Sunday, August 19, 2007

Auto Review: 2008 Scion xB

Every occupation has its rewards...and its hazards.
In my job as a real live Radio announcer, I have been fortunate to go places, meet people, and do things that most folks can only dream about.
Or buy a ticket for.

Generally, I am an enthusiastic observer, trying to remain objective where ever I may find myself, be it a luxury cruiser on the Caribbean, a non-stop flight to London, or sitting in the jumpseat of a 747 en route to Tokyo.

This weekend the zeal could not be contained, and over the abyss I plunged, actually purchasing a product I’d been assigned to review. It's called putting your money where your mouth (or Blog) is, and there's not enough of that anymore. Talk is cheap.
I don’t regret it…and after reading this, you will understand why.

For the past year I’ve been a member of a fraternity of media reviewers for products built by Toyota Motor Company. Lexus, Toyota, and Scion vehicles have found their way to my driveway for a week at a time, during which I put them through the same paces I would my personal automobile.

(Full disclosure: I own an ’07 Mazda MX-5 hardtop, the latest iteration of the popular Miata lineage, and my 4th drop-top automobile built by Mazda. I love that car.)

For the past several days, however, I’ve been testing the responsiveness of Scion’s distinctively shaped xB—the bread box on wheels that’s getting a new skin for 2008. (My wife was skeptical about this thing, and she made me put it in the garage at night so the neighbors wouldn’t see.)

I am very impressed with the total package, however, and despite my wife’s opinion, the xB is sitting in my Mazda’s place of honor in our garage by choice. (Oh, don’t worry, The Silver Bullet is safety tucked beneath its protective blankie in another parking garage.)

Scion’s bringing forth the next-logical iteration of its popular Urban Utility Vehicle in 2008 with a beefier look, a 12-inch longer chasis for a smoother ride, and some interior refinements that will stretch the xB’s appeal across multiple demographics.

The average age of a Toyota consumer is 54; the average age for Scion owners is 39—the youngest demo in the biz. Maybe I’m just young at heart, but this unique combination of quirk and quant appeals to me…even if the xB is bigger and heavier than last year’s version.

I like the way it handles (the McPherson strut suspension is a nice improvement), and the smooth 5-speed manual gear box shifts like velvet once you figure out the optimum engine RPM for shifting.
And with the new skin, frankly, I like the way it looks.

The engine is the same 2.4-L 4-cylinder power plant Scion puts in its tC and the entry-level Toyota Camry. The good news is this is going to be a frugal vehicle.
The rebel in me longs for the up-graded turbo booster that increases tC’s 158-hp to 200-hp. Wonder if that would fit under the hood of the xB?

Creature comforts are important to me, especially as my tortured carcass loses a bit of its flex and bendy-ness (a word first coined by Lisa Kudrow's character on "Friends," Phoebe Buffay.)

The Scion xB is easy to get in and out of.
It has great visibility.
Grocery shopping was a breeze, with ample rear access through the hatch or rear passenger doors.

I particularly like the iPod interface on the xB, which allows the upgraded Pioneer in-dash system to read the files on the player via a special harness that connects to a docking port in the center console.

While Scion’s engineers built this to appeal to Generation-Y, it’s got some hidden appeals for older aficianados looking for value and dependability in an automobile--yet still hankering for unique styling and something that’s fun to drive. I think my generation should be called "Gen Y-not?" Why not drive a car that's this much fun?

In fact, I am so impressed with the Scion line, we purchased an ’07 tC during the course of the weekend for one of the Clanton heirs.

Objectivity is one thing.
Acting on a value proposition is another.
I think I covered both bases here.

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