By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
The ’60s had muscle cars; the ’70s had disco cars. The ’80s and ’90s had SUVs and crossovers. So what’s the new in thing?
Punchy, boxy little “attitude cars” like the 2011 Scion xD.
WHAT IT IS
The xD is a subcompact hatchback sedan sold by Toyota’s youth brand spin-off, Scion. Prices start at $15,045 for the manual five-speed equipped version and run to $16,905 for the limited production Release Series 3.0 that comes with a unique paint job, exterior body kit and automatic transmission.
The xD competes with models like the Kia Soul and Nissan Cube/Juke/Versa.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011
Other than the limited edition RS 3.0 — of which 1,500 will be made — the 2011 xD is a carryover, same as the 2010 version.
Cute in an Ugly Betty kind of way.
Fun to play Frogger with.
A full catalog of factory and dealer-available custom features (lighting systems, interior trim bits and pieces, exterior body kit, etc.).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Mini-me trunk space (barely 10 cubic feet).
Not so good on gas — for such a small-engined small car (33 MPG highway is as good as it gets).
Performance-looking RS 3.0 has same 1.8 liter engine as regular xDs.
Stone Age tech four-speed automatic.
UNDER THE HOOD
All xDs — including the RS 3.0 — come equipped with a 1.8 liter, 128 hp four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels through either a five-speed manual or (optionally) four-speed automatic.
Power-performance wise, the Scion’s engine is top drawer in this segment; slightly stronger than the standard engines in its two chief rivals, the Kia Soul (1.6 liters, 122 hp) and the Nissan Cube (1.8 liters, 122 hp).
Its acceleration is better, too.
The little xD can scuttle to 60 mph in 8.3-8.4 seconds, almost 1 full second quicker than the heavier (by about 100 pounds) and aerodynamically challenged Nissan Cube, which gets there tomorrow — or might as well be (9.6 seconds). It also beats the base-engined version of the Kia Soul, too — though just barely. Equipped with the optional 2.0 liter, 142 hp engine, the Kia is the hot rod of the bunch – and easily smokes both the xD and the Cube.
Still, keep in mind that to beat the xD, the Kia has to be ordered with its extra-cost engine — which bumps the car’s MSRP to $15,495 or about $400 more than the price of the Scion.
Dollar for dollar, the Scion’s the best performer of the three.
The xD’s EPA-rated 27 city, 33 highway is a bit disappointing when you consider that small cars were routinely getting 40-plus MPG 25 years ago. But, it does beat the Nissan Cube’s same-size 1.8 liter engine (25 city, 30 highway) and even manages to beat out the smaller 1.6 liter engine in the base version of the Kia Soul (26 city, 31 highway).
ON THE ROAD
The xD is a fun little car to knock around in. Although it’s not really quick, it has verve and feels snappy when you step on the gas — even with the embarrassingly out-of-date (for a Toyota) optional four-speed automatic. That it performs so well even with the disadvantage of an outdated four-speed automatic hints at how much better it’d do with a more technologically current six-speed transmission.
It handles better than you’d expect, too — or better than I expected it to, anyhow. After all, this is a boxy econo… well, box — riding on sixteen inch steel wheels with plastic wheel covers. Alloy wheels are available, but they’re not necessary for the car to tackle corners at faster-than-economy-car speeds. Steel wheels are also a lot less expensive to buy, don’t get damaged as easily and are much cheaper to replace if you manage to bend one. They’re what I’d buy if I were going to buy a car like this.
Scion gives you several choices in wheel covers, too.
Electrically assisted steering is standard equipment in the xD. It saves fuel by nixing an engine-driven power steering pump. You may notice a slight whirring sound at low speeds (or when you’re stopped and turning the wheel) but it’s not annoying and once you’re over 10 MPH the xD is quiet inside.
There’s enough power to be comfortable on the highway at today’s routine 70-plus MPH average speeds but be aware that if you do run it at 75 MPH or so your real-world highway mileage is not going to be anywhere near As Advertised. I estimate I was getting around 26 MPG or so. Keep in mind that the EPA does its testing at lower speeds and once you’re into the 70s, the strain on the 1.8 liter engine plus the car’s less-than-ideal aerodynamic profile will begin to very noticeably eat away at your MPGs. But this is just as true of the even-worse Nissan Cube — which also feels unhappy at higher speeds because of the severe buffeting it gets from crosswinds and passing semis as a result of its tall box profile and short wheelbase – as well as the Kia Soul.
