The new 2008 Scion xD doesn't have much of a legacy to overcome. The Scion xA, its predecessor, has always been the other car in the three-car Scion lineup, not as shocking as the iconic xB box and not as smoothly successful as the tC coupe.
Up to now, the small Scion has been the one that no one cares about and most people don't even know about, a collection of mundane mechanical pieces buried under a molehill of amorphous sheet metal and indistinct plastic.
The 2008 Scion xD, on the other hand, is nothing if not distinctive. Its profile is a unique mix of hatchback and Mack truck, and it features a rambunctious four-cylinder engine that Toyota has never before offered in North America. Even the interior is both versatile and cleverly detailed.
Unlike the xA, the 2008 xD will be tough to overlook. Particularly if, as expected, Scion keeps the car's base price down near $14,000 when it goes on sale this August.
Bulldog Look, Bulldog Character
Scion says the Japanese-designed xD has a "high beltline with powerful front bumpers [that] give it a substantial presence." OK, whatever. What the xD looks like to us is the classic, snub-nose 1916 Mack AC truck that gave rise to Mack's well-known bulldog mascot. Like that ancient truck, the xD looks pugnacious and utilitarian. Though the Scion xD measures out much like the Honda Fit, from its 96.9-inch wheelbase to its 60.0-inch height, the xD seems far less self-conscious. It's also more aggressive than the Nissan Versa, more substantial than the Chevy Aveo, and simply better than the Toyota Yaris.
The four-door xD's closest relative is in fact the two-door Yaris hatchback, and both cars share the same basic unibody structure, MacPherson-strut front suspension, torsion-beam rear suspension, front disc and rear drum brakes, and electric rack-and-pinion steering. The xD is 4.1 inches longer overall than the Yaris hatch and 1.2 inches wider, but both cars are the same height and both have a 16-valve DOHC four-cylinder engine positioned transversely under the hood that drives the front wheels.
But in place of the Yaris' wimpy 106-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder with variable valve timing on the intake cam, the xD gets a 128-hp, 1.8-liter four with variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts. Backed by either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transaxle, the xD's engine is neither particularly loud nor particularly quiet about its work, but its torque curve is robust compared to that of engines in most twerp-class runabouts. The shift action of the five-speed manual isn't particularly clean, either, but it helps make the xD feel a bit quicker than the 107-hp Honda Fit.
Though the xD's 195/60R16 all-season tires don't seem impressive, relatively aggressive suspension tuning helps the car corner more tenaciously and with less roll than the Yaris. At the same time, the steering lacks the strong feeling of precision and stability that you find in the Fit, while the xD's combination of ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and supplementary brake-assist pressure can't help compensate for the lack of pedal feel that comes with the use of rear drum brakes. Stability control is standard equipment and it's quite effective, but you can switch it off if you're looking for fun.
The xD deserves a more expressive exhaust note to reflect its engine's relative muscularity. But while power gives the xD a contentious character, this is not really a sporting machine in the manner of a Honda Civic Si or VW GTI. It may be a bulldog among lapdogs, but it doesn't have the might to take on the big dogs.
It Has Dimples
What the xD lacks in ultimate sporting ability it significantly compensates for with the design, flexibility and quality of the interior.
There isn't a surface on the xD's interior that lacks the feel of nicely textured quality. Golf ball-like dimples cover most of dashboard and door panel surfaces, and the few switches work with easy precision. The feeling of quality is furthered by nicely shaped front seats and a surprisingly comfortable rear seat.
As you might expect, the electronics are really the interior's most interesting aspect. There really isn't much in the way of gauges, but the single element in which the speedometer needle swings clockwise and the tachometer needle swings counterclockwise is attractive, intuitive and just really neat. It gives the whole environment an avant-garde style rare in any car.
And this style is furthered by a choice of audio systems that sound great. A Pioneer system with integrated iPod port and loads of speakers is standard, but the optional Pioneer system that includes the ability to personalize the display with "skins" is even better. And if that's not enough, an optional navigation system will play DVDs when the car is parked.
There's plenty of practicality, too: 84.5 cubic feet of passenger volume, and the 60/40-split rear seat reclines slightly for comfort. Laying down the seatbacks provide ample cargo room. Some hidden cubbyhole storage beneath the load floor in back is also available. The numbers indicate that Honda's Fit will swallow slightly more total cargo, but the xD offers enough for most people.
And if the xD crashes, side curtain and seat-mounted front side airbags are standard.
With its just-plain-ugly plastic wheel covers and minimal instrumentation, the xD can seem almost incomplete, as if it's missing the finishing touches that give a car some road presence. In fact this is intentional, as Scion wants xD buyers (and xB buyers for that matter) to consider their new purchases as just the starting point in a whole program of personalization.
For instance, there will be 40 Scion- and TRD-branded dealer-installed accessories available for the xD upon its launch, including more aggressive 16-, 17-, 18- and 19-inch wheels. There are also functional items like a quick-shift kit, big brakes, shorter springs, an exhaust system, a carbon-fiber engine cover and an overhead console. Beyond this, aftermarket companies like Lund, Sparco and Yakima are also committed to making personalization of the new Scion easy.
Personalization is all fine and dandy, but it helps if the car itself has some substance. And in the new xD, Scion seems to have built a car that makes it worth going through the hassle of personalization.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.