The success of the original was, quite frankly, a bit surprising. Looking back to 2004, there wasn’t a huge demand for small cars in the U.S., let alone funky, rolling boxes honed for Japanese tastes. To most corporate boards, the idea of bringing such a vehicle to the U.S. would have had all the appeal of a Dioxin sundae.
But a strange thing happened: Toyota felt it could sell the bB (“Black Box” for the uninitiated) in the U.S., crafting a new youth-oriented division in the process. It did just that, and the squared small car sold well. Quite well, in fact: the xB outsold its conventional-looking xA sibling by a margin of nearly 2-to-1, proving chic, design-oriented small cars could find a place both in Japan and in truck-loving America.
Fast-forward to today. You’re looking at the , fresh off a complete revision last year. No, it’s not as small. No, it’s not quite as boxy. And no, the xB is no longer playing in this market segment all by itself. Both the and 2009 Nissan Cube are hip, box-like appliances destined to meddle with Scion‘s sales figures. But does the xB still carry enough charisma to square off against the competition?
Perhaps not visually. The original xB had a simplicity to its design that, in spite of its prolific use of right angles, looked remarkably clean. It’s hard to say the same for the new model, which blatantly wears curves on most surfaces. It’s almost as if designers melded a first-generation xB with a Corolla (ironic, given that the Scion xB is sold in Japan as the Corolla Rumion).
Those rotund surfaces don’t help to disguise the xB’s added heft. Today’s xB is a foot longer and 2.8 inches wider than the original. It weighs in at 3020 pounds, a whopping 605 pounds heavier than the original.
The xB’s greater stature is immediately noticeable inside. The cabin offers up a copious amount of space for drivers, passengers, and cargo alike. There’s 21.7 cubic feet of luggage space behind the rear seats, which is nearly double that of the Cube. Most of the interior was trimmed entirely in black plastics and fabrics, and equipped with an underwhelming dome lamp, the atmosphere (especially at night) isn’t unlike that of Mammoth Cave.
Helping move this bigger box around is a 2.4-liter DOHC I-4, shared with the and Matrix. It’s rated at 158 hp, which is more powerful than the optional 2.0-liter four in the . Power is routed to the front wheel via a standard five-speed manual transaxle or an optional four-speed automatic. In spite of the new xB’s newfound heft, the 2.4-liter’s extra muscle is sufficient at scooting the car about town.
Despite its compact size, the xB feels a bit awkward while rolling down city streets. This isn’t due to the car’s ride – it’s actually rather smooth for a small car – but rather a function of the design. To start, if you’re anywhere around 5′ 9″ tall, you’ll find the least uncomfortable driving position is much like that of a city bus – back straight up, and the tilt (not telescoping) steering column in its most upright position. The chunky C-pillars create sizable blind spots, and you’ll have to bend your neck down in order to see stop lights at intersections.
Surprisingly, the xB proves more adapt at tackling the open highway. The 2.4-liter offers plenty of torque, and when cruising at 75 mph in fifth gear, the engine isn’t buzzing away at an insanely high rpm (unlike, say, the ). The 102.4-inch wheelbase may seem short, but it’s 4 inches longer than the previous car, and helps prevent the xB from being skittish over highway surfaces.
Is the xB still the top square? Well, both Nissan and Kia have crafted similar cars that are much more likeable around town. Still, for those who want a comfortable ride over long stretches of freeway but don’t want to sacrifice urban agility, the xB may be the right box.