After being introduced just four years ago, the boxy Scion xB has been totally redesigned for 2008. Scion says that owners wanted their xBs to be bigger. Since it takes three years to produce a new car, the requests to expand the box must have started coming early.
The new xB is indeed a bigger box, but it doesn't look so much like a box any more. And it isn't, as the increased length reduces the squareness. The styling is considerably improved. Plastic surgery on the chin has made a huge difference, and the other edges and angles are much softer, making the xB more attractive and less funny looking.
It's also less distinctive than before, but it's still distinctive compared to other cars of this size. Utility-wise, it's like the Honda Fit (front-wheel drive, five-door with good cargo space), but now it looks more like the Honda Element.
The new xB is 12 inches longer, on a wheelbase that's just 4 inches longer; this means bigger overhangs, which goes against the trend, as most new vehicles increase the wheelbase more than the length, efficient packaging that increases stability. The xB is 2.8 inches wider, though, and that adds stability. And the wheels have been increased in size to 16 inches, allowing larger disc brakes, front and rear. The xB's brakes are very good.
The xB features electric power steering, which does away with belts, pulleys and fluid. It's quite nimble and fun to drive around town.
The bigger box provides an increase in cargo capacity, but 4.6 inches of legroom has been lost in the front seat, from 45.3 inches down to 40.7; in the rear, the legroom remains the same. So if Scion redesigned the xB to satisfy customers, it must have been those buyers who use the xB as cute little utility vans, not those who carry passengers. The front seats recline almost fully, and the 60/40 rear seats drop flat with one easy pull of a lever.
Not visible, but just as significant, is the whopping 50 percent increase in power. The xB now uses the same 2.4-liter engine that powers the quick tC Coupe. It makes 155 horsepower, an increase of no less than 55 over the 1.5-liter engine in the 2004-2007 xB. The engine employs all of Toyota's considerable variable valve timing technology (VVT-i), and gets 22/28 miles per gallon, at the EPA's ULEV-II (ultra-low) emissions ratings. The old xB got 30/34, but comparisons are difficult to make because the 2.4-liter engine has so much more horsepower, and because now the mileage is measured by the new 2008 EPA standards, which are more realistic than before.
Two transmissions are available, a four-speed automatic with manual shifting, and a five-speed manual. The automatic shifts well, but with only four speeds it kicks down a lot, especially from fourth to third. The xB would be smoother with a five-speed automatic, but that's not available.
With all Scions, there is just one model but a million options. That's the Scion personalization theme. The xB with manual transmission is $15,650 and automatic $16,600.
Standard equipment on the xB includes charcoal fabric interior, air conditioning, cruise control, information display, 160-watt Pioneer audio system with iPod and auxiliary connection, tilt steering wheel with audio controls, remote keyless entry, power side mirrors with turn signal indicators, power windows, and door locks, halogen headlamps, tinted glass, 16-inch steel wheels with wheelcovers.
Options include alloy wheels ($795), rear spoiler ($423), navigation system ($2010) and rear seat DVD entertainment system with 7-inch screens in the back of the front headrests ($1599). For those desiring high performance, Scion dealers sell many TRD (Toyota Racing Development) parts, from superchargers to suspension items to aerodynamic kits.
Safety features include Vehicle Stability Control with Traction Control, anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist, a tire pressure monitor, frontal and front side airbags, and side curtain airbags.