The Scion xB Through the Eyes of its Target Customer

By Jason Lu

11.11.2008

Members of Generation-Y, or the Millennials, are often described as tech-savvy, self-conscious, up-to-date consumers. I do not see anything wrong with the image and I actually take it as another way of saying that we are forward-moving, fast-paced, and diverse. I am part of this Generation-Y demographic. Our possessions say it all. The phones, PSPs, Wiis, and portable music players are part of our everyday lives, and unsurprisingly, Toyota wants to be part of it too. The Scion brand is aimed at imitating these youthful techno-gadgets. Their cars strive to be unique and come ready with little charms like iPod jacks and six-speaker stereo systems. Scions are cute, fuel-efficient, simple to operate and quite funky. In fact, they are marketed as “Portable Boom Boxes.” Some driver’s education programs have taken note of Scion’s perceived appeal to the young population and now use fleets of Scions. But when I was at Swerve Drivers Ed, I hated the xB every second of the twelve hours that I had to endure in it.

The technological gadgets and computer games that the younger population spends money on have life spans of little more than two or three years. Unfortunately, the money that goes along with it is also short-lived. So when it comes to a large purchase such as a car, it needs to last. A driving machine that is going to accompany me for the next five to ten years will need to be extra-appealing and extra-timeless than are the usual throw-away appliances. I need to be able to look at the car long-term and love it with all my heart. So when I first faced the bloated chin of Scion’s flagship vehicle, the 2008 Scion xB, at Swerve Drivers Education, I cringed. The xB caught my eye, but not really in a good way. It seems as if its shape will grab attention for the first few days, then fade away like the techno-gadgets that it emulates. As much as I tried to convince myself that you can somehow improve the car’s appearance with aftermarket add-ons, I still couldn’t get over the blandness and the weirdness. I suddenly felt uncomfortable with Toyota saying that young people like me would be attracted to this car. It’s almost like the company saying that we youngsters don’t have expectations for timeless styling and proper design. I will admit that I tend to be a bit more opinionated and judgmental than most teens, and I don’t speak for the entire young population, but I expected much more from Scion.

Taking my first drivers education class, the instructor from Swerve said that we should always do a complete walk-around of the car before driving. Following procedure, I started at the front of a “Super White” 2008 base xB. My first reaction was that it looked awfully similar to something else, but I could not think of what it was. It looked so boxy and bubbly at the same time that I wondered if the designers were only given rulers and protractors. The protruding headlights did not help either, almost like looking into the eyes of a puffer fish. I was so dismayed with the chubby design and the overly large bumper that I forgot to follow directions and check if there was anything leaking out from under the car, leading me to lose points on my pre-drive evaluation.

The side profile wasn’t much of an improvement. All it did was help me recall what this car reminded me of: The white Kenmore washing machine upstairs in the laundry room, which looks exactly the same, just a tad shorter. I was told to check the tires for proper inflation, but was distracted when my eyes were diverted toward the rims. They weren’t actual rims, but wheel covers, which I don’t think belong on a car in this price range. Obviously, this was a base model xB, but for the large amount of money that it calls for already (starting at almost $17,000) and the little appeal that it appears to have, there should at least be aluminum wheels. To my relief, there were power-folding mirrors, which should be useful in a high school parking lot. After earning a 3 out of 5 points for the pre-drive vehicle evaluation (I was blatantly fuming at the car rather than actually checking for problems), I hesitantly crawled inside.

And I thought Chrysler interiors were bad.

I will admit, my room is not all that clean, but if I were to have a car, it would (and should) be my more-comfortable alternative to the pigsty. That is certainly not the case with the xB though. I would much rather sit in a school bus. The interior does not do a great job with the first impressions it leaves. Behold the dark, plastic wonderland made darker by Seattle’s cloudy day. It’s a smorgasbord of semi-synthetic organic polymers, and you are free to pick from any shape and size of any color, as long as it is a shade of black. The interior door panel contains a massive, single-color, molded, piece of plastic that tries to mimic different textures, such as cloth and leather. To be honest, it’s quite convincing and had me fooled for a few seconds until the flash and seams caught my eye. Trying not to complain, I followed the instructor’s next directions. I locked the doors, rolled up the windows, and to my surprise, found that the buttons I just pressed were straight out of my dad’s 2008 Toyota Sienna AWD Limited. Thinking that Toyota ripped us off by using cheap Scion parts in an expensive minivan made me fume again. At least the van’s buttons have a better feel to them, I suppose. Then here comes the pet peeve of mine. The Scion has a big windscreen and forward visibility is definitely not a problem, so why on earth are the gauges in the wrong place on the dash? As if sitting in a box filled with petroleum byproducts isn’t bad enough, Toyota engineers had to move the speedometer fifteen inches starboard of its correct position and fill the chasm with yet another hunk of plastic. To make matters worse, Toyota thought that they should aid the miserable American math education by replacing the traditional speedometer with distracting digital numbers.

