2004 Scion xA
MSRP
$12,480
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2004 Scion xA Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

A new name for a new kind of Toyota.

Introduction

Toyota admits, somewhat sheepishly, that it's lost touch with the offspring of its faithful. They know Toyota makes good cars but fear they don't look good driving around in one, that the image leaves something to be desired. 

Scion is Toyota's response, a car the company hopes a younger set of buyers won't shrug off as their parent's Camry, or Corolla, for that matter. 

To this end, Toyota is seeking to feed what it sees as an insatiable appetite for personalized transport, cars that may start out looking alike but end up accessorized to reflect their owner's unique personality. Oh yeah, they also have to live up to Toyota's quality, durability and reliability standards. 

The Scion xA does all that. Solid construction, quiet operation, comfortable accommodations and low maintenance costs are all Toyota traditions. Spice and pizzaz haven't been. The Scion will test Toyota on the latter. 

Lineup

Scion xA comes in one iteration ($12,480). It's powered by a 1.5-liter 16-valve four-cylinder. There is a choice of transmissions: A five-speed manual transmission is standard. A four-speed automatic is optional ($800). 

The list of standard features is surprisingly long for a car in this price class: antilock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake Distribution (which boosts braking pressure in emergency situations); air conditioning; power windows, door locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; tilt steering wheel; tachometer and trip meter; 60/40 split folding rear seat; cargo area cover; and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD Pioneer sound system that reads MP3 files and is satellite radio-ready. 

The only factory-installed option Toyota offers on the xA besides the automatic transmission is a safety package comprising front seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear seat side curtain airbags ($650). 

There are, however, some 40 accessories buyers can buy, installed at the factory or dealership. Many are appearance oriented and include appliques for B-pillars, the fuel door, instrument panel, door sills and rear bumper; license plate frames; mudguards; tail lamp garnish; rear spoiler; removable roof rack; red, blue or clear covers for the remote keyless entry; and sport pedals in choice of red, blue or silver. Functional accessories include a cargo liner, net and tote; carpeted floor mats; auto-dimming rear view mirror; satellite tuner and auxiliary antenna; subwoofer; security system; wheel locks; and alloy wheels. On the performance list are a cold-air induction system; front strut tower brace; and an assortment of offerings from Toyota Racing Development (18-inch wheels with Pirelli P Zero tires, lowering springs, strut/shock set; and sport muffler). 

Walkaround

Think Toyota Matrix, but a bit smaller and with a bit less of a wedge look. A squat and slightly tapering glasshouse sits on mildly rounded doors with a fairly prominent character line running along the lower edge and visually tying together the front and rear wheel wells. The windshield angles down into a more sharply angled hood. Head lamps and tail lamps notched into the leading and trailing edges of the front and rear wheel well surrounds, respectively, mirror each other, making for a stylish set of book ends from the side view. The one-piece lift gate tucks down between the tail lamps, the backlight merging smoothly with the side rear quarter windows. 

The Scion xA is a subcompact, so the size and arc of the doors aren't remarkable. Tall people will have to duck their heads when climbing in, especially when climbing into the rear seats. The outside door handles, though, are the nice, full-open type, where a hand can completely enclose the pull. The liftgate clears six-footers, but not by much. 

Interior

The most notable feature inside the Scion xA is the placement of the instrument cluster: in a hooded recess centered in the upper portion of the dash. This is supposed to reduce the time and eye adjustment necessary checking the gauges. Over time, drivers will no doubt adjust, but it's awkward at first. The instruments' decor facilitates an easy quick scan, with a large speedometer communicating via black-on-white graphics parked next to a smaller, white-on-black tachometer; the fuel gauge occupies the lower quadrant of the speedometer, the liquid crystal odometer and trip meter sit in the space beneath the tach. 

The driving position is comfortable; the seats are competent, although anything more than a long commute might uncover some of the unavoidable consequences of the xA's affordability. Pedals are well positioned, even for spirited driving, with the brake pedal near enough to the accelerator to invite an occasional heel-and-toe downshift. Outward visibility is on a par with other cars in this class, which is to say attentive drivers should rarely find themselves in difficult situations. 

For a car as affordable as the xA, the quality of the interior and its assembly is noteworthy. No, it's not luxurious, but neither is it cheap. Broad expanses of plastic have a nice tactile texture. Brushed aluminum-like strips of brightwork accent the dash and door panels. Inside door pulls are shallow, but not troublesome. The solid-colored seat bolsters bracket the subtly patterned insets. Dash-mounted air conditioning vents pivot only vertically instead of rotating 360 degrees as their round, eyeball-like design allows, invites, even. 

The stereo is mounted high on the dash, above the air conditioner control panel. Storage space comprises glove box, door map pockets, cup holders, center console and under-floor space in the cargo area. 

Rear-seat legroom is cramped with anybody taller than six feet in the front. 

Overall, people space is competitive with the leaders of the class, the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and VW Golf, varying by no more than an inch or so. This may not seem noteworthy save for the fact the xA is almost 20 inches shorter than the Civic and more than 10 inches shorter than the Focus or the Golf; it is taller, though, by about 4 inches across the line. The xA shines in hip room, besting the rest of the class by 3 to 5 inches front and rear, despite being the most narrow of the group. 

The Scion xA offers more cargo space (by more than 4 cubic feet) than a Focus, though less than a Golf. 

Driving Impression

The firmness of the Scion xA's ride surprised us. To the extent, in fact, that anybody considering ordering the TRD shock and spring accessory combo (total cost: $518) should drive an xA so equipped and a base xA before deciding. 

Otherwise, the xA's light weight and taut footprint promise more than the rather anemic engine delivers. Even the class leaders' base engines pump out more power, albeit at a cost in fuel economy. Seekers of spirited motoring should either look elsewhere or plan on spending a lot of time in the lower gears. Still, sufficient sound deadening materials have been sandwiched into the body and assorted braces to spare occupants significant engine whine. And the quality of assembly normally expected from Toyota leaves few if any buzzes, squeaks or rattles. 

Oddly, while the xA and the xB share the same powertrain, the test xA delivered shifts that were more sure and confidence inspiring than the test xB's. Feedback from the clutch and brakes is comparable, though. 

Summary

The buzz about this car has nothing to do with quality of design or assembly, or with its sportiness or lack thereof. It's that Toyota feels compelled to resort to a new nameplate to introduce itself to today's version of the car buyer that made the company what it is: young people looking for a well-built, durable car that's affordable, but now somehow different. 

Model Lineup

xA ($12,480). 

Assembled In

Options As Tested

carpeted floor and cargo mats ($120); alloy wheels ($665); Scion security ($459); Exterior Package (B-pillar and fuel door appliqu├ęs and rear spoiler); and Sound Package (AM/FM/6-Disc CD changer and subwoofer) ($774). 

Model Tested

Scion xA ($12,480). 

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