is an aftermarket-type Pioneer AVIC unit, and it includes an iPod connection, Bluetooth, DVD playback compatibility and navigation. This system is unique to the Release Series. The audio system sounds better than the standard system, but it really needs better speakers to match the head unit. Large icons take up the screen on the main menu and the submenus are easy to understand, too.
The system also includes voice recognition, which allows you to control various functions by pressing a button and saying a command out loud. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work terribly well. A minor flaw with the audio system is that the on/off button is hidden deep in a touchscreen submenu -- a physical button would make a lot more sense. The only real functional difference between the regular optional nav system and the RS 6.0's audio system is the RS's inclusion of Bluetooth.
As is typically the case with Toyota's vehicles, the climate control knobs are simple, straightforward and easy to understand. Most of the secondary controls are equally easy to find and use.
For a relatively small car there's a fair amount of storage space, including a small center console storage box. With both rear seats folded down, the cargo area is 21.7 cubic feet. That's a little more than the Kia Soul and much larger than the Nissan Cube's cargo hold. Thanks to the xB's generous rear legroom, both forward- and rear-facing child seats fit with no problem.
Design/Fit and Finish
The slab-sided xB does look more dramatic with the RS's Absolutely Red paint, but it can get tiring -- this is the kind of red that stands out in a crowd and gets you fired up for Saturday night. The trouble is, it's never gonna stop being so red. Still, if you like everyone to know when you arrive, the 2009 Scion xB Release Series 6.0 and its bright red paint might be perfect for you.
The interior upgrades are more subtle, yet still effective in adding a little style. Red illuminated door sills give the xB a more expensive look and red patterned seats dress up an otherwise dark and cavelike interior. The basic xB interior layout (like the center-mounted gauge cluster) puts style over substance, although it's hard to find a place where the obvious design is distracting.
The quality of materials used inside the xB is adequate for a car with a $17,000 base price and even at $21,262 as tested, nothing seems unusually cheap or low-budget. There are some hard plastic surfaces and the climate control knobs feel a little flimsy; however, most places a driver is likely to touch feel fine -- the steering wheel, shift knob and turn signal stalk are perfect examples.
Because of the bright red paint and how it contrasts with the black interior, you can sometimes see a little red around the door frames. Even if it's only when opening the door, it can look cheap and jarring. Our xB's interior was well-built and we heard no squeaks or rattles after more than a week of driving.
Who should consider this vehicle
Love to get noticed? Want your car to make a statement about who you are? The Scion xB Release Series 6.0 may be the right car for you. For those who want the newest and latest in-car tech features, the RS's Pioneer audio-video system does a lot without taking up too much space. While there are other affordable cars in this segment that trade heavily on style, the xB's special-edition features take it to a whole different level.
If you value sharper driving dynamics above all else, get the Kia Soul Sport. Want the ultimate in cute automotive trend-setting? Try the Nissan Cube. The pricier Honda Element SC offers a little more space. However, if you want that trendy look and a lot of bang for your already stretched buck, the 2009 Scion xB Release Series 6.0 wraps it all up in one tidy box.
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