Scion xB

When we ran a comparison test of the ultra-boxy Scion xB and the ultra-dorky-looking Honda Element, we asked the question: "Is Boxy Beautiful?" Apparently the designers at Scion no longer think it is, judging by the complete do-over for 2008 of the popular xB as seen at the Chicago auto show. For not only does the second-generation version grow significantly in size -- wheelbase increased by 4.0 in., overall length by 12.0 in. and width by almost 3 in. -- but the exterior gets a general softening and a bit of a chopped-roof look (height has been decreased by 1.0 in.). The front has much less of the tugboat-inspired-nose the xB was known for, though it still won't win any aero contests. Elements of the t2B concept featured at the 2005 New York show have been applied, and now the styling of the xB is far more than simply a box on wheels.

"We've stated in the past that we'll probably always have a box in the Scion lineup," said Mark Templin, Scion vice president. "But our owners told us they wanted a bigger box. They talk, we listen and we responded with a bigger and better xB."

The new xB rides on an all-new platform underneath its new body. It is powered by a much larger 2.4-liter 4-cylinder (versus the previous car's 1.5-liter) from the tC, with 158 bhp (an increase of 55 bhp) and 162 lb.-ft. of torque, which should give the xB the get-up-and-go that was lacking with the previous model. The new engine will be mated to your choice of either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic, the latter with sequential-shifting ability.

The xB comes standard with 16-in. wheels, versus the previous car's 15s. Of course, since it's a Scion, standard features are a selling point, including front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags, ABS, yaw control and traction control, power windows, door locks and mirrors, as well as air conditioning, cruise control and a 160-watt Pioneer AM/FM/CD audio system with iPod capability. The 2008 xB goes on sale in late spring.

Scion xD

In a bold move, Scion -- Toyota's youth -- specific brand-is replacing two (of its three) models in the same year. Both the xB and the xA see complete redesigns for 2008, not just mild re-skins (the 2006 xA actually went out of production in December of last year, and there isn't a 2007 model).

The replacement for the xA is the xD, which rides on the same platform as Toyota's Yaris subcompact. Looking at the car's styling as it was unveiled at the Chicago auto show, it appears that somewhere along the way the 5-door xD gained the general shape of the Nissan Versa, which itself bears a close resemblance to the Renault Megane. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and the new xD -- with a boxier xB-like front end -- now exhibits less of a "cute" air than the female-oriented xA.

The xD has also grown in size versus the xA, with a 3.6-in. longer wheelbase, 0.6 in. of extra overall length, is 1.2 in. wider yet overall height has decreased by 0.2 in. The rear seats aid in both comfort and utility with the ability to slide forward/back 6.0 in. and to be reclined up to 10 degrees amongst five different positions.

The front-wheel-drive xD will come with the 2ZR-FE dohc 1.8-liter 4-cylinder (replacing the xA's 1.5-liter) engine with VVT-i that makes 128 bhp and 125 lb.-ft. of torque. It can be mated to either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic. Standard wheels get a bump up to 16 in. from the xA's 15s.

The xD will come standard-equipped with such safety features as front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear side-curtain airbags, ABS and a tire-pressure-monitor system. Add to that air conditioning, keyless entry, a Pioneer AM/FM CD audio system with 160 watts and iPod capability along with power windows, mirrors and door locks. Look for the xD at dealers late this summer.

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