LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- This is wild: It's Saturday evening on The Strip -- that glitter-gulch venue of Las Vegas Boulevard lined with over-the-top resort hotels and casinos sprouting replicas of the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower, the towering campanile from St. Marco's in Venice, even a pyramid from Egypt -- and traffic on the daylight-bright thoroughfare is jamming with way-cool cars pulsating from serious on-board audio kits.
Our vehicle, squeezing into the center of the pack, also throbs in deep beats from its own sounds stoked by tunes off our iPod and tracked by the upgraded Alpine Premium audio kit through multiple speakers, while the cool cabin glows from subtle light of a light kit which even defines a console cupholder.
This one seems slick too, despite eensy-weensy proportions in the form of a wild-style box on wheels sporting a blunt snout, slab sides and a high beltline for the tall cabin housing four doors and a tailgate plus a table-flat roof which floats over a narrow ring of windows.
It's the souped-up and stretched 2010 iteration of xB, that urban utility wagon by Scion.
That's the sub-line of Toyota, sort of a brand within a brand to showcase custom-cool cars pitched to that 20-something market called Generation Y.
The original xB debuted in California in 2003 and quickly became The Cool One, the crate you love to drive, a mobile dorm room, a customizer's dreamboat with a head-swimming list of add-on body kits and after-market accessories, even (as spied in Phoenix, Ariz.) a wee taxi not much bigger than a steamer trunk.
And Scion the brand -- skewed to the youth market with internet marketing campaigns, low price points yet high content and non-negotiable MSRPs -- soared to success, selling more than 170,000 vehicles a year by 2006.
Yet a survey of xB owners revealed a wish list of changes for the box-car's make-over, which came with 2008 issues: "Small may be cute but bigger is better for cabin space as well as pedal power," they confided.
So xB stylists at Toyota's Calty design house in California and Kanto Auto Works in Japan went to work on supersizing the Scion box.
The result became the Generation 2 xB of 2008 which was notably larger than the Generation 1 xB, with a longer wheelbase and more cabin space, and a new engine that delivered 50 percent more horsepower.
The xB of 2010 is essentially an extension of that 2008 Generation 2 model, although there are upgrades aboard (including four disc brakes) and more standard features despite price tags which mirror the 2008 editions.
All Scions carry a long list of standard features including power steering, power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, a cruise control unit and remote keyless entry device, air conditioning, a steering wheel that tilts and houses audio controls, plus the four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock brake system (ABS) and eight air bags surrounding riders on front and rear seats.
The xB of 2010 still looks like a small box on wheels, like the original xB although the package, with styling lines borrowed from the t2B concept car seen at the 2005 New York International Auto Show. It shows softly rolled angles to separate the flat flanks and decks, a tall beltline with rather narrow windows, and pronounced fender bumps.
Most striking is the face: It's monochromatic, entirely smooth and chrome-free with the fat lip of fascia set low and tinted to the body color and a narrow horizontal slit for a center grille filled with black mesh, as unusual shapes for the multi-lens headlamp clusters wrap around front corners.
Inside, the four-seat compartment feels airy and spacious, despite overall dimensions which tie the xB to the itsy-bitsy class.
But the wheelbase length stretches to 102.4 inches and the overall length runs to 167.3 inches with the width measuring over 69 inches.
This sets up a large platform not only to enhance the vehicle's stability and ride quality but to forge surprisingly generous room for riders in the cabin.
Driver and a companion sit on contoured buckets separated by a floor-mounted console and followed by a bench in back with room for three plus seatbacks which split and fold to expand the aft cargo bay.
The rear cargo section holds 21.7 cubic feet but with rear seatbacks folded it expands to 69.9 cubic feet.
There are a number of stow spots -- like a convenience tray for the driver, a glove box, console box and front door bins. Then a tray concealed below the back bench houses out-of-sight items like a laptop or camera.
This Scion feels fun to drive, particularly in an urban environment on city streets. It zips to speed with a quick run through the lower gears, while handling seems acute with responsive steering conducive to quick-cut maneuvers.
xB's zip stems from a thrifty but lively 2.4-liter four-in-line engine with dual cams and Toyota's valve wizardry under the label of VVTL-i for variable valve timing and lift with intelligent control.
The plant produces 158 hp at 6000 rpm and torque of 162 lb-ft at 4000 rpm through the standard manual five-speed or optional electronically controlled four-speed automatic transaxle with sequential shifting.
It qualifies for ULEV-II (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) status and delivers fuel economy numbers up to 28 mpg.
High-tech electronic controls include electric power steering (EPS) and standard safety gear such as vehicle stability control (VSC), traction control (TRAC), and the ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (EBA).
There's more value for the 2010 xB due to a new standard Pioneer head unit for the audio system and no increase for xB's base price. Also new is the optional Alpine Premium audio unit that's wired and ready to accommodate a navigation system and back-up camera.
New gear aboard the 2010 version includes an organic electroluminescent (OEL) screen, USB connectivity, Advanced Sound Retriever (ASR) and a subwoofer RCA output. It also has USB and auxiliary (AUX) ports on the center console so you may link to a portable music collection through the xB's six Pioneer speakers.
The MSRP for a 2010 xB begins at $15,750 with a manual transmission. Add the automatic shifter and that figure rises to $16,700.