Seeking to lure younger, hipper buyers into its future owners group, Toyota launched its free-thinking Scion sub-brand in 2004 with the xA and xB. Although both high-value, high-utility offerings share key powertrain and chassis elements with the recently gone and easily forgotten Toyota Echo, the xB wraps them in far more unconventional trappings. Borrowing styling from its Japanese progenitor--appropriately called bB for black box--the single-trim-level xB combines unique visual presence with a generous list of standard features and a huge array of port- and dealer-installed name-brand accessories to facilitate the individualization so favored by its Gen Y target customers.
Angular to the max, the xB's squared-off lines and semi-slammed stance make it instantly recognizable. Defining cues include a slightly petulant front bumper, prominent greenhouse, four easy-access doors, and a large, one-piece rear hatch. While optional wheel/tire packages run all the way to 18-inch Racing Hart alloys wrapped in 215/35 Pirelli PZeros, all xBs come standard with 185/60TR15 all-season rubber on steel rims.
The xB's iconoclastic nature carries on inside, as well, starting with a dash that moves the instrument cluster to center -- well, slightly left of center -- stage. While the speedometer and mini-tach share a common binnacle with the fuel gauge, their cluttered configuration and contrasting fascia treatments clearly favor form over function. The center stack is filled with a small info display, 160-watt AM/FM/CD Pioneer sound system with DSP equalizer, and the switches and rotating dials that adjust the xB's standard air conditioning. The xB's comprehensive "mono-spec" value packaging also includes power windows/locks/mirrors, tilt steering column, and keyless remote entry, plus two cupholders in the console and one dash-mounted 12V powerpoint. Equally important, beneath its young-think veneer, the xB embodies Toyota levels of fit and finish.
Despite compact exterior dimensions, the xB has a remarkably spacious and accommodating cabin. Its slightly elevated front seats provide a panoramic view through the upright windshield, and these buckets offer the comfort and support desired for long-distance cruising. While the xB's 60/40-split rear bench has marginal hip and shoulder room for three, there's more than enough head and leg space for two six footers, be they traveling across town or across country. The rear bay has 21.1 cu ft of easily-accessed space. But flip the seatbacks forward, and that figure more than doubles, creating a flat cargo floor in the process. For maximum utility, the entire seat can be quickly removed. Smaller items can be stowed in the xB's non-locking glovebox, a small covered console bin, open dash trays, and pockets in each front door.
The xB safety standards include ABS brakes with Electronic Brake force Distribution and Brake Assist, stability/traction control, dual front airbags and three-point seatbelts for all five seating positions.
The xB's 1.5-liter free-revving DOHC four serves up its modest 103 hp and 101 lb-ft of torque as enthusiastically as possible, thanks to a Toyota's Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) system. While the optional AEM cold-air intake and Borla cat-back exhaust systems won't turn the xB into any sort of tarmac terror, they'll enhance the engine's deep-breathing capabilities enough to drop the xB's 0-60 mph times into single digits with the standard five-speed manual transmission. Choosing the do-it-yourself unit over the four-speed automatic brings a tangible gain in the fun-to-drive quotient, particularly if you add a short-throw Quickshifter kit. But the greatest numerical satisfaction for typical budget-constrained xB owners is likely to come from its stellar 31/34 mpg EPA fuel economy figures (31/35 mpg with the automatic).
Traveling in xB style has its own unique charm, even if it means tabling any performance fantasies. A strong, rigid unit body imparts a surprisingly solid feel, and a semi-command seating position affords good sightlines in all directions. While flicking your eyes right instead of down to monitor speed and fuel levels requires some reorientation, it soon becomes second nature. Less so the xB's gaggle of micro-scaled radio buttons, although the new-for-2006 volume knob is at least one small step toward proper corrective action. Once dialed in, the six-speaker audio system merits props for volume and fidelity, with or without the optional Bazooka subwoofer. Those occupying the rear quarters should find much to their liking, as well. In addition to plenty of sprawl space, the seatbacks also provide a two-position recline feature.
The xB makes fairly impressive use of its econo-car-derived chassis bits. Front MacPherson struts and a rear torsion beam axle are nicely trimmed by anti-roll bars, and despite some on-center vagueness, the power steering provides decent feedback. Pressed enthusiastically into a corner, the xB pushes progressively. However, its low-slung architecture works hand in hand with the stability system to maintain a measure of poise with nary a hint of "tippiness." And serious factory-engineered handling bits are as close as one's local Toyota/Scion dealer. ABS disc/drum brakes with Electronic Brake force Distribution and Brake Assist circuitry provide the xB with reassuring stopping power. Rounding out the mix is a standard tire pressure monitoring system.
The xB is destined to find its prime buyers among the young. But a practical nature and Toyota's track record for creating vehicles that live a long and relatively trouble-free existence make it equally attractive to freer-thinking boomers and even post boomers who appreciate the superlative ingress/egress and overall efficiency. Ditto disgruntled soccer moms who harbor the same basic revulsion for SUVs as they do for conventional minivans. Even with factory-blessed powertrain add-ons in place, the xB will be better at seeing taillights than showing them, particularly those of energetic alternatives like a Chrysler GT Cruiser or Mini Cooper S. But for those smitten by its appearance, its character and/or its wide-ranging individualization potential, the xB represents one very enticing bit of very cost-effective business.
While its iconoclastic appearance and youthful option set clearly skew the xB toward Gen Y consumers, its outstanding total value story resonates with buyers of all ages.
Packaging efficiency Incredible value for money Perfect for personalization
Econocar underpinnings Modest performance Controversial styling
Changes for '06 are minor, and include three new wheel covers, a new audio head unit with rotator volume control knob, standard console-mounted mini-jack connector for portable music devices, and an available iPod connector.
The xB boasts myriad cosmetic personalization touches, from carbon-fiber interior/exterior appliques and aluminum pedals to neon footwell lighting and multi-color cupholder illumination. On the functional front, intake/exhaust enhancements, wheel/tire upgrades, and TRD-engineered suspension bits head the list, while luxo touches include leather upholstery, a six-disc CD changer and MP3 capability, XM satellite radio, and a dual-screen rear DVD entertainment system.