In the growing selection of affordable, boxy cars, the media’s focus has been on the new Kia Soul and Nissan Cube. It’s hard to believe that the Scion xB has been sold in the US since 2004, and is already two model years into its second generation. The second-gen xB is substantially larger, heavier, and more powerful than the car it replaced, and some will argue the xB lost some of its charm in the transition. I will agree the current xB is less toy-like, but the result is a useful package that still stands apart from the crowd.
First, the basics: the xB comes in one model and one body style only. The sole engine is a 2.4L DOHC four rated at 158 hp. Buyers have a choice of a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic. Standard equipment is plenty: Pioneer 6-speaker audio with iPod connectivity, power windows, locks, air, cruise control, keyless entry and privacy glass. For safety, you get Vehicle Stability Control, six airbags, tire pressure monitor, ABS, electronic brake force distribution, and cool LED turn signals on the exterior mirrors. All at a price of well under $17,000USD.
The xB happily goes about its business in around town driving. Acceleration is peppy, even with the automatic-while Gary Grant complained about a lack of power in the Kia Soul, the xB never felt wheezy. The ride was firm but comfortable, and poor road surfaces did not upset the car. I wouldn’t call the handling particularly sporty, but don’t dismiss the xB for that-the TRD parts catalog is a click away. You can outfit your xB with 17″ or 19″ alloys, lowering springs, sway bar and performance shocks, which should sharpen the handling a couple notches.
On the highway, the xB merges easily, and has adequate passing power. Although much smoother than the old xB, I was concerned the boxy shape would mean excessive wind noise, but I was pleased that there was none-just the hum of the tires and some engine noise. Displacing 2.4 liters, we’re on the larger end of four cylinder engines, so it is not the smoothest or most pleasant sounding one out there; but generally the engine is unobtrusive. Fuel economy isn’t the xB’s trump card either, at 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway (versus the Kia Soul’s figures of 24/30 and the Nissan Cube’s 28/30). Obviously, all three cars have less than ideal aerodynamics, but the xB has the largest, most powerful engine here, with a full 36 hp advantage over the Cube.
What I did not expect during my week with the xB was how it challenged my perception of what one needs in a car. My Stingray Metallic test car, with automatic, rear spoiler, killer Alpine stereo and other accessories still rang in at under $19,000USD. Via a USB cable, the Alpine stereo offered a fantastic touch-screen iPod interface, HD radio and XM/Sirius radio. The Scion xB excels because you forget you are driving an inexpensive car. I was able to drive my family in comfort with plenty of room to spare. What’s more, the xB is fun and cheeky-you enjoy it because it is different, and a little quirky. We are in the midst of a renaissance of small, fun, affordable and interesting cars, and in that mix the Scion xB boasts all the right qualities buyers want without appearing too faddish.