November 6, 2012
2012 Scion xB Release Series 9.0. Click image to enlarge
The dash layout isn’t as funky as the exterior, but it tries. The gauges are centre mounted in a series of overlapping rings, each one angled slightly toward the driver. The speedometer is digital with an analogue tachometer. Below that is Scion’s previous-gen stereo interface, which I find somewhat confusing, and then big, easy-to-use HVAC dials with extra-large print—should be good for seniors and glove wearers, although some seniors that I know specifically look for straight-line shifters on their transmission rather than this stepped one Scion and Toyota use. All the materials are one type of plastic or another, and while they are rarely pleasant to the touch, they at least look decent, with a variety of surface treatments.
Mechanically, the Release Series 9.0 xB was the same as any other Scion xB, powered by a 2.4L four-cylinder with 158 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque (on loan from the Matrix XRS), although it feels much less when hooked up to Toyota’s venerable four-speed automatic. And by venerable, I mean ancient, outdated, and painfully slow. Perhaps the transmission is not solely responsible for the overwhelming feeling of lethargy, but it’s best to give this car plenty of room and time to accelerate. Its 1,451-kg doesn’t help matters.
Between that weight, the lack of ratios in the gearbox, and the slightly larger engine, I managed only 9.2 L/100 km, but that is actually within NRCan estimates of 9.5 city and 7.2 highway, a feat I rarely achieve. No matter how you slice it, it’s one of the poorest in this class of compact hatchbacks.
However, if you accept life in the slow lane, the vehicle isn’t completely a write-off. While devoid of any real feedback, the steering at least had some weight and resistance to it, so it made for a simple task of keeping it centred on the highway, at the expense of slightly higher effort when parking. Visibility out the square windows was good except for the wide D pillars. Riding on 16-inch steel wheels with 205/55R16 all-season tires, the handling limits were low and slow—Scion has at least two vehicles that it can recommend for anyone interested in decent handling cars, the tC, and that other car, the FR-something….
While I was accused of making excuses for this vehicle, I found it acceptable for what it is. While lacking almost any sporty pretensions, it’s a box on wheels, so that should be obvious. However, it was nowhere near as disappointing as a Corolla, and a competent car under that clever packaging. But like the Corolla, it has an excellent reliability record, scoring much better than average from Consumer Reports, and earning a top Safety Pick from IIHS for crash worthiness.
But let’s face it, this car is mediocre as a car, but makes a great fashion statement. You can find more practical or efficient vehicles at a similar price ($22,905 as tested), but the xB will speak (and speak loudly) to a small set of contrary and against-the-grain personalities. The Scion xB will also appeal to those that see the potential of this car to take it to the next level of personalization, a customer Scion embraces and for whom it offers catalogues full of dealer-installed accessories and customization options, and the Releas Series 9.0 is just a taste of the possibilities.
Pricing: 2012 Scion xB
Base price: $18,360
Options: $2,950 (Four-speed automatic – $1,020; Release Series 9.0 – $1,930)
Freight & PDI: $1,495
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $22,905