By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
This will probably be my last write-up about a 2013 model car. It may also be my last write-up of the Scion xB.
Maybe Scion, period.
Toyota’s youth-focused spin-off brand is a bit green around the gills. Sales are down — and Toyota corporate is quietly allowing dealers to drop the Scion brand without penalty.
Reportedly, there is nothing “new” on deck, Scion-wise, until at least 2017 — and that’s speculative.
If that’s true, the xB’s a goner — and this is not a review but a requiem. The current model dates back to 2007, when it was introduced as a new ’08. That’s six going on seven years — way beyond the past-due date.
Personally, I like it as it is. It has snarkiness going for it — and it’s still distinctive, even though others (Kia Soul, for one; Nissan Cube for another) have trotted out similar-in-kind but more up-to-date offerings.
But the aging xB has a number of all-too-obvious deficits that make it a hard sell, despite its likable qualities.
WHAT IT IS
The xB is the first “Japanese box car” to be offered for sale in the US — the original model making its debut as an ’04 model. Prior to its appearance here, most Americans had only seen these funny-looking, stubby, tall-roofed little runabouts in the background of TV feeds from Japan, where — due to the extremely crowded streets and nonexistent parking slots — such vehicles are extremely popular.
The first-gen car was an immediate hit — and did much to establish the viability of the Scion brand, which was also all-new that year.
In ’08, there was an update — and the car(which was larger and heavier as well as less “cute” looking) sold ok, but something was lost in translation. Fast forward to now. The xB is pretty much the same — and floundering.
Newer competitors such as the Kia Soul (base price just $15,495 vs. $17,725 for the xB) are eating its lunch and not even leaving the wrapper.
Late-production 2013s will be available with a new touch-screen audio interface in place of the dated (and hard to use) micro-sized and aftermarket-looking head unit in older models. There are also minor styling tweaks, including integrated LED running lights.
A “10” (for ten years of Scion) special anniversary edition is also available. The package includes unique 16-inch wheels and a solar-powered illuminated shift knob (automatic-equipped models only).
Still neat and fun to knock around in.
Fairly quick. (And much quicker than the Nissan Cube.)
Versatile, space-efficient interior.
Doesn’t take up much space in the garage — or need much space on the street.
Costs about the same as the cute — but clunky — Cube ($17,570 to start).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Long in the tooth — and not just appearance-wise. Bush-era technology four-speed automatic; five-speed manual at a time when six speeds abound.
Mediocre gas mileage (largely due to the out-of-date transmissions, as well as startlingly beefy curb weight).
Noisy — and bouncy.
$2,230 more to start than the just-redesigned and very appealing 2014 Kia Soul ($15,495 to start).
UNDER THE HOOD
The xB’s engine is a 2.4 liter, 158 hp four, teamed up with either the standard five-speed manual transmission or (optionally) a four-speed automatic.
It’s not a hot rod, but it’s hotter — 0-60 — than the base engined Kia Soul (1.6 liters, 130 hp) and the Nissan Cube (which only comes with a 122 hp, 1.8 liter engine). The Scion can break into the mid-eights while the Kia and the Nissan are charter members of the 10 Second Club. It’s a noteworthy difference — and one of the few objective areas where the xB is still objectively better.
Kia does offer an optional 2.0 liter, 164 hp engine capable of getting the Soul to 60 in under eight seconds — best in class. However, it’s an upgrade that’ll cost you $3,500 over the Soul’s base price of $15,495 — and $1,270 more than Scion asks for the 158 hp xB.
The xB does ok on mileage, too: 22 city and 28 highway. This is less than average, but not by very much. The base-engined (1.6 liter) Soul only manages 25 city, 30 highway — and when equipped with its optional engine, this drops to 23 city, 28 highway — a dead heat with the xB. The real embarrassment — for Nissan — is the dismal mileage of the Cube, which despite being the least powerful and slowest of the three only manages 27 city and 31 on the highway (when equipped with its optional CVT automatic; the numbers drop to 25 city, 30 highway if you stay with the manual transmission).
What’s interesting — and a little tragic — is that probably the xB could have been the most economical car of the pack if it weren’t disadvantaged by its technologically out of date manual five-speed and four-speed automatic transmissions. The five speed manual can fly under the radar, maybe. But the optional four-speed automatic seems almost prehistoric compared with the six-speeds that are standard (or optional) in the others.
All the cars in this class are FWD.
ON THE ROAD
The xB doesn’t lack for power. The 2.4 liter engine pulls pretty hard, actually — and even when teamed with the automatic, gives a good account of itself.
