, Tue, 25 Jan 2005 08:00:00 PDT
A few years ago Toyota set out in it's usual way to find out what would attract "generation x" buyers with the idea of getting them young and keeping them. Well, as usual with the best laid plans, it didn't work quite as expected. But the results, a new brand called "Scion," are pretty interesting.
With the xB we had for a week the first thing that we noticed, as did a number of our neighbors is that the nose of the car looks like a sullen hound dog, a bit quirky for a car. But then if you think Japanese cars sold in the U.S. are about as exciting as a bar of soap you haven't seen some of the wild and ultra trendy style of the millisecond cars these folks sell in their home markets, so the front-end styling of the xBox excuse me xB is pretty mild in comparison.
As expected, exterior fit and finish were very good. And while the xB is small compared to most vehicles, it's interior space efficiency is superb. Climb in and it feels airy and open and spacious. The windshield offers a wide-screen panoramic view of the road.
The dash is center-mounted, not fancy, but very readable. All the controls are simple to understand and use, even if a few feel a bit crude and mechanical. The seats are comfortable and supportive, getting child safety seats in and out was a breeze. When it came to our expedition to IKEA, as usual we came home with more, larger and bulkier items than planned. We folded the smaller of the two rear seats and the little bugger loaded with ease.
Driving the car was a gas. The automatic was perfectly mated to the power range of the 1.5 liter engine. The car was a marvel through local traffic, and was one of the easiest vehicles we have ever had to park. Slight hills had it dropping a gear, moderate hills and up-ramps produced a loud engine that was not entirely pleasant. There was some noticeable wind and road noise at speed. And the same suspension settings that made the xB a delight to zip around town, made for a slightly bouncy ride on undulating Route 24 West from Walnut through the Caldicott Tunnel into Oakland. With two up it was annoying, but not terrible, with the part-load from IKEA it felt more stable.
At over 30 miles per gallon the car sipped fuel, using only of a tank after four days of kiddie-commute slogging traffic, short hops and one longer range shopping expedition. It suffered from some buffeting on very open roads (it IS a box) and a slightly jiggly ride on the worst road in the area. And the "Peanut Galley" protested the complete lack of cup-holders for back-seat occupants. But while the xB is no Mini Cooper in the handling department, it had bags of character and was a cheerful car to drive. For anyone looking for less expensive car that is frugal with gas, servicing, and general operational costs, has a large carrying capacity and lots of character the xB should definitely be on the their test drive list.