In the latter part of the 1990s, Toyota realized it had a problem on its hands. Although its sales had been climbing steadily for years, the average age of its customers was also climbing. That's fine in the short term, but over the long haul if a company isn't attracting some younger clientele into its showrooms, sales will eventually begin to dry up. After several years of unsuccessfully trying to attract more youthful customers with cars like the Echo, the Japanese behemoth tried a new tack in early 2003.
That was when Toyota announced a new brand called Scion that would be targeted at the so-called Generation Y crowd. Unlike Lexus, Scions would be sold in existing Toyota showrooms. The Scion roll-out kicked off in California and a few other markets in the Southwest and eventually spread throughout the country. The first two Scions were the xA and xB, which were both based on the previous generation Yaris/Vitz platform. By late 2006, the xA and xB were ready to be replaced as the first second generation Scions made their debut at the 2007 Chicago Auto Show in February. The new xB started appearing at Scion stores in early summer and landed in the Autoblog Garage in September. Find out what we thought of the xB Rev. 2 after the jump.
All photos ©2007 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
The first thing anyone familiar with the original xB will notice upon walking up to the new one is its size. While the car is still recognizable as an xB, it has clearly hit puberty and the growth hormones have kicked in. The new dimensions are due largely to the model trading in its little Yaris platform for the larger Corolla architecture.
The new xB still has a wagon-like shape but the details and proportions are very different. The car is a full twelve inches longer and almost three inches wider, but loses an inch and a half in stature. The nose looks longer and the roof-line now has a chopped look to it. The glass in the D-Pillars has also been replaced by solid steel. Where the original had an almost delicate look to it, the second generation model has far more visual heft. Unfortunately, the heft is not purely visual. The curb weight of the xB has ballooned by 636 lbs to 3,086 lbs. You might think all that extra girth would translate into increased interior volume. You would be thinking wrong. The only major interior dimensions that grow are shoulder and hip room. Head room drops by six inches in the front seats and four and a half in back. Front leg room also drops by six inches. Cargo room behind the rear seats, however, does grow by half a cubic foot to 21.7 cu. ft.
Styling as always is highly subjective and the new xB is no exception. The lower and wider stance of the wagonette certainly looks more aggressive and the flares around the wheel wells with their adjoining sills have a hint of PT Cruiser and HHR. The new look will probably be a good starting point for those who want to customize their rides. The base of the windshield has moved forward but maintains the fairly upright angle of the original, meaning it sits pretty far out in front of the driver. That enhances the impression of room inside, although it also means that the driver has a really long reach to adjust the mirror.
The more diminutive original was propelled by a 1.5L four-cylinder that just wouldn't cut it in the 2008 model, especially an extra 600 lbs. to carry around. So the Corolla architecture brings with it the 2.4L four-cylinder used in the tC coupe and the larger Camry sedan. Output jumps from 103 to 158 HP and twist goes from 101 lb-ft to 162 lb-ft. Whatever else we may think of the new xB, it can certainly get out of it's own way. Unfortunately, it's not all that refined in doing so. The initial throttle tip-in feels way too aggressive. Launching in any kind of dignified manner requires a very gentle toe on the accelerator. While some people may like the idea of chirping the front tires at every intersection, on wet or slippery surfaces the standard traction control will kick in regularly, but back to that later.
The automatic transmission only has four forward gear ratios that can be activated by the now almost obligatory sequential tap-shift mechanism, although this seems pretty pointless. Then there is the enclosure for the shift mechanism. It sits in a pod that protrudes from the center of the dash. A very wide pod! A pod much to wide to be necessary for the shifter. Upon noticing this pod (as if it could be missed!), I looked for a storage bin or something useful on the underside. Alas, it appears to serve no real useful purpose other than consuming an inordinate amount of space adjacent to the drivers right knee. While front seat occupants of the new xB may have more hip and shoulder room, thanks to the shifter they have less knee room.
