2005 Scion Xb - Review / Road Test

Scion's Xb parked outside another design classic

Sydney's Opera House. The J. Paul Getty Center.  Indeed, The Walt Disney Concert Hall.

All of the above  can be considered design masterpieces, but each  split public opinion on its unveiling. Which goes to show there may be a fine line between love and hate,  but   the  Scion Xb has  enough fine lines for any design enthusiast to love.

The Xb's radical design spoke, or rather shouted, for itself  on 400-or-so miles of Los Angeles city streets and freeways. With looks unlike any model currently on the market,  Scion's Xb still turns heads two years after its release. 

Alongside The Walt Disney Concert Hall

Personally, I've always admired the concept, which has a certain heritage in  Mercedes G-class  and precedes Land Rover's new mid-range LR3. Some would compare it with Honda's Insight, though I've yet to see the similarity.

All car-design starts with a line, or so the commercials say, and it took a brave design team to present the initial Xb concept in Japan a few years back, as it also did to unveil the Xb's cousin, the Bb concept, at  Tokyo this week.

Both can be considered leaps forward from the 80's-through-90's fad of  car designers around the world punching coordinates into computer-aided design programs, which  resulted in the bland models so common to the period, mentioning none in particular (for everybody, of course, has their favorite lament).

Focus on the fine lines

Though the   Xb's straight edges have been rounded for the Bb, more importantly the two wagons allow Scion's parent group,  Toyota, to showcase more radical/sporty badges to younger drivers with its Scion offshoot, rolled out in 2003, while focusing its main range on high-selling sedans such as the Corolla and Avalon.

Alongside its heavily touted looks, the Xb test car provided the best all-round visibility of any compact car I have driven, period. It is also the easiest to park, no easy claim in my long experience of driving small Japanese and European-built wagons, such is the highfalutin life of a journalist.

But this dual achievement is  useful for attracting Scion's two target audiences: teenagers and young professionals who will spend a lot of time driving, and parking, in the city. Scion's stated fuel economy of 31mpg in the city and 35mpg on the highway also helps.

The Xb's  47.5 sq-ft of toughened glass,  in my tape-measured estimation, ensure that blind-spots are minimized for safer driving, while parking was a snip with potential obstructions easily seen and avoided.  Perhaps only the bridge of the Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach, affords a better view.

The Xb is also about 155in long, which more meaningfully reveals that this car carries a smaller footprint than its people-carrying ability would suggest, which is important if you've ever tried to reverse-park a full-size MPV or, I guess, the Queen Mary.

Alongside the Queen Mary

The roomy five-door  cabin seats two and a half adults comfortably in the back, with headroom above 45 inches in the front and rear, and   plenty of shoulder room by way of its 49in width.  The back seats can fold fully flat.

Interior trim  is notably refined for the Xb's price bracket, where seat coverings and floormats can tend toward the gaudy.  The cockpit's clean lines and brushed-steel effect plastic worked well alongside some innovative ergonomics, with the Xb's  milometer and other gages neatly packaged in a circular console to the driver's center-right.

Pin-sharp steering delivered through the tilt and height-adjustable wheel  column  is backed by bucket seats and a driving position which was pleasingly lower than I had expected.

Xb details

The back seats easily fold flat

The Xb performed capably enough on LA's freeways, though its four-cylinder 1.5-liter VVT-I engine can be less than stealthy at higher speeds.  Then again, nobody expects this to be a BMW.

A simple remedy to this is to order the Bazooka Tube Sub-Woofer that came with the test vehicle as a $429 option. If you need further distraction, you could also order the illuminated cup-holders at $55.  

Scion is at the forefront of the increasing trend toward after-market customization in the  Japanese compact sector.  Alongside alloy wheels at $665 and 6-disc Pioneer changer for $395, you can also customize by way of a stainless-steel exhaust tip, bumper and pillar appliques (funky textures, basically), side-body graphics, or  even a Yakima ski and snowboard rack.

Xb customizations

Test car came with power doors and windows, A.C., keyless entry and sports seats as standard, alongside safety features front airbags and side-impact beams, for $14,480, with upgrades taking it to $17,552 on the road.

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