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car review

2012 Scion xBToyota

So Scion in Canada is picking up steam. Through the end of October, it had sold 4,907 vehicles in Canada; 2011 sales were 4,720.

Everything is rosy at Scion. "With another record month, the Scion brand continues to generate positive growth," said Larry Hutchinson, senior executive director at parent Toyota Canada.

See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. Those lines essentially sum up the public face of Toyota Canada. And I suppose it's tough to argue. Scion sales are up, correct? Toyota brand sales are up 24.3 per cent on the year. Lexus? Sales up nearly 14 per cent. Toyota has two of the top 10 best-selling cars in Canada (Corolla and Camry) and the RAV4 crossover is in the top 10 best-selling light trucks.

Scion has only been in Canada a couple of years, thus it's not surprising to see sales grow here. But in the United States, where Scion has had a roller-coaster ride, Scion officials seem to be a tad more forthcoming about the challenges facing Toyota's self-described "youth brand."

As Automotive News recently put it, "After glory years in 2005 and 2006, Scion sales swooned with the recession. Its youthful potential customers have had problems getting jobs, let alone credit. Plus, last year's tsunami crippled inventories of Scion's Japan-built vehicles."

Scion in the States peaked with sales of 173,034 in 2006; this year, it looks like sales are tracking to hit – wait for it – 70,000 or so. As the industry publication points out, the Kia Soul, "a boxy imitator of the Scion xB, handily outsells the entire Scion lineup." It's the same in Canada, by the way.

I like the xB very much and had that feeling reinforced during a recent test. But I'm far from being part of the 20- or 30-something target buyer. I have socks that old.

Indeed, the industry publication reports that "plenty of surveys show that Generation Y is fairly apathetic about the brand." The iQ minicar and sporty FR-S coupe are both new Scion additions, but the rest of the lineup is time-worn. I want to see Toyota's plans for the all-new xB compact hatch and xD subcompact hatch at the New York auto show next spring.

The good news for fans of boxy but good cars is that Scion's U.S. boss, Doug Murtha, is boffo on the box – the xB. "You do not have to worry about the box disappearing anytime soon," Murtha told Automotive News. "It doesn't have to stay in the lineup indefinitely, but it would not be a small decision to sunset that program."

Don't even think of it, Scion. Just make the current xB better. And what's there is already pretty useful – and as stylish as a brick.

My tester, listing for $18,360 and loaded with $2,950 in options – four-speed automatic transmission ($1,020) and a $1,930 package of options – stood out to me as perhaps the most functional four-door hatchback I've ever driven for less than $20,000 plus taxes and fees. Not only could I sit in a driver's seat with headroom for a 10-gallon hat, the xB has fully reclining front seats; a sliding centre armrest; a split/folding 60-40 back seat; under-seat storage; a rear flat floor with storage underneath; and more. Including air conditioning.

We are talking about the best economical expression of form-follows-function. Perhaps ever. There is a reason why barns are big and boxy; they hold lots of horses and hay. There is also a reason why the xB is boxy; it will hold four big adults and their golf clubs.

Or you can flip and fold and flatten the seats and use the xB as a $20,000 panel truck. Go ahead, head to the home reno store and grab a ladder or a few bags of pink insulation, perhaps a barbeque or a kitchen sink. Then stuff it all in the xB.

If you want to take a bunch of trips, back and forth, you won't pour your Freedom 55 plan into fill-ups, either. The 2.4-litre four-banger (158 horsepower) is perfectly adequate. Come on, now. Take a look at this thing. No one will challenge you for pink slips.

Just note that the xB uses regular gas and fuel economy is rated at 9.5 litres/100 km in the city, 7.2 on the highway. If the xB had any sort of aerodynamic quality, fuel economy might be better, but then this rig would not be as useful.

And user-friendly, too. That three-spoke steering wheel? It tilts and telescopes and comes with audio controls for the basic six-speaker stereo, complete with the auxiliary connection audiophiles insist upon. The cabin, sadly, is as black as my mood when working late on a Friday night, but by going with funereal colours, Scion saves money. Odd as the interior design looks, it's roomy and loaded with storage space.

Obviously, there's room to make the xB better and we'll see what Scion has in mind next spring. Something tells me Scion will show less care for youthful buyers, and more interest in the middle-agers who actually buy cars when they are brand new.

Tech specs

2012 Scion xB

Type: Compact four-door hatchback

Base price: $18,360 (freight $1,495)

Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 158 hp/162 lb-ft

Transmission: Four-speed manual or four-speed automatic ($1,020)

Drive: Front-wheel

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

Alternatives: Kia Soul, Hyundai Tucson, Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape


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