Let us make this perfectly clear to anyone and everyone who designs vehicle interiors. Instruments (especially primary ones like the speedometer and tach) belong in front of the driver. In the era of MySpace, Facebook and Digg, it may seem like the social thing to do is share vital information with the passengers, but functionality must come first and foremost in a car. Another dubious decision was combining the clock display into the trip information display. If you want to monitor your fuel mileage, you can't see the clock. You have to toggle through all the bits of information to get back to Father Time. The lower half of the fuel and temperature gauges remains glaringly blank, so why didn't they just stick a dedicated clock into one of those. Again, the task of switching display modes is made worse because of the long reach to the switch.
The center position of the gauges is said to have a safety benefit, as you're not taking your eyes quite as far off the road, and noticed that it might indeed be true. The other nice touch about having the gauges in the center of the dash is that the panel is not shrouded at all by the steering wheel. The HVAC controls are wonderfully simple and elegant, and they are positioned well.
Our example had a premium sound system that was also iPod capable; a $389 dollar expenditure. There are dual auxiliary inputs, so you can interface directly with your iPod, via a specific jack, or you can use another flavor of player via the 1/8" mini jack. Once you do manage to figure out the Pioneer's control scheme, it's not difficult to operate. Unfortunately, the LCD display of the stereo doesn't play nice with polarized sunglasses.
Although we liked the direct control of the iPod through the head unit, our main complaint had to do with pausing. After a previous post, it became apparent that pressing the power button on the head unit would pause the iPod. The joystick controller on the right side of the head unit generally mimics the iPod click wheel with an upward push bringing up the menu and left and right being back and forward. So why not have a downward push be play/pause? Odd choice.
The xB we drove was also equipped with a dealer installed TRD drone amplifier. The accessory list labels it as a sport muffler, but any performance impact was probably negligible while the audible impact was just annoying.
The idle of the four banger was lumpy, but it loved to rev. A hard stab of the accelerator would keep the automatic in the same gear almost to red-line and acceleration was therefore adequate. The added torque of the bigger engine was much appreciated. As always though, it comes at a cost. What started out as an economy car is now anything but. While the environmental groups have been ripping Toyota lately for its "duplicity" on CAFE standards and bringing out big thirsty trucks like the Tundra, they apparently haven't yet noticed the change from xB Rev.1 to Rev.2. The original xB had EPA ratings of 26/31 mpg (after the adjustment for the new 2008 procedures, originally they were even higher). The 2008 model is rated at 22/28 and we averaged 23.4 mpg over our week with the car. My '05 Mustang averages 24 mpg over the same driving cycle.
On the road the xB does have reasonable grip when equipped with the larger 16-inch wheel/tire combination, and it now comes standard with electronic stability control. Stability control systems can be a good thing if done right. Maybe someday Toyota will get one right. I haven't driven every Toyota so-equipped, but every one I've tried so far from the first Avalon that had ESC in the late '90s to the current Tundra and xB has been downright awful. I know Toyota likes to stick by its suppliers that its mantra includes Kaizen or continuous improvement. But when it comes to slip control systems it might be time for Toyota to look elsewhere. When you have a stability control system as noisy as this one (and the Tundra, as well), there is absolutely no need to have a warning alarm going off, too. The Toyota engineers responsible for this system need to go try out a General Motors or Honda vehicle equipped with stability control. The system should not be jerking the steering wheel around in your hands to keep the car going where the driver intends. The ABS and traction control that share the same hardware also suffer from the same excess noise.
The original xB was based on the JDM bB, which also underwent a redesign recently. Unlike the US market xB the bB is still based on the smaller Yaris architecture and is comparable in size to the original. The car we get as the xB will also be sold as the Corolla Rumion in Japan. I suspect most fans of the first xB would have preferred that Toyota stuck with the new bB instead of growing the car. The 2008 xB that we get starts at $15,650 with a manual transmission and adds another $950 for the self-shifting unit. The exterior design has some nice details if you're partial to the overall look.
If Toyota sets the interior team to work on a revamp, it would probably be a big improvement. Following Volkswagen's lead with a smaller direct injected turbo under the hood and swapping the 4-speed torque converter box for a 6-speed DCT would probably do wonders for the mileage without hurting performance, as well. If you're after something closer in size to the original, the xD is now available and the Honda Fit offers lots of utility and a vastly more attractive and comfortable interior.
All photos ©2007 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.