2012 Scion xB Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
February 20, 2012

Trendy or odd, the Scion xB jams plenty of space and versatility into its compact footprint.

Unabashedly boxy, the Scion xB splits most crowds in two. It's either a fashionable urban plaything--or it's the closest thing to a rolling refrigerator that Toyota sells here. No matter which side you choose, the xB still delivers a roomy cabin and compact size that makes it a good choice for city driving, though its outright performance and refinement will leave long-distance drivers and enthusiasts wanting.

Last restyled in 2008, today's xB is a bigger machine, with a higher beltine and smaller windows than it was in its very authentically Japanese first edition. That vehicle was boxy to a cartoonish extreme: the 2012 model has a chopped look that's more akin to the competition that's gone out of business in the past year, the retro-flavored Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevrolet HHR. Minor updates to the xB came in the 2011 model year, with a honeycomb grille, revamped front and rear ends, and bigger air intakes. The interior's a victim to fashion. The gauges are placed in the center of the dash, a striking effect that renders them almost useless to drivers who actively pay attention to the readouts. It puts the entire interior off-balance, but does leave stylists room to create shallow trays and storage across the dash, and at least the overall theme is integrated fairly well, with lots of chunky, interesting details and textures.

The xB's drivetrain is a familiar combination, consisting of a 158-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that recently powered some versions of the Camry and RAV4, and a choice of either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. The engine's a fairly large, torquey piece and would seem to have enough power for the compact xB--but in practice, it's more pokey, with either gearbox. The front strut and rear torsion-beam suspension make for decent road manners at low speeds, and electric power steering helps give the xB a compact turning circle. Crank up the speed, and the stock-tune xB feels clumsy in any quick, back-to-back maneuvers. It's forgiving, but it isn't exciting, and braking brings with it plenty of nose dive. Ride comfort, while good around town, can be a little pitchier on the highway. Fuel economy isn't a strong point, either--with either transmission, the front-drive xB earns EPA ratings of 22/28 mpg, quite a bit lower than hatchbacks like the Kia Soul.

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The box-on-wheels styling pays off with the xB's roomy, versatile interior. However, if you've cross-shopped others in the class, you'll conclude the xB isn't as roomy as expected, given its blocky shape and size. Passenger room is good for around-town use, though. The front passenger seat folds flat, and the second-row seat has enough room for adults, a big failing of the first-generation xB. There's ample foot space under the front seats, and storage room under the second-row seats is useful. However, the seats themselves have been a sore point in the past, with thin materials readily giving way so the seat frames can be felt. Passengers will find plenty of interior bins and storage areas if the buyer opts for the overhead console.

With a vast array of standard equipment—including all the must-haves that you can't take for grants in a small car, like air conditioning and power windows—for a no-haggle price, the 2012 Scion xB remains one of the highest-value vehicles for those who want a small car with van- or SUV-like utility. Buyers who want to personalize their xB can order from a long list of dealer-installed upgrades and accessories, plus literally hundreds of parts from third parties. Many of the dealer customization options for the 2011 Scion xB are purely cosmetic, but they include a handful of performance accessories from Toyota Racing Division such as suspension and shift kits. Other conveniences include LED interior lighting and a nav system.

For 2012, the xB has a new standard Pioneer audio system. It includes iPod / USB connectivity, an auxiliary-in jack, and a subwoofer RCA output for adding external amps, as well as Bluetooth and HD Radio. A 200-watt unit is an option.

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2012 Scion xB

Styling

A funky, chopped-and-channeled look sets the Scion xB apart from less clever hatchbacks, but it's bigger and bulkier than the classic first-gen JDM xB.

In 2008, Scion took a risk when it redesigned the xB. What had been a first-generation cult classic, a pretty pure expression of JDM (Japanese domestic market) goodness, was transformed into something longer, lower, wider, and tinged with the kind of retro proportions that drove the old Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevy HHR.

Where the original xB was boxy, almost to a cartoonish extreme, the current hatchback looks more like a soft-cornered armored van. It's slab-sided and pretty thick at the waist, with a wide rear pillar and a long, flat roof. The bluff front end now wears a honeycomb grille, and the rear bumper has bigger lower air intakes.

Inside, the xB also gets a light spruce-up, including a new fabric pattern with black bolsters; the gauge cluster gets a black background for better visibility, plus a separate clock and outside temp gauge. Overall, the xB's interior layout is either functional or a fashion victim, and you're best to make that decision by looking at pictures and the layout in person. While the design itself is straightforward—building on Toyota and Scion small-car design, but with chunky details galore—the instrument panel itself retains the illogical center placement for its gauges, which could be a deal-breaker for some.
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2012 Scion xB

Performance

The xB's bulldog stance teases its performance--it's not overly quick or nimble.

There's something familiar about the Scion xB's performance--it's a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine we've seen in many other applications from Toyota, in everything from the last-generation Camry to the RAV4 crossover of a few years ago. It's a big, torquey four-cylinder with 158 horsepower and by all accounts, should have plenty of power for the smaller xB.

