Scion xB

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So square and yet so cool: Scion xB
Scion xB
from $15,750
Entertainment features:
Bluetooth, iPod/MP3 compatibility and navigation system
Comfort features:
Keyless entry and power windows
Safety features:
Anti-lock brakes, anti-theft system, child-seat anchors, side air bags, traction control and stability control

Attempting to repeat the magic it created with the luxury Lexus brand, Toyota launched the Scion brand to bring younger consumers into the Toyota family. The average Toyota owner is 52, and Toyota glimpsed the future and saw an aging owner body that would eventually shrink through attrition. It needed to bring younger owners into the Toyota fold who would someday buy more expensive Toyotas and eventually graduate to Lexus.

Unlike Lexus, however, Scions are sold alongside Toyotas in Toyota showrooms. To minimize the expense of launching a new brand and product line further, Toyota took an odd-looking little wagon called the bB that it had been selling in Japan since 2000, brought it up to U.S. specifications, gussied it up a little and rebadged it as the Scion xB. It was Scion’s signature vehicle. In its second generation, the current xB remains faithful to its original mission of offering teenagers and 20-somethings a lifestyle vehicle that won’t be confused with mom’s Camry.

Given a total makeover for 2008, the current xB is larger and a bit rounder than the original. It retains the upright profile of the first generation wagon, but a few of the right angles have been smoothed over. It is roughly 12 inches longer and 3 inches wider than the last edition, but lost 2 inches of height. Only the tallest of passengers might notice the reduction in headroom, but otherwise the interior is larger in leg, hip and shoulder room. With the rear seat in place, the xB can accommodate 21.7 cubic feet of cargo. The split rear-seat back folds flat with the cargo floor and when in this position, cargo space swells to a whopping 70 cubic feet — the most among our three boxes.

A 2.4-liter, four-cylinder — the largest and most fuel thirsty engine of this bunch — delivers 158 horsepower of get-up-and-go to the front wheels. Unless you pony up $950 for the four-speed automatic transmission, the shifting is done by hand with a five-speed manual. With less than 3,100 pounds to motivate, the engine does an admirable job of getting the xB moving.

Illustrating the lengths to which the designers went to make the xB unique, the dashboard layout resembles the cockpit of a TIE (twin ion engine) fighter from the film “Star Wars.” The key gauges are relocated from in front of the driver to the center of the instrument panel, and there is little in the way of symmetry in the arrangement of the round air vents. The layout takes a bit of getting used to. Offering a wide range of standard convenience equipment, all xBs come with power accessories, air conditioning, cruise control, a six-speaker audio system with CD player and auxiliary audio input jack, and a tilt steering wheel.

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So square and yet so cool: