Test Drive: 2012 Scion xB Release Series 9.0 car test drives scion reviews
2012 Scion xB Release Series 9.0. Click image to enlarge

Comparison: Compact Cars, Version 2.0
Test Drive: 2012 Kia Soul 4u
Test Drive: 2011 Scion xB
Test Drive: 2010 Nissan Cube Krom
Test Drive: 2011 Nissan Juke

Manufacturer’s web site
2012 Scion xB

Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

Photo Gallery:
2012 Scion xB

I feel sorry for the rest of the Scion lineup. What was only a fresh, young brand a year ago is now a collection of second fiddles to the show-stealing FR-S. Credit where credit is due though—the FR-S deserves all of the attention it is getting and more, and it is an excellent halo car for this brand, with the rare circumstance that it might also lead the brand in sales.

However, the purpose of a halo car is also to draw in customers to showrooms, and then to send customers home in one of the company’s more practical appliances. Scion’s most practical appliance is the xB, which is short for ‘box’. Okay, that’s not really what it stands for, but I doubt it was an accident that the xB shares two letters with the shape that so obviously inspired it.

The Scion xB that we see here continues the tradition of the über-boxy first generation, though much more sleekly, the front bumper wrapping around tall (and fake) intakes into fenders that seem bubbly relative to the rest of the vehicle. The headlights are angular, and not perfectly parallel to the ground. The front windshield is slightly raked and rear pillar is canted slightly forward, and the rear bumper seems almost rounded in profile. It is funky design that takes the boxy first generation and evolves it into a less extreme geometric shape, with more design nuances that might attract a broader range of customers.

Test Drive: 2012 Scion xB Release Series 9.0 car test drives scion reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Scion xB Release Series 9.0 car test drives scion reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Scion xB Release Series 9.0 car test drives scion reviews
2012 Scion xB Release Series 9.0. Click image to enlarge

Okay, who am I kidding? Those of us that like our vehicles to look like two bricks stacked one atop the other are few and far between. I met with mostly derision in our offices every time I tried to espouse how cool this vehicle is. Oh well, I’ll just console myself with the idea that it is hip to be in the minority… curiously, several brands have a take on the boxy look in various sizes, Nissan offering the practically subcompact Cube all the way up to Ford’s Flex crossover that serves as a hip minivan replacement. Long live the box.

While the aesthetic benefits are debatable, the practicality should be obvious. The rear cargo space in the xB is wide and square, and although it measures only 329 L as per Scion Canada estimates, it looks about the equal of cargo bays in the Hyundai Elantra GT (651 L), Mazda3 Sport (481 L), or Toyota’s Matrix (561 L). Perhaps the best-in-class 964 mm of rear legroom cut into that cargo space, but the rear seats split 60/40 and fold flat, leaving enough space for medium-sized appliance, though Scion Canada. As far as compact hatchbacks go, the cargo area seems highly functional, and the rear seats are generous for legroom, but more than two passengers is a squeeze.

The front seats are also reasonably comfortable despite limited adjustability, though this vehicle had unique seats courtesy of the Release Series 9.0 package added to this vehicle. They featured suede-like inserts with leather bolsters and ‘colour-tuned’ (matching the body colour) contrasting stitching, with RS 9.0 stitched into the seat sides and the Scion logo embossed into the seatback leather.

Other perks of the $1,930 Release Series 9.0 package included glowing Scion badges on the grille and tailgate, giant SCION lettering on the lower front grille intake, and badges with the series number of this limited edition run. Mine was number 966 out of 1500. Missing from the Release Series package is a set of decent alloy wheels, something I would expect on a car packaged as ‘tuned’ right out of the box, and the wheel covers looked a little pathetic in contrast to the cool glowing badges.

Test Drive: 2012 Scion xB Release Series 9.0 car test drives scion reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Scion xB Release Series 9.0 car test drives scion reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Scion xB Release Series 9.0 car test drives scion reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Scion xB Release Series 9.0 car test drives scion reviews
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




About Jonathan Yarkony

Jonathan Yarkony is the Senior Editor for Autos.ca, a Brampton-based automotive writer with eight years of experience evaluating cars and an AJAC member.