But with the available five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, the four-cylinder feels sluggish in the xB. It's rare to get it to squeal a tire or break traction, which speaks to a restrictive traction control program and to the xB's relatively chunky curb weight. Of the two available gearboxes, we prefer the five-speed manual for its nicely weighted shift lever and progressive clutch uptake. The four-speed automatic feels fine in urban driving, but the big gaps between gear ratios makes highway driving less satisfying and more noisy.

With front struts and a torsion-beam rear, and electric power steering, the xB is decently responsive and confident at low speeds—and of course quite maneuverable—but its weight and soft springs cause it to feel clumsy in any faster maneuvers. It's forgiving, but not exciting. Strong disc brakes haul the xB to a stop quickly, but again plenty of nosedive remind you that the standard xB makes no sporty claims.

Ride comfort is good at city speeds, due to 16-inch wheels and a lower ride height, but this is not a vehicle for comfortable long-distance cruising. In addition to the unsatisfying seats, the ride can become pitchy on frost heaves and patch strips, while as we note elsewhere in this review fuel economy turns unimpressive with higher speeds.

[It should be noted that through dealerships, Scion offer a long list of dealer-installed upgrades, some of them improving cornering prowess.]

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2012 Scion xB

Comfort & Quality

It's a versatile shape, and can carry lots of cargo, but the Scion xB's seats need work.

Being box-shaped has its virtues--the Scion xB has lots of interior room, and the versatile hatchback yields lots of cargo space. Still, we wish it had better seats.

Scion says it's improved the xB's seats over time, but in our experience in several xB testers, the seats don't yield the kind of long-distance comfort some buyers will demand. After about an hour, the softer cushions can grow uncomfortable. The thin upholstery of the front seatbacks is probably at the root of the issue. The xB also has a relatively low roofline for a hatchback, but head room isn't compromised too much, and a good driving position is easy to find, since a telescoping wheel is now standard.

The rear seat's better, and with its tall doors and wide door openings, it's a snap to climb into, which is why so many xBs have been pressed into taxi service.

The 2011 xB is capacious and adaptable. The front passenger seat folds back flat, and the second row now offers enough room for real live adult human beings. Foot space under the front seats for second-row passengers is good, and they sit high for easy entry and exit. Storage room under the second-row seats is useful too. Passengers will find plenty of interior bins and storage areas if the buyer opts for the overhead console.

The xB's built to economy-hatchback standards, and it's relatively light, which can translate into more noise and vibration in the cabin. All considered, though, wind and road noise stay manageable.

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2012 Scion xB

Safety

Parents can rest easy: the Scion xB is a very safe car.

The Scion xB may have more first-time drivers than most of the other new cars on the market. And parents can rest assured that it's safe, since it's earned some top crash-test scores.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the xB a "good" rating for all its crash tests, and coupled with standard stability control, that makes the hatchback a Top Safety Pick. In the past, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has also given the xB high scores, but since the agency revamped its scoring in the 2011 model year, it hasn't re-rated the Scion.

Standard safety features in the xB also include the mandatory side and curtain airbags. The stability control system can only be temporarily disengaged—to get out of a snowy driveway, for instance—at speeds below 35 mph.

The only tarnish to the xB's otherwise stellar safety package is outward visibility; the wide rear pillars create a substantial blind spot for most drivers, though taller drivers might not be bothered by it as much.
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2012 Scion xB

Features

Customization is the keyword for the Scion xB, and Bluetooth is finally standard.

Scion exists in a corner of the vast Toyota empire, and one of its missions was to bring customization to its core fans--tuner kids who want a unique vehicle, or at least, one as individually tailored as a mass-market machine can be today.

All xB hatchbacks start with a reasonable set of standard features, including power windows, locks and mirrors; air conditioning; and new this year, a Pioneer audio system with iPod/USB connectivity, Bluetooth, HD Radio, an auxiliary jack, and RCA ports for subwoofer plug and play. The addition of Bluetooth is a big deal, as the xB lacked an integrated system for so long.

From there, the options list blossoms with dozens of add-ons. There's an Alpine 200-watt audio system with a 4.3-inch LCD touchscreen with inputs for up to three amplifiers, as well as a navigation system. The list also includes a handful of performance accessories from Toyota Racing Division such as suspension and shift kits.

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2012 Scion xB

Fuel Economy

Newer hatchbacks earn better gas mileage ratings than the Scion xB.

The Scion xB hasn't led the gas-mileage rankings in this second generation, and the middling EPA numbers have lagged further with the introduction of hatchbacks like the Kia Soul.

By the numbers, the xB is rated at 22/28 mpg, no matter whether the manual transmission or the four-speed automatic is specified. Those numbers are competitive with larger vehicles, but even new mid-size sedans like the Toyota Camry will outpace it.

Shoppers should take into consideration that the Scion xB is especially fuel-efficient around town (we've seen mid 20s) while its brick-like shape means that aerodynamics bring mileage way down—especially if you do a lot of driving above 70 mph.
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October 21, 2015
For 2012 Scion xB

Great for a tall person and lots of room for stuff

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I like the car a lot except for the poor mileage and a couple of quirky things left out. Top gear should be an overdrive ratio to get better mileage on the highway, seems like there is plenty of power in the... + More »
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Styling 8.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
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