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2011 Scion xB (Toyota)
2011 Scion xB (Toyota)

2011 Scion xB

Looks like a box. Does it drive like one? Add to ...

Of the three different models in Scion's new Canadian lineup, the xB is arguably the most evocative and memorable.

As well as standing out in a crowd, it was - when it was introduced in the United States - the first vehicle to embody the "hip to be square" body style now found in models like the Honda Element, Kia Soul and Nissan Cube.

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But first, a few words about Scion in Canada.

Although Toyota introduced this division in the U.S. eight years ago, it's only just now making its way into the Great White North.

There are two main reasons for the delay, according to Toyota. First, it wanted to see how things went in the U.S. before it introduced Scion to the relatively small Canadian market. Second, the Generation Y-ers who are the primary target for these vehicles apparently hadn't reached their full demographic potential in Canada by 2002.

And, third, Toyota didn't want to go through all the effort of setting up dealerships, building an advertising campaign, bringing in service personnel and all the rest to address a market that might not be there to begin with. As it turned out, it worried needlessly. To date, the company has sold more than 700,000 of its Scion models in the U.S., and those Generation Y-ers that the company has been courting so assiduously have responded enthusiastically and positively. And just to clarify: apparently, a Generation Y-er is not the same as an echo-boomer. Different groups, different sensibilities.

Whatever they're called, in Canada, that market is a little tougher. Apparently, Gen Y-ers in this neck of the woods aren't predisposed to buy cars in the first place, and many are still content to ride their bicycles or skim along on skateboards. They do not see cars as a necessity, and public transit suits many Gen Y-ers just fine. Plus, they have "notoriously" bad credit, and just haven't jumped onto the consumer bandwagon with the same gusto as their parents. Toyota concedes that Y-ers are a tough crowd to sell a car to.

The other big question that lingers is: why not sell Scion models with a Toyota badge? Surely, its current troubles notwithstanding, Toyota has one of the most enviable reputations in the business and a car with Toyota stamped on it is usually a guarantee of success.

Again, it's about the demographics. Toyota's marketing mavens reckon that if their parents buy something, then Generation Y won't have anything to do with it. The last thing in the world they want to be seen driving is a Camry or Corolla.

But back to the xB. This is a functional mobile box with four doors and a hatchback, and is powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. It does not have an all-wheel-drive option, and the back seats fold down flat. The one-piece rear tailgate swings up to reveal almost 308 litres of cargo volume and the xB is utilitarian without being bleak.

Although it's aimed at physically active Gen Y-ers, the xB bound to appeal to anyone that needs to move stuff or people on a regular basis. When Honda introduced its Element, a few years back, it too was ostensibly aimed at active Y-ers who cycled, surfed, boarded and skated as part of their lifestyle. It ended up being the vehicle of choice for aging baby boomers and garage-sale trolling grannies, and the xB, despite Toyota's marketing insights, may enjoy the same fate.

But what's interesting about the xB is the pricing structure. According to Toyota - er, make that Scion - the price quoted by the company is all-in, and includes standard features such as air conditioning, cruise control, power door locks, tilt-telescoping steering, power windows with one-touch up/down feature on the driver's side, Bluetooth, and a full whack of safety features. Apparently, there are no options and what you see is what you get.

However, you can also order leather interior with heated front seats, an engine block heater, upgraded stereo, rorty exhaust, glitzy 18-inch alloy wheels, lowering kit, heavy-duty clutch and so on. These extras, however, are classed as accessories, not options. You say tomato, I say tomatoe. Base price for the 4A model I drove is $18,270, with another $1,020 for the automatic transmission.

A few observations about the xB. First up, assembly quality is first-rate (like all Scions, the xB is made in Japan), performance is nimble and agile, there is good peripheral visibility, and the xB delivers decent, but not exceptional, fuel economy: 9.5 litres/100 km in the city, and 7.2 on the highway for both the manual and automatic transmission versions. I drove the autobox, and found the power delivery to be a little on the snatchy side, but this is a lively automobile -to a point.

And at just more than 18 large to start, it's a lot of car for the money. That's something that transcends all demographic categories.

2011 Scion xB

Type: Compact, four-door hatchback wagon

Base Price: $18,270; as tested: $20,815

Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 158 hp/162 lb-ft

Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy: (litres/100 km): 9.5 city/7.2 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Element, Kia Soul, Nissan Cube, Volkswagen Golf four-door, Toyota Matrix

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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