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2011 Scion xD

The misfit: Consider Scion’s other models instead Add to ...

Introduced to the U.S. market in 2002 and debuting in Canada last year, Scion is Toyota’s attempt to re-invent itself to appeal to younger buyers.

Interestingly, it appeared south of the border well before Toyota’s current problems with recall notices and various technical glitches, and Scion models are hip, affordable, fun to drive and, so far, recall-free. But as a highly-positioned Toyota exec explained to me recently, recall notices are now a fact of life for all manufacturers. They’re something car makers will have to live with and handle accordingly.

But I digress. Scion buyers in Canada currently have three models to choose from: xB, xD and tC. All three share platforms, and the xD and xB are four-door hatchbacks, while the tC is a sport coupe. I recently drove the xD, which is kind of a mini-wagon/subcompact/-hatchback. In fact, I’m not sure exactly what category it fits into.

It looks like a wagon, but is really too small to be practical. Storage space, for example, is pegged at 308 litres, which isn’t that much. By way of comparison, the Toyota Matrix boasts 560 litres, and almost 1,400 litres of space with the back seat folded down. So, even though the xD seats five, there isn’t much room left over, and you know it’s going to be snug with a full complement of passengers.

Power is supplied by a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder that develops 128 horsepower and there are two transmission choices: four-speed automatic and five-speed manual. I drove the latter, and that’d be my choice were I in the market for this kind of vehicle. For one thing, it’s $900 less than the autobox; for another, it’s more in keeping with the overall flavour of the xD, and Toyota – er, Scion – builds some of the more useable manual gearboxes on the market. That said, fuel economy numbers are virtually the same for either transmission choice.

This drivetrain isn’t going to set the world on fire, and the xD offers less performance than its stablemates, both of which have significantly larger engines. The xB, in fact, delivers 30 more horses than this model, and, given the fact that their base price tags are very close ($17,200 for the xD versus $18,270 for the xB), one wonders why the xD is even on the market in this form. At least the xB has some measure of practicality and usefulness.

Moving right along, basic equipment level is high; air conditioning, power door locks, cruise control, keyless entry and full instrumentation are all standard items, and the interior of the xD is about as straightforward and uncomplicated as these things get, with large rotary dials for heat controls, easy-to-get-at flow-through ventilation ports and power window controls on the doors, where they should be.

That’s one of the things I actually liked about this car when I got behind the wheel: I didn’t have to spend three hours familiarizing myself with fussy climate control systems, unco-operative seat position presets, complex communication devices or undecipherable systems monitors. With the xD – and the xB and tC – for all that, you get in, start the car and are on your way, pronto.

And for those that simply must have everything, you can order things like upgraded stereo, heated leather front seats and Bluetooth.

For performance buffs, Toyota’s skunk works – TRD – has a roster of go-faster goodies such as lowering springs ($335), sport exhaust ($535) and a rear spoiler ($375). None of these items are serious performance enhancers, but they will help xD owners make their cars stand out in the crowd.

Which is where the xD will be spending most of its time, no doubt. This is a city vehicle, with admirable handling qualities around town and rabbit-quick reflexes. It’s a snap to parallel park, offers good peripheral visibility and is lively enough to get from light to light with some degree of authority.

On the highway, it’s a little on the buzzy side, and reserve power is a little hard to come by with more than two people in the car, but there you go. Fuel economy, always a concern, is 6.7 litres/100 km, combined, which is pretty good, all things considered.

But what would make this car a real standout is, well, more power. Stuff a bigger four-cylinder engine in it, or bolt on a turbocharger or supercharger, and you’d have something. Toyota seems to be a little tentative in its marketing of the Scion models in Canada – maybe it wants to test the waters first, to see how things work out, but as it sits, the xD is kind of an oddball: too small to be useful, too slow to be a hot rod, too ungainly to be a drifter.

It does, however, have a reasonable price tag, and that’s something that all buyers – regardless of their demographic – can appreciate.

2011 Scion xD

Type: Subcompact, four-door hatchback wagon

Base Price: $17,200; as tested, $18,724

Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 128 hp/125 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.4 city/5.9 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Kia Soul, Nissan Cube, Volkswagen Golf four-door, Toyota Matrix, Scion xB, Kia Forte5, Mazda2

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Why complicate your car? More bling for your thing and extra comfort means extra cash

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