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2012 Scion xB (Toyota)
2012 Scion xB (Toyota)

Family wheels

Scion xB: Is it hip to be square? Add to ...

Toyota’s Scion brand is meant to appeal to young, urban hipsters. I, on the other hand, am old and – not unlike the Scion xB – square. But say I wanted to look cool dropping my kids off at soccer practice or picking up a bottle of Metamucil at Shoppers Drug Mart. Is the quirky xB a practical choice for a middle-aged dad with a wife, two kids and a dog?Let’s find out.

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The most salient feature of the xB – and the reason people either love it or hate it – is its boxy design. The car was introduced to the U.S. market in 2003, and helped to spawn rectangular rivals such as the Nissan Cube and Kia Soul.

The xB didn’t arrive in Canada until September, 2010, and is still something of a novelty here, judging by the comments it elicits. “That’s a really fun-looking car,” a neighbour said of our “Hot Lava” (orange) model as we were pulling out of the driveway.

Fun, sure. But it was the xB’s minivan-like silhouette that had me wondering how well it would stack up as a family hauler. Well, after a week-long workout that included a trip to cottage country, I can say that the xB has a lot of strengths, but falls short in a few areas.

Let’s start with the good.

The xB has an enormous back seat, providing ample room for my 9-year-old son, 7-year-old daughter and their respective knapsacks stuffed with road trip supplies. What’s more, thanks to the flat rear floor, our labrador retriever was able to stretch out without the annoyance of a middle hump most cars have. A pair of rear cup holders and a handy under-seat storage area were also convenient touches.

Unlike a minivan, however, there’s no third-row seating. You can comfortably fit three kids in the back, but three adults might be a squeeze, especially for the person sitting in the somewhat squashed middle position.

Up front, the seats are firm and the centre-mounted displays are easy to read. The car handles well and has a compliant ride, and the 158-hp, 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine makes the xB fairly quick. On the highway, the cabin is relatively quiet, with minimal road and wind noise.

Another thing to like about the xB is the price.

The base Scion xB retails for $18,360. Our test car came with a gate-style, four-speed automatic transmission and the “Release Series 9.0” package that includes “suede-style” seats, coloured seat stitching, illuminated exterior Scion “vehicle locator badges” and a cool honeycomb grill and side vent covers, pushing the price to $21,310.

Now let’s talk about some of the annoyances.

The xB’s base sound system was frustrating to use, with a separate power button (most cars have the on-off switch as part of the volume control) and a confusing joystick-style controller. When I tried to adjust the bass and treble, I instead got audio presets cryptically labelled “natural,” “hear” and “feel.” Huh? We had to read the manual to figure out what each setting meant. I eventually figured out how to tweak the bass and treble, but again, only after reading the manual. Even after my adjustments, however, the sound was just average.

Another disappointment was the Scion’s cargo space. For our cottage trip, we packed light but still had trouble cramming everything into the trunk. And no wonder: With the second-row seats in the upright position, the xB has just 328 litres of cargo space. By comparison, the diminutive Hyundai Accent hatchback has a much more generous 600 litres and the Honda Fit 583 litres.

With its large second-row seats folded down, the xB has an enormous cargo area. But that’s of no use when you’re travelling with a couple of kids.

Fuel economy is another area where the xB disappoints. When the vehicle was last redesigned several years ago, it got about a foot (0.3 metre) longer and 272 kilograms heavier, and fuel efficiency suffered as a result. The car is rated at 9.5 litres/100 km in the city and 7.2 on the highway, for a combined 8.5 litres/100 km.

Still, the xB gets a coveted “recommended” rating from Consumer Reports magazine, which notes that “reliability has been outstanding” and crash-test results have been “impressive.”

Bottom line: The xB is a solid, stylish car that should give you years of driving pleasure. If you have kids and drive long distances, however, you might be disappointed by the smallish trunk and mediocre fuel economy.

jheinzl@globeandmail.com

Tech specs: 2012 Scion xB

Type: Wagon

Base Price: $18,360; as tested, $21,310

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

Follow on Twitter: @johnheinzl

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