Friday, May 09, 2008

Rental Bliss: 2008 Scion xB

For various reasons I rent a lot of cars. I'd like to extract some greater good from these experiences, so I'll be writing up quick-take reviews of the cars I rent.

Recently I needed to rent a Flexcar to drop off a car at the garage, and ended up with a 2008 Scion xB. This was my first experience with a Scion product, so I was eager to see what I thought of the brand. More on that shortly.

The xB is essentially a brick on wheels. It is tall for its size, but rides low on small tires. The interior is styled in a sport compact tuner aesthetic. The gauges are arranged in a pod of four circles resembling a pillar gauge pod, positioned in the center of the dash. Most of the visible paneling is black plastic molded to resemble carbon fiber. The contours are geometric, giving the whole thing a goth/industrial feel. I don't care for it. Even if I did, I'd be leery of styling this distinctive, since it rarely wears well over a car's entire 10+ year lifetime. Look at the interior of any 10+ year old Buick to see what I mean.

Given the mundane FWD chassis, tiny wheels, and tall body, my handling expectations were low and I was not surprised. There is a lot of body lean in corners, and the tires start to chirp very quickly. The steering has a heavy on-center feel reminiscent of a truck or van. Acceleration is adequate in leisurely driving. I didn't have an opportunity to flog it. The engine is loud and appliance-like, rather like a cordless power drill. Overall the driving experience is unremarkable but perfectly adequate for everyday use.

The interior ergonomics are pretty good. The xB's upright seating position makes effective use of space and makes it roomier than it would be otherwise. There is a convenient iPod port in the center console, and a phone-sized nook next to the steering column. There's also a shallow shelf above the glove box. I'm not sure what it's intended for, but my fiance and I put a bag of donuts there, so we called it a "donut shelf." As expected the rear cargo area is huge, and the large hatch door should make loading and unloading convenient. Visibility is excellent.

The xB would be a decent commuter. It is an economical alternative to a CUV or small SUV due to its cargo space and high seating position. It could work as a family's only car. It is not a performance vehicle in the slightest. The car has a strong tuner/Emo/industrial vibe to it, which is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. I hate it. But there are surely people who love it.

Now, back to my take on Scion. Let's see here. We have a mundane chassis, mundane engine, mundane suspension, and mundane steering feel, gussied up as a performance vehicle with polarizing exterior styling, boy-racer interior styling, and a loud exhaust. The whole package is targeted at adolescents, but has broader appeal because at its heart it's a practical vehicle.

I sense something. A presence I have not felt since...

Ah yes, Pontiac circa the 1990s. Look how well that worked out. Maybe the xB will succeed where the Trans Sport failed. Good luck, Scion.

No comments: