Sometimes I bet our readers think I'm nuts. Who wouldn't when I'm about to rave about a little 108 horsepower micro-car after being barely satiated in a $40,000 SUV. And both are made by the same parent company. It sounds truly insane but driving the Scion xA, the last of the three Scions I've tested, is a blast around town. The interior materials match those of the other two Scions and are quite substantial to the touch.
It’s not hard to build a nice $40,000 SUV. In fact if you’re charging that much for a vehicle it better have everything a driver wants and then some. For $13,000 no one expects much and that’s why Scion is doing so well. They’re delivering a well-equipped car for the dollar that is interesting to look at and not so bad to drive either.
Turning is crisp and the rigid frame is a bit of a surprise. Yes, the Scion takes bumps hard and road noise is high. That’s to be expected. But the comfortable cloth seats hold you in place and the stereo sounds much better than most economy cars.
A big question about this little car is the room. Can it fit tall folks? A full four people? Any of them comfortably? Yes and no. Saturday I chauffeured a few of the crewmembers from Speed TV’s “World’s Greatest Auto Shows” series in a caravan of big SUVs (shown above) and the xA. I was being interviewed for a segment that took us to all parts of Chicago. The front passenger seat fits most people just fine while a 6+ footer in the back had to lean across both rear-seats to get “comfortable.” On another leg of the trip a different 6+ footer sat up front with the seat all the way back and was cramped. But as he said that happens in lots of cars for him. They all commented on the interior quality.
Getting real world feedback from folks that know cars certainly speaks highly of the little xA. Tomorrow we’ll get into the utility of the car and then we’ll highlight all the add-ons that turn a $13,000 deal into a $17,000 head-scratcher.
One of the more interesting parts of the Scion xA is that it serves as a hatchback as well as a small four-door. While the rear cargo area is tiny when the seats are up, flip the two down (after pulling the headrests out) and there is significant space for junk, I mean cargo.
No it isn’t a minivan or a SUV, but it makes the vehicle much more practical than it already is. We took it on a regular weekend trip to the local discount warehouse and the grocery store. We fit two cases of water bottles and a large box of other foodstuffs since the warehouse store doesn’t supply bags. Then we headed over to the grocery store where we got about a dozen bags worth of assorted groceries. All of it fit in the back of the little xA without a problem.
I’d even hazard a guess two sets of golf clubs could fit back there. However, the weather isn’t nice enough for me to test this hypothesis. Also you’ll notice a cargo cover that fits across the small cargo area that only makes sense when the seats are up. However it seems like a waste of space for the large device since the area it covers is about 6 inches. Couldn’t Scion find a better way? Check out Day 1 here. Tomorrow we’ll check off the list of expensive add-ons for our test xA.
One of the huge factors that makes the Scion xA so attractive to car buyers is the low price. Our testers MSRP before options was $13,280. That includes a lot of standard equipment like ABS, CD player, power windows and locks and even A/C. But the test vehicle was also loaded with those infamous tuner influenced options that ballooned the final price to a whopping $17,454.
There are some options in the mix that I shouldn’t discount like the side curtain airbags at $650. You also really can’t go without the floor and cargo mats at $120. But that’s where I’d stop. Why anyone would add a 6-disc CD changer to the stock set-up is beyond me. For $395 there are countless aftermarket head units to be had.
Some of the options I wouldn’t mind adding. The rear spoiler is pretty nice and adds to the look of the car as a whole without it feeling lame. That rang up at $385. While the $189 carbon fiber B pillar “appliqué” seemed like a waste since you couldn’t tell what it was from far away anyway.
The neon underneath the foot wells I actually like but would have a hard time forking over $280 for it. I also like the red sport pedal covers for $79. That’s not much more than a nice set anyway and these are professionally installed.
Lit cup holders definitely would not be on my “must have” list at $299. Ouch. They only worked well at night too. But the aluminum sills on all four doors were definitely classy at $139.