The downshifts are deep, though. And the climb back up the tach is steep. You’re in fourth — top gear, remember — running 45 or so when you roll up behind a slow-poke and need to bust a move to pass him. You floor it — and the transmission drops down to third — and stays there, while the tach arcs upward to the 6,500 redline. If there were a six-speed box behind the 2.4 engine, the drop down to fifth would not be as jarring — nor as noisy. The RPMs would be lower, sooner.
Third is also what comes up whenever you move the gear shift lever into manual/Sport mode — because fourth is overdrive in this transmission. There are not many gears to play with here. And when you’ve recently spent a week driving a car with an eight speed automatic (the 2014 Dodge Durango I recently reviewed, see here for that) a four speed transmission feels seriously 1990s.
But, it does the job — and fourth (overdrive) is deep enough that the revs at highway speeds are not noticeably higher than in a car with a six or seven (or even eight) speed automatic. It’s just the getting to overdrive that’s noticeably different.
The ride is a weak point. It’s very bouncy. But at least it’s not tipsy — which the body-roll-a-plenty Nissan Leaf is. The latter really is for city-urban commuting only. The xB’s a much more highway (and corner) viable ride.
AT THE CURB
The xB’s looks are its blessing — and its curse. There is no “it’s ok.” You either really like it — or you really don’t like it.
Initially, the clumsy-cute appearance was sales Viagra for Scion. As it still is — for Kia. The Soul is selling like ecstasy tabs at a rave. But the xB — and Scion — are suddenly no longer as hip as they used to be.
The market — in particular, the youth market — wants new stuff. And the xB is old. Especially from the perspective of a young 20-something. A recent college graduate — the target demo for cars of this type — saw the current xB knocking around his neighborhood when he was in high school. But the Soul (and the Cube) are newness personified.
So, there’s that.
The other problem — for the xB — is that it doesn’t cross-shop well. The base price of the Soul is $2,230 lower than the xB’s price — and for young 20-somethings, $2k is a lot of money.
If the xB cost $2k less than the Soul, it could probably get away with having a rougher-hewn, heavily hard plastic interior (not to mention the Bush-era technology four speed automatic) and fewer standard bells and whistles (the Soul comes standard with heated outside mirrors and Sirius-XM satellite radio). But these deficits call more attention to themselves when the car’s price is that much higher than an otherwise similar — but newer and nicer and a whole lot cheaper — competitor.
On the plus side, you can now get a 6.1 inch LCD touchscreen in the xB — which makes using the standard (and excellent sound quality) Pioneer sound system a whole lot easier — as well as classing up the joint. It is a night and day improvement over the ’90s-era aftermarket stereo looking head unit that it replaces — but which, unfortunately, it only replaces in the “10” anniversary edition xB. The others still com with the ’90s-era aftermarket stereo looking head unit — with its tiny buttons that are hard to see and even harder to use. If I’d been The Decider at Scion, I would have made the 6.1 inch LCD touchscreen standard-issue in all xB’s as a sort of fighting retreat or delaying action intended to maintain interest in the current car while awaiting the new car (assuming one’s coming).
Generic/general interest stuff:
The xB, though small, is larger on the outside than the Soul: 168.1 inches bumper to bumper vs. 163 inches for the Kia. Yet the Soul is roomier on the inside: 40.9 inches of legroom up front and 39.1 inches in the second row vs. 40.1 up front in the Xb and 38 inches in the second row. These difference are relatively slight and so not a big deal. What is pretty startling, on the other hand, is the disparity in cargo room between the two. The 5 inches longer Scion’s got less cargo space behind the second row — 20 cubic feet vs. 24.2 for the ’14 Soul.
That, cue Paris Hilton voice, is huuuuge.
Interestingly, the much smaller (than both of them) Nissan Cube has about the same space for cargo — 11.4 cubic feet — and more legroom up front (42.4 cubes). The second row in the Cube is tight — 35.5 inches — but overall, it’s still more space efficient, all factors considered, than the much larger (it’s a foot longer overall) xB.
Again, the need for an update is all-too-obvious.
One of Scion’s “sells” has been a whole catalog of dealer-available/over-the-counter customization options. The advantage with this approach — vs. aftermarket stuff — is that the components have been engineered by the people who made the vehicle, so you’re not taking any chances with safety, function or reliability.
You can personalize your xB with any of several wheel packages (all the way up to 19s, which is a monster rim for a little runabout), performance exahust/muffler, suspension parts, body parts (spoilers, fog lights) and — this is new — a boom box BeSpoke upgrade audio system with RCA jacks and a version of Toyota’s Entune app suite (Pandora, social media) plus GPS and the 6.1 inch touchscreen.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you can swing a deal on an xB — which you probably can, given Scion’s straits — then it’s worth considering the xB. It’s by no means a bad vehicle, it’s just that better ones are now available.
Some of them for less money.