Our designer sunglasses tilt down momentarily as our 2008 Scion xB struts through a college town. It's here in a never-ending string of bars, coffee shops and record stores that the Scion nation will decide what's in and what's not. And like its predecessor, the all-new 2008 Scion xB is designed to get the attention of those raised on cell phones, Lindsay Lohan and MTV without music videos.
Indeed, you can't drive the 2008 Scion xB more than a few blocks in a place like this without getting a curious stare or even a thumbs-up from the textbook-laden or iPod-equipped. The same was true in 2004, when the unique, boxlike styling of the first xB created a cult following among the counterculture elite.
What better place than a college town like this to take the measure of Scion's second attempt at manufacturing trendiness?
Make It Big, Then Accessorize Any simulated back-to-school trip should start with a long ride from your folks' house. And you should be packing an excessive amount of crap.
So into the 2008 Scion xB go five suitcases, a bookbag, a cheap plastic chest of drawers and a mountain bike. Since the 2-inch lip found on the cargo door of the outgoing xB has disappeared, the scholarly necessities simply slide in. Convenient, yet despite having grown almost a foot in overall length, the new xB has a rear cargo area that's more spacious by less than half a cubic foot.
Our test car has been equipped with Scion's top-of-the-line, Pioneer tuner/CD/DVD/navigation system with iPod and aux hookups. It's not as confusing to use as it is to say, and it makes the five-hour trek to college pretty pleasurable. The sound quality is great and it's one more way in which Scion intends to up the ante in this segment of otherwise cheap, bare-bones cars. As long as the car is parked, you can even watch DVDs on the LCD screen. Plug in your iPod and a display on the touchscreen mimics the actual iPod screen, a convenient feature that makes the whole music thing more intuitive.
No one plays for free, though, as the $689 Pioneer premium audio system and $2,250 navigation added some big numbers to the X-Box's price. Scion's box starts out at $15,650, an increase of $1,620 or 11 percent. And by the time we added the car's $469 security system and a few gewgaws to the bottom line, we were looking at nearly $20,000.
Fat, Comfy and Thirsty Cruising up the freeway at high speed, it's clear that goal number one of the new xB is to reach a broader mass of people. Used to be, you paid for the xB's stylish boxy look with gutless acceleration and massive wind noise at cruising speed. Now it's actually quiet inside the cabin of the 2008 xB, and the new cruise control makes for an effortless ride on the freeway.
There's some wind noise at highway speeds, mostly because the xB is still shaped like a stack of bricks. Crosswinds still blow it around a little more than they do a Mazda 3 or VW, and at the end of a five-hour drive the new xB will accumulate more bugs than most cars do in a lifetime. It's a box, after all.
Part of the reason the xB is so civilized at highway speed is because it's heavier than before by an astounding 636 pounds, a product of more size, more metal, more acoustic insulation and just more stuff. This has made it 10 percent thirstier when it comes time to fill the gas tank.
More Gizmos Than Space Upon our arrival in town, we promptly acquire four collegiate test subjects for a jaunt downtown. Passenger space has grown 10.7 cubic feet to a total of 100.8 cubic feet, but the difference lies in front-seat legroom, which has increased 4.6 inches. Rear-seat space is still at a premium, and the trio in the rear seats rub legs and elbows.
A center-mounted instrument cluster still seems wacky to us, but it's actually pretty functional. Nearest you is a digital speedometer, and a traditional analog tachometer snuggles close alongside. Accompanying gauges display a variety of trip information, from the outside temperature to average fuel economy.
How Fast Do You Need To Get to the Pizza Place? The one topic that a car full of Scion-loving college students never bring up is speed. Apparently the trendy aren't so infatuated with the ubiquitous "How fast will she go?"
Which is a shame, because the 2008 xB is actually a bit peppier than its predecessor thanks to the ubiquitous Toyota 2.4-liter inline-4. It makes 50 horsepower more and 57 pound-feet of torque more, an almost 50 percent improvement.
