Scion’s hip cube car also a practical family hauler

For a few years now, I’ve wanted to get my hands on a “toaster.” No, not the appliance, but the Scion xB, the funky little cube car, that keeps popping up (pardon the pun) on TV and in the movies as a ‘ride of choice’ among the young, hip and urban.

  • Feb. 10, 2011 3:00 p.m.

The 2011 Scion xB boasts a unique look that is ripe for customization. The base model is well equipped

For a few years now, I’ve wanted to get my hands on a “toaster.” No, not the appliance, but the Scion xB, the funky little cube car, that keeps popping up (pardon the pun) on TV and in the movies as a ‘ride of choice’ among the young, hip and urban.

It’s the signature Scion, the one that typically comes to mind when you mention the brand.

And its iconic boxy shape, which you either love or hate, has gained a huge following south of the border, often pimped up with big alloy wheels, spoilers, lowering kits, sport mufflers and the occasional “got toast?” bumper sticker.

Until recently, none of the Scion lineup has been available in Canada, except for a few that have made it here from the U.S. where they’ve been selling since 2003.

The xB, like all Scion vehicles, is targeted at the younger buyer.

But despite Toyota’s decision to align their marketing efforts with youth culture and promote the brand at handpicked sports, music, art and fashion venues, not to mention using social networking and their groovy website, the average buyer is still north of 35.

Young for Toyota, but still not a kid.

I’m over 40, have two young children, live in suburbia and, sorry Toyota, appreciate the xB. And I don’t care if it diminishes the car’s “cool factor.”

Setting aside all the bling and performance accessories you can order to tart up the vehicle, the xB makes a surprisingly good family hauler. And you get a ton of standard content for a starting MSRP of $18,270.

Basic features include keyless entry, power locks and windows, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, outside temp, six-speaker 160-watt AM/FM/CD Pioneer audio system with USB port, aux port and steering wheel controls, Bluetooth, power heated side mirrors with built-in signals, and rear wipers which are a must this time of year.

The xB also gets a full suite of safety features such as four wheel disc brakes with ABS; electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist; vehicle stability control; tire pressure monitoring system and six airbags.

The xB may have performance aspirations, but it’s not overpowered. That being said, its 2.4-litre, 16-valve DOHC inline four cylinder delivers a respectable 158 hp and 162 lb/ft of torque, getting the xB up to speed smartly and providing reasonable passing power.

This powerplant is mated to a standard-equipped five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic for another $1,020. The latter seems a bit yestertech, as I would have expected a five-speed autobox this late in the game.

My choice would be to save the money and spend it on upgrading the standard 16-inch steel rims and wheelcovers with a nice set of alloys.

Despite the xB’s compact footprint, the interior seems cavernous. For this we can thank the car’s boxy shape as its nearly perpendicular sides offer more space than the inwardly tapered greenhouses and sloped rooflines of typical wagons and hatchbacks.

The xB is also a tall vehicle at 1645 mm, nearly 100mm taller than the Matrix on which it is based. Consequently, there’s loads of headroom front and back, along with plenty of knee room in the rear.

In front, you get well-bolstered sport seats with height adjustment for the driver. The seating position is high and upright, with excellent visibility of the road ahead.

The instrument cluster is positioned in the centre, but unlike the Yaris which also has this feature, it seemed a better fit.

I didn’t find myself always looking left for the information.

The speedo’s large digital display is easy to read, and it is also joined by a tach, fuel gauge and clock with outside temperature, not to mention a multi-information display with range, average speed and fuel economy, which at the time was 10.1 litres per 100 km combined.

HVAC controls on the centre stack are simple and intuitive, consisting of three large knobs, conveniently angled towards the driver.

The audio system, on the other hand, includes tiny buttons and shares none of this simplicity. It delivers excellent sound quality, but lacks that integrated ‘factory-installed’ look, appearing more like an aftermarket unit.

In back, the 60/40 split folding seats drop for a flat cargo floor with four tie-downs and cargo light. Lift the rear floor panel for a hidden compartment, ideal for hiding valuables.

Rather than swinging out like a fridge door, the hatch lifts up, and with its wide opening and low liftover height, the xB is easy to load.

The vehicle is also agile in city traffic, with precise steering and stable cornering. The cabin is reasonably quiet, with less wind noise than I would have expected from a tall box design.

What does the future hold for the xB and for Scion in Canada? With a total of 679 vehicles sold (including 367 xBs) from September 28 until the end of 2010, there’s likely much room for growth.

Maybe it’s because I’m a newspaper guy—with an obvious bias for print that I’m not sold on the value of their hipster marketing.

Sales of the xB have held to pretty modest levels at 82 for the month of January 2011, compared with 2146 Corollas and 1360 Matrix hatchbacks.

On a more positive note, recent stats show that 71 per cent of Canadian Scion owners are new to the Toyota family, which is what the youth brand was expected to do.

I agree with the company’s efforts to attract the younger buyer, but I’m also concerned that in their desire to sell a message to the ‘in crowd,’ they may be missing those of us over 40 who still appreciate Scion brand values, along with the funky style, practicality and value for the dollar.

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