With the launch of the first-generation xB for 2004, Scion - Toyota's youth division - made a bold grab for young buyers. Older folks, they figured, wouldn't fall for the xB's strictly-boxy profile. Neither would they accept its mild-mannered engine and pedestrian performance. Young folks, they surmised, could be encouraged to savor the xB as a foundation for add-on accessories. So, Scion would market the car largely to the customization crowd.
Well, those marketers were mistaken. Though plenty of xBs have indeed wound up in the hands of 20-somethings, an awful lot are being driven by people in their middle to senior years. Why? Because the boxy shape was strictly sensible. That early xB was easy to get into, easy to see out of, and could carry passengers and cargo with ease, compared to a lot of cars on the market.
Except for a few leftovers, Scion essentially sat out the 2007 model year with the xB, awaiting a total redesign. When it first appeared at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2007, some wondered if the designers and engineers had lost their way, abandoning the elements that had made the original so appealing. Viewed from a distance, at least, the 2008 xB looked a bit too curvy, a bit too big, not boxy enough.
Fans of the first-generation xB need not worry. In just about every way, the 2008 version is even better than the original. Instead of harming or losing the original concept, Scion developers have ironed out a few small wrinkles and transformed the xB into one of the most satisfying - and heartwarming - vehicles around.
Adding a few inches definitely hasn't extracted any of the early xB's inherent charm. Boosting engine output by 55 horsepower gives it performance to match, if not exceed, any likely competitors. Second-row passenger space is simply enormous, with room beneath the front seats not only for toes but for a sizable section of stretched-out leg.
Solidly assembled, the 2008 xB rides comfortably even through harsh urban pavement, soaking up most bumps and transmitting only moderate motion to occupants when it hits the hard ones. Slipping inside is, if anything, even easier than before. Steering is light in feel but long on confident control.
Most important, it's sheer joy to look at, to sit in, and to drive. Sure, it's not for everyone. Millions of car-shoppers simply won't drive home a box, no matter how curvy its corners have become or how much it's praised by reviewers or owners. Most of them probably wouldn't even consider a test-drive that might easily overcome all their objections.
Good thing, too. Quirky cars shouldn't sell in vast numbers. They're not meant for the mainstream. And in the case of the xB, they shouldn't be limited to young people. Mature folks also deserve an opportunity to enjoy its many attractions, from quiet running to spacious interior and confident performance.
Scion's engine delivers plenty of appropriate energy not only for urban driving, but for highway passing/merging, working masterfully with the old-fashioned but highly competent four-speed automatic transmission. No, you won't get shoved back in the seat as you tromp the pedal, but there's no shortage of useful exuberance. Apart from very slight vibration at idle and a tiny subdued rumble while accelerating lightly, the xB is quiet, too.
Light but confident handling tends to produce a smile on its own, and the ride is comfortable over smaller bumps. Even as the surface grows harsher, the xB seldom becomes troublesome at all.
Because of the xB's profile, the driver gets a commanding view of the road without sitting way above the ground, as in an SUV. Front-seat space is plentiful all around. Back seats fold easily, almost flat, for super cargo space. All told, there's little to complain about, except for a brake pedal that doesn't feel quite as linear and positive as it should. Some drivers just cannot get used to the center-mounted gauges, but the digital speedometer is easy to read and the others need not be consulted all that often.
Prices have gone up a bit, but considering the increased power, bigger tires, and additional equipment, it's a reasonable increase. As in the first-generation, too, this is an easy car to find in a parking lot.
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