Our Scion xB is equipped with the optional four-speed automatic transmission, which can now be sequentially shifted with the console-mounted shift lever. The prospect of manually shifting an automatic Scion xB will appeal to someone. So Scion says.
Though some of the xB's competition come with five-speed automatics, the xB's four well-chosen ratios never leave the 2.4-liter engine feeling inadequate. For example, the xB knocks off a sprint to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds, a tenth of a second quicker than a Volkswagen Rabbit with a manual transmission.
The downside of flogging the new xB is the cacophony of harsh engine noise and screaming transmission that boom through the cockpit — a definitive reminder that you're driving an econobox, and it would really rather you just stop being so aggressive.
It Stops and It Sticks. Pretty Much, Anyway The trendy party by night, but do they mountain bike by day? No matter. An early-morning drive to the top of a mountain with a car full of hungover students provides an excellent opportunity to test suspension dynamics.
Pavement nuances are well flattened by the suspension control, but the unsprung weight of the compact beam-type rear suspension can sometimes feel a bit bouncy at speed. Throw the xB into a tight corner, and the front end will wash out predictably. But you might catch yourself giggling. The heavyset xB does a good job shuffling its 3,100 pounds around, and the smallish steering wheel makes cornering more amusing.
In 2004, we were surprised to find our test xB equipped with traction control. With its second-generation xB, Scion continues to set the standard for this category with vehicle stability control. Just like panicked rear-seat occupants, it intervenes quickly during aggressive braking or when there's an active amount of hustle on the car, although there's an off switch if you'd rather take your chances.
Should you choose to trust the middle pedal to get you out of trouble instead of the electronics, you'll find a bit of dead travel before the four-wheel discs (new for 2008) start to work, but when they do, pedal feel is solid. Electronic brakeforce distribution is on board, along with brake assist to clinch the calipers tight during panic stops. We brought the xB to a halt from 60 mph in 126 feet, only 3 feet longer than the old, lightweight xB.
Delivery Van The hippest of the hip who are looking to stay fashion forward will pay the same price as senior citizens looking for a car that's easy to get in and out of. Scion makes most of its cash with its Optomize program, which is essentially a list of luxury electronics, appearance items, a low-riding suspension and snappy wheel-and-tire combinations. The average buyer spends a bit more than $1,000 on these goodies.
Like it or not, the 2008 Scion xB is out to please everyone.
The xB is no longer a niche car, a quirky piece that calls for a little quirkiness from you. Checking in with a price that's a hair over $16 grand, the xB gathers the envious eyes of culture-conscious teenagers as quickly as it causes seniors to gawk in bewilderment.
And now that Scion is a mainstream car company that sold 173,034 cars last year and we can expect at least 60,000 xBs to appear on the street every year, it'll be interesting to see if the relentlessly hip will love the 2008 Scion xB as much tomorrow as they do today.
Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot says: Ah, the glory of the box. Back in 2004 when Scion introduced the U.S. to its fully square style of transport, the notion of navigating American roads in a Japanese-market city car powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder seemed almost absurd. Then the kids discovered them.
They liked the price (just over $14 grand), the utility (boxes are huge inside) and the easily customized styling. (Can you say neon underdash lighting and 19-inch wheels?) And so the trend began. The xB became the new Honda Civic. It was lowered and filled with speakers, then identified by license plates signifying all manner of boxitude. In fact, the xB became so Americanized that there are no plans for a Japanese-market version of the 2008 model.
Perhaps the biggest part of the transformation happened under the hood. If the original box lacked anything, it was power. And that's where the new model defines itself most clearly. Although it's not that much quicker in our instrumented tests (about half a second to 60 mph), the larger 2.4-liter mill provides much-improved yank when you fill your box with people or cargo.
The other change, which is far more obvious, is the new box's utter lack of boxiness. It's shorter and less square which, for me, has been the appeal of the original box. It's also considerably heavier. Our test car weighed in at 3,100 pounds — about 500 pounds more than the first-generation xB. Combined, the new dimensions and weight make the xB less flingable when it comes to freeway on-ramps, yet still quite tolerable in the corners. Bottom line? It feels more like a car and less like, well, a box.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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