Time came to drive the car. Being only in driver’s education, I obviously lack experience and have not had a chance to explore a wide variety of cars. But short of the creaking, plastic, gear shift in need of some WD-40, I did not think the driving experience was all that bad. The steering felt more nicely weighted than our Sienna, but wasn’t as crisp as in my uncle’s CX-9. The car was very stable overall, but the economy seats did not provide enough support during cornering. The 2.4 liter, regular-drinking I-4 squeezed out 158 horsepower, which was sufficient for the light car and my cautious foot. Although I didn’t have a chance to use all the ponies, giddy-upping from stoplights was very brisk. The only complaint I had was the “jerk” it would give when you tap the pedal, which is not exactly a good thing to have when inexperienced teens are just learning about the dangers of tailgating. I almost jumped into the car in front myself. On the highway, I found power to be ample. The acceleration was not fast, but did not keep me from the passing lane. Road and wind noise were real buggers though. When traveling down the poorly maintained 20-year-old concrete on Washington highways, my instructor literally had to shout commands to me. The upside to the frugal power is that teens won’t be able to toss this box around and create as much havoc as opposed to, well, a Volkswagen GTI. The road noise though, will cause a few to turn up the stereo, and in turn, will cause quite a few more to suffer under the likes of 50-cent, Eminem, or God forbid, Britney.

In the mountains, the four-speed automatic was more than annoying. Normally when I walk out of my high school parking lot, I hear many different kinds of strange noises, from unmuffled ‘93 Civics to rattling Camaros about to break down. But driving up the hill, the xB’s automatic shifted up and down in frequent, consistent intervals, creating an ever maddening high-low-high-low noise, almost a near-replica of the sound from the aforementioned Kenmore set on slow wash.

Overall, I felt that the xB is not the hip-to-be-square car that it claims to be. It isn’t quite well-executed for its purpose and gives dismal impressions, inside and out. According to Toyota, I was supposed to like the car. After all, I am their target consumer. But it just doesn’t strike me as a car that I want to drive, nor does it make me want to sit in it. The xB looks too plump and the interior just feels too cheap. Toyota tries to make it easier by allowing for customization flexibility, but there’s only so much you can do. Plus, it will only increase the price of the already expensive car. Scions are perhaps too much like everyday gadgets, making its aesthetic appeal lifespan one of the shortest I have seen in the market (that might change with the Nissan Cube). Do Scions give the value for the money? In my opinion, not at all. Toyota has a lot of homework to do when it comes to providing younger buyers with what they really want. So the verdict is that if you are relatively young and looking for a budget vehicle, buy a Rabbit.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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7 Comments

  1. The xB is a fairly easy car to drive, with probably just the right amount of engine power for an inexperienced driver. However, there are some serious blind spot issues with a very large C-pillar (that should really have a window and a D-pillar behind it, as on the original xB, instead of a huge C-pillar), which makes the xB difficult for a new driver to handle in traffic or multi-lane roads. Something like a Matrix or Vibe would have probably been a better driver’s ed car, IMO.

    Just to date myself, I drove a 1991 Pontiac Sunbird for my driver’s ed classes back in 1991!

  2. Back to the future! When I took driver’s ed in 1980 the high school offered a choice of a Buick Century Turbo or a Toyota Corolla. My friend, who was taking the class with me, insisted that we pick the Toyota because “it would be easier to drive” as it was smaller. Little did he know that we would be going on some extended drives and that included some uphill sections that would seriously tax the Corolla’s gutless engine. No power and heavy manual steering did not make for an “easier car to drive”.

    I can’t say I was as car-savvy as Jason here when I was his age, so he’s to be commended for achieving such a level of sophistication. Given the xB’s stupid ergonomics –such as the center-located speedo– the people in charge of driver’s ed need to rethink their car selection methodology.

  3. If that could comfort you for driver’s ed, I taked one in 1987 with a Dodge Omni from the school’s driving ed and additionnals lessons with my dad’s 1980 full-size Canadian Pontiac Parisienne.

    Unfortunately I guess the Scion owners won’t like the idea to play Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” or AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” in their mp3 players 😉 it might be not enough funky for them.

  4. and speaking of driving lessons, here a classic 1969 AMC Rebel ad spotted on Youtube with some peoples taking driving lessons http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgLZ1wfGkSo
    I guess Toyota won’t like the idea of treating Corollas, Yaris, Scions and all like that Rebel in this ad LOL 😀

  5. Thanks for the comments!

    Drivers ed is definitely a bit flawed. Their content is a joke, and so is their fleet. What I see most are teens who take drivers ed with a Scion/Ford Focus etc., get their license, and hop into a Mustang on their 16th birthday. Scion v. Mustang = big difference. Drivers ed needs to have more conventional cars. I see more performance cars at my school than little econoboxes.

  6. I have to say my best high school teacher was my social studies/driver’s education teacher. It was he who impressed upon me the need to be vigilant, to drive defensively, to always be ready to react to the actions of the drivers around me on the road. Best teacher I ever had.
    The latest xB looks as if it Toyota tried to make it worse than the first version. Too bad.

  7. Like Mr. Dumas, I took my driver’s ed in a Dodge Omni. Gahhhh. I remember thinking, “who would BUY one of these wretched things with their own money?”

    I venture to say the xD is clearly the better mousetrap at Scion right now. I have no clue about the driving dynamics or interior, but with the right wheels it’s a very handsome car.

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