Not all the gawpers at Scion's natty little xA were upstanding citizens. Some were painted on walls; some were council members.
All would be justifiably cheerful -- these grins wouldn't be painted on -- if they were to find themselves behind the wheel of a five-door 2007 xA which left me asking, exactly when did small cars get this fun?
Maybe it's the lack of small cars on the U.S. market right now, with the major domestic carmakers offering little in the way of gas-savers with small footprints on the wallet and planet. Kia and Toyota lead the way with the Rio and Yaris respectively, and Daimler-Chrysler has long pledged to introduce its Smart model sooner though most probably later.
The xA, bless its cotton socks, is well nigh due for an upgrade, which it received in the form of a sparkling new xD apparently viewed by some 328 Scion owners at a private display in Miami beach in December.
But as all motoring journos were denied the pleasure of a junket to South Beach, I shall say no more on the subject.
Bearing that in mind, it's probably best to look at the xA as a useful second-hand buy or one you could probably swing a bargain on if you mention the xD project to your friendly neighborhood dealer.
Still, never having gotten behind the wheel of an xA, though I loved its sister the xB - also to be replaced soon, apparently - I was real surprised when I jumped in, put the foot down, and toddled off in heavy city center traffic.
First thing you notice is that this feels tight, like a real car should, none of this budget quirks that you can, really, no longer expect to encounter among the bigger carmakers. The steering works as it should; the interior doesn't look and feel cheap with lots of gauche seat cover patterns; there are no annoying blindspots; the stereo is not tinny.
In fact, there was a massive woofer in the back cargo area - though the dog could still fit in comfortably - which provided a great sound to the stereo that topped an easily cumstomizable glass-tinted stereo rack for all the record players and 8-tracks that young people fill their cars with nowadays.
You'll know this is exceedingly useful if you've ever fitted a post-production car stereo/woofer/amplifier. Scion's target market - mainly teenagers and young professionals - are more likely than most to do just that.
The stereo sits under a central dash that houses the speedometer and fuel dial and the like, an idea that took off a good few years ago and one that I'm not totally convinced by, though the dials were extremely clear and easy to read, even from a hurried half glance at speed.
Pull off and the 1.5-liter 108 horsepower engine propels the car to a smooth crawl while the excellent five-speed automatic box steps quickly in line to give a driving experience of a car twice its price. Its ride is springy, not lurchy or soft, adding up to a perky experience on the road. And remember, any number of post-production add-ons are easily customizable to stiffen or lower your chassis.
Its looks on the road aren't anything new, considering it's been little upgraded beyond a bonnet swoop or two since its
2003 release in California, 2004 nationwide. Looks as in any sector are important, but in the small car market it's the footprint that counts. And even with the five-door variant, it amounts to a 93.3-inch wheelbase.
Its footprint on the planet and wallet are easy too, with gas at 32 and 38 mpg town and highway respectively, and the outer dimensions don't translate into space gripes: you've got a good more than 40 inches of legroom up front, and more than enough in the back for two adults to sit comfortably.
Options as across the Scion line are good as well as flashy, with side airbags and interior upgrades complemented by the iPod holder and hook-up. Crash ratings average four stars, excellent for a supermini; warranty is five year, 65,000 for the powertrain, 36,000 for basic.
Rated as a good, solid buy by most car sites, the xA really excels on customer satisfaction and ownership ratings, frequently scoring above nine out of 10 across the board.
And for an asking price of just over $12,000 MSRP, which you can probably negotiate down a way, a smile may be permanently pasted on your face too.