Both the 10 spoke rims, $665, and foglights, $350, were nice touches but you could probably get a nicer 15 inch rim and tire combination at one of the big retailers for around the same price. Check out Day 1 and Day 2 in the Scion xA.
Scion has a lot going for it. Even with just three current models each one has a distinct personality, high quality interiors and have that sense of fun when behind the wheel. Those are all hard to achieve attributes for any car company let alone a brand new one to the market. I found myself enjoying the xA a lot and got great pleasure out of pushing it to its limits (which wasn't hard).
How does such a wimpy little car get my thumb up? Lots of personality, utility and that elusive fun to drive factor certainly help. It definitely had nothing to do with all the neon lighting that’s for sure. The flip down rear seats were great and created a very useable cargo area. And you could get into any parking spot you wanted too.
Urban denizens would be wise to consider this as a very inexpensive solution for a city car. Those that have highway commutes should look elsewhere. Even a base price new Focus (with plenty of incentives) would be more advisable, if not as cool, for highway commuting. But there is that cool factor.
The xA could become a favorite of the young set. It would make a terrific first car for someone. Parents would know their kids can’t drive too fast in it or wedge too many people inside. And unlike the Toyota Echo I saw stopped in front of me, the xA would actually be desired by anyone under 30.
As a rapidly aging, engaged male I will admit the xA is definitely not my style even though I find attractive if not a bit funky. I’d probably go with a xB over the xA simply because there’s even more cargo room and I think it would be great to cart my dog around in and still fit in city parking spots. Of course a supercharged tC (if it ever gets here) would still be the top Scion on my list, sorry Roxy.
New Car Test Drive
Quality and value, inexpensive, but well-equipped.
Built like a Toyota (because it is one), the Scion xA offers solid construction, quiet operation, comfortable accommodations and low maintenance costs.
Unlike the Scion xB and tC, the xA doesn't set the world on fire with its styling, but it comes well-equipped with convenience and safety features. It's comfortable in the front seats, though the rear is a bit cramped, and it offers decent cargo space.
The ride is firm and it handles reasonably well. It doesn't have a lot of power, but nets an EPA rating of 32/38 mpg City/Highway.
A new limited-edition model in bright red is available for 2005 that comes with special seat fabric, a sunroof, and active safety features.
Scion xA ($12,480) is powered by a 1.5-liter 16-valve four-cylinder and comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. 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).
A limited-edition model called the xA Release Series 1.0 is available for 2005. Positioned as a package ($1,395), the Release Series 1.0 comes with special Absolutely Red paint and is further distinguished by its sports grille and color-keyed rear spoiler. A power tilt and slide moonroof come standard along with vehicle stability control (VSC) with traction control (TRAC). Inside, the limited-edition model is distinguished with black seat fabric with red highlights, along with red lighting in the center storage compartment. Only 1,550 units will be produced and will have individually numbered series badges applied to the interior.
Some 40 accessories are available, 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 bits from Toyota Racing Development, including 18-inch wheels with Pirelli P Zero tires, lowering springs, strut/shock set; and a sport muffler.
Scion xA looks a bit like a shrunken Toyota Matrix 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.
For a car as affordable as the xA, the quality of the interior and its assembly are 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 seems to indicate.
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.
The instrument cluster is 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 stereo is mounted high on the dash, above the air conditioner control panel, for easy access. Storage space comprises glove box, door map pockets, cup holders, center console and under-floor space in the cargo area.
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. Rear-seat legroom is cramped with anybody taller than six feet in the front, however.
The Scion xA offers more cargo space (by more than 4 cubic feet) than a Focus, though less than a Golf.
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 ($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.
Shifts were sure and confidence inspiring. Feedback from the clutch and brakes is good.
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 has launched a new nameplate to introduce itself to younger car buyers looking for a well-built, durable car that's affordable, but different.
Scion xA ($12,480).
Options As Tested
side-impact and curtain airbags ($650); carpeted floor and cargo mats ($120); alloy wheels ($665); Scion security ($459).
Scion xA ($12,480).
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