AT THE CURB
The major downside of this car is not under the hood but behind the driver. The rear seats are unusually cramped and can be awkward to get into and out of, due to a combination of design factors. They do have a reclining/sliding function and that helps — but at the cost of cargo room behind them, which is barely 10 cubic feet under ideal circumstances.
The xD is a really stubby little car — just 154.7 inches long vs. 161.6 for the Kia Soul and 156.7 for the boxy and tall but still about two inches longer overall Nissan Cube.
That doesn’t leave a lot of space to work with.
The comparatively low roofline doesn’t help, either — even though it looks snarky.
Also: The car itself is very low to the ground (60 inches tall vs. 63.4 for the Kia and 65 inches for the Nissan) which, when combined with the low roofline, means you may have to duck down just to get in. But as you try to do that, you find the B pillar (the upright structure between the front and rear doors) presenting an obstacle to your legs.
Unless the people up front scoot their seats very far forward (or have very short legs themselves) there is minimal legroom for adults in back — once they manage to stuff themselves in.
Scion tries to crutch the problem by fitting the back seats with sliders that let you move them both forward and backward, but (again) there’s only so much space to work with.
And there’s still that awkwardly placed B pillar.
In comparison, the back seats of Nissan’s Versa and Cube feel limousine-like. The Kia is much better in this regard, too. Though it’s not what you’d call “roomy” in the Soul’s backseat area, adults can sit back there without folding themselves into a semi-fetal position.
On the upside, you can slot the xD into parking spots many other cars would never fit into and if you fold the rear seats down, you can up the cargo-carrying capacity to a decent 36 cubic feet.
It’s not as much space as either the Soul or the Cube offer (about 50 cubic feet for both) but those cars can’t fit into the tight parking spots that the xD can.
Good points: Lots of audio and tech features are available — including an Alpine premium stereo rig with 4.3 inch LCD touch-screen display, Media Expander technology and front and rear RCA outputs, USB port up front and iPod holder in the center console. A take-it-with-you plug-in GPS navigation unit may also be ordered.
The instrument cluster has a neat combination speedometer/tachometer similar to (for those who remember) the early ’80s Chevy Camaro Z28’s layout. There are meaty, hand-sized rotary control knobs for the AC system that are very user-friendly compared to the teensy buttons found in many new cars today.
The limited edition RS 3.0 comes in unique-to-this-model “Xpresso” paint and is fitted with an exterior body kit and carbon fiber trim inside. There’s no “3.0” engine, though — or any mechanical/functional performance enhancements — so I’m not sure what the point is. Carbon fiber and body kits imply speed — or at least, more speed than the standard-issue car. But the RS 3.0 doesn’t back up its Talk with the Walk.
Toyota Racing Development (TRD) does offer dealer-installed hop-up stuff, tough — including sport exhaust.
Toyota has suffered some heavy body blows to its formerly stellar rep for quality control as a result of the hysteria/hatchet job over supposedly but not really run-amok cars that were really made to run amok by their inept drivers.
While there’s no worry about the xD deciding to hurl itself through plate glass windows or take you for a 100 MPH hell-ride down the highway, there is one objective thing you might want to consider and that is the so-so basic warranty coverage — just three years or 36,000 miles. The Kia Soul’s ten year, 100,000 mile basic coverage is a lot more reassuring. (Nissan has the same Warranty Weakness as Scion: Three years, 36,000 miles plus a five-year, 60,000 mile powertrain warranty.)
Toyota — as the Blue Chip Japanese brand — really ought to offer a better warranty than Korean Kia — especially given the recall-related PR fiasco of the past few months.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The xD is lighter and shorter than its main rivals, has Frogger-like agility and is ideally suited for bunched-up city/urban driving. It has plenty of personality, too — just not a lot of room for backseat passengers. The warranty coverage could be better — but it’s still a neat little thing and very competitive with the other major players in this segment.