Scion xD delivers performance and style— all on a budget

It is nice to see that subcompact cars are becoming as much about fun as they are about frugality.

  • Feb. 17, 2011 6:00 p.m.

The 2011 xD

It is nice to see that subcompact cars are becoming as much about fun as they are about frugality.

With the launch of the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2, and the upcoming, all-new 2012 Hyundai Accent, this automotive segment is getting much more interesting.

Although not a volume seller, the Scion xD has recently joined the ranks and is, in my mind, one of the hippest in this genre.

It may be based on the Toyota Yaris platform, but shares none of its blandness either in styling or performance.

While the former is automotive valium, the xD, which starts out at $17,200, is a small shot of adrenaline, despite being the entry point to Scion’s three-car and soon to be four-car lineup.

Where the Yaris is all about innocuous curves and puppy-dog cuteness, the xD is more square, with big shoulders and sharper edges that give it a more aggressive, firmly planted look. It comes standard with 16-inch wheels (compared with 15-inchers on the Yaris), and like all Scions is a blank slate for customization.

Add a nice set of alloy wheels, rear spoiler, lower the suspension, and bolt on a TRD sport muffler (like my test car), and this vehicle starts to become everything the Yaris is not.

And under the hood, where the Yaris gets a mild-mannered 1.5-litre inline four (106 hp and 103 lb/ft), the xD gets the more potent Corolla engine: a 16-valve, DOHC 1.8-litre four cylinder that delivers 128 hp and 125 lb/ft of torque. This bests most of the segment, with only the Nissan Versa and Cube offering similar power.

In addition to the $535 sport muffler, my tester also came with the standard-equipped five-speed manual (four-speed automatic is $900 extra). So its performance may have enjoyed a slight tweak. Still, the xD is sufficiently quick off the line and as you climb through the gears, dishing out a raspy exhaust note along the way.

For people like me who enjoy this kind of thing, it is tempting to hold the gears a little longer just to hear it wail.

The act of shifting, however, involved one mild gripe that can be overcome with a driving glove. While I like the look of the optional TRD aluminum shifter knob ($65), at minus 20 degrees Celsius, this frozen chunk of metal takes about 30 minutes to warm up with the car heater blasting.

Note to Toyota’s PR department: perhaps you can reinstall the plastic unit, at least until spring.

The xD comes in a single trim level, but with a long list of dealer-installed Scion accessories and performance parts, there’s plenty of room to personalize. Still, the base unit is surprisingly well equipped.

All xDs get power windows, locks and keyless entry, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, multi-info display, dual glove boxes, Bluetooth and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA/SAT-ready audio system with USB and auxiliary inputs.

And on the safety front, the xD comes with antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, vehicle stability control, traction control and six airbags.

Inside, the xD feels roomy mind you but so does the Yaris. But the xD is wider and taller and with a longer wheelbase. Add in a more upright greenhouse and straighter roofline, and you get more shoulder room, headroom and knee room, front and back.

There’s also slightly more cargo room behind the rear 60/40 split-folding and reclining seats (310 litres vs 260 litres).

Drop the seats and you’ll find more than enough space for a week’s worth of camping gear or your next big-box shopping trip.

The rear hold also offers a cargo light and tie-down rings to help keep everything in place.

The passenger area provides a nice mix of textures and materials, with fabric inserts on the doors, metallic accents and simple, intuitive controls like the three large knobs for HVAC on the centre console.

Unlike the Yaris, the instruments are on the left, with a single gauge for the speedo and tach and two needles that sweep opposite sides of the dial. The areas on either side of this gauge include trip and fuel meters, but otherwise seem a bit empty.

The audio system sounds great, but I’m not sold on the faceplate and controls. Like other Scion units, this looks very aftermarket, and lacks the integrated look you’d expect in a Toyota product.

Buttons are also tiny and difficult to read on the fly, which is a problem for many of us outside of their twenty- and thirty-year-old target demographic.

One final grumble is the one-button “Blue Logic” Bluetooth system, which lacked the simplicity of the two-button call/hang-up systems found on most vehicles. Its voice recognition was also a bit dodgy, having trouble dealing with otherwise clear commands against the backdrop of road and exhaust noise.

But these gripes aside, the xD was peppy, agile and overall fun to drive. And with a thousand bucks or so in add-ons (including the “must-have” larger rear spoiler for $375), my test vehicle both looked and sounded like a tuner car that came in, well equipped, for under 20 grand.

Which is about the same price as a top trim Yaris, but with more style, more power and better toys.

If you’re looking for a subcompact that doesn’t blend in with the others, the xD is definitely worth a look.

At a glance

BODY STYLE: five-door hatchback

DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, front-wheel-drive

ENGINE: 1.8-litre, DOHC, 16-valve inline four cylinder (128 hp and 125 lb/ft of torque)

FUEL ECONOMY: manual 7.4/5.9/6.7L/100km (city/hwy/combined); manual 7.6/5.9/6.8L/100km (city/hwy/combined)

PRICE: $17,200, spoiler $375, TRD sport muffler $535, TRD aluminum shift knob $65


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