Road Test

2011 Scion xB marches to the beat of a different drummer

Beneath its blocky exterior the xB gets it mechanicals and suspension from the Toyota Corolla/Matrix

2011 Scion xB

The Scion brand is new to Canada for 2011. There are three distinct vehicles in the lineup, each priced and equipped to appeal to young first-time buyers. All are based on existing Toyota vehicles and offered in 'mono-spec' or fully loaded trim.

The xB slots into the middle of the trio between the xD hatchback and the two-door tC coupe. While Scion is new to Canada it first appeared in the United States for the 2003 model year in California, nationally a year later. This is the second generation xB, first appearing south of the border in 2007. That update included making it larger and giving it more power.

The xB looks completely unlike any other Toyota product sold on these shores, which is the intent, but beneath that blocky look it gets it mechanicals and suspension from the Corolla/Matrix siblings.

Four wide, square doors allow easy entry and exit and the squared-off shape results in loads of headroom, an excess actually. As in the XD, the instrument cluster resides in the middle of the instrument panel, rather than on the more sensible and safe driver?fs side. As is becoming more common, there is no coolant temperature gauge which I like to monitor on cold mornings to see when to expect some heat.

The xB is priced – and equipped – to attract young first-time buyers at $18,270 plus freight and delivery. As such, refinement took a back seat to cost. There are lots of hard plastic surfaces and more than a modicum of wind and road noise. But I suspect the buyer interested in this vehicle would be more than happy to trade that off for the lower payment and the different look of the package.

And that does not mean skimping. Scion pricing and equipment levels have been set so buyers get a full kit without having to check off and pay for a raft of options – pick a color and transmission. That's it.

The base $18,270 price of the xB includes power windows, locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescope steering and a six-speaker Pioneer audio system.

As is the case with all 2011 Toyota products a full array of safety features is also included: ABS, stability and traction control and six airbags. Scion claims there are no options, but you can get heated leather seats as an accessory!

Seating is nominally for five, but four will be more comfortable. There is a decent amount of legroom in the second row and a large cargo area aft of that, even with the second row seats in use. Of course with the tall roof and boxy shape this can be expanded to a veritable cavern with the second row seats stowed.

The rear door is wide and tall making it possible to load the very large items the cargo bay can accommodate. One really useful feature is the ability to fold the front passenger seat back flat making it possible to carry long and bulky objects that could not be accommodated in much larger vehicles without that ability.

The suspension is a good compromise between ride and handling. Ride quality is pleasant and devoid of the harshness that usually accompanies compact vehicles that handle as well as this. While not an ideal candidate for weekend slalom competition the xB is adroit in tight quarters and at higher speeds it doesn?ft feel like the tall box it is.

The xB has plenty of poke thanks to a 2.4-litre four and, in the case of the test vehicle, a five-speed manual gearbox. With 158 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque, it doesn?ft need to be revved to the heavens to get along but has plenty of low-end grunt making for effortless getaways. There is also sufficient power to pass or climb long hills without having to revert to a lower gear.

The clutch is progressive in take-up and shift linkage clearly defined. The available automatic is a four-speed which is short at least one gear in this day and age.

The tester had a big carbon-fibre-look shift knob - $85 extra. It also boasted a $600 ?gsport muffler?h which resulted in a pleasant but not loud sound and a $390 spoiler which is purely visual as the xB is not capable of the speeds at which such a device becomes useful. Accessories, not options.

Over a 350-km test route in sub-zero and windy conditions, I averaged 8.2 litres/100 km.

Toyota has positioned Scion as a unique brand and only a few Toyota stores will sell them. Those interested in Toyota quality and reliability now have a chance to enjoy those attributes in a more expressive package.

Steering is light and easy at low speeds, and predictably overboosted on the highway, and the brakes · four wheel discs · have good stopping power and an easy-to-modulate pedal. Handling is economy-grade fun: the xB won·t out-slalom a Mini Cooper, but is surprisingly fun to toss around, considering its tall shape. A notable amount of road noise finds its way into the cabin at highway.

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