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What the 2014 Scion xB has is niche appeal. as well as a certain kind of charm that those in close urban areas might really appreciate. With decent space and versatility, all in a compact-car parking footprint, there's a lot of promise—and a lot of flair and attitude—in its 'box on wheels' concept.
Yet for a number of reasons, Scion's grab for the mass market hasn't been the hit the brand had hoped—and rival efforts like the Kia Soul have instead grabbed the spotlight. Scion was here first, with a smaller, uber-boxy xB that gained a cult following for its fresh take on what a small car could be; then Scion rethought (or overthought, we'd say) the xB for 2008 and cast it as something of a follow-up on now-obsolete retro-futuristic models like the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevy HHR, with puzzling functionality choices inside like tiny, centrally mounted gauges. In recent years Scion has merely carried over the xB instead of fixing some of those obvious market turnoffs—opting instead for a few special editions. The blunt front end now has a glossy-black lower grille while an available black rear diffuser, chrome accents, and LED accent lighting can help jazz up the look.
The same 158-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that's powered versions of the Camry and RAV4 does well enough here, but it's not as inspired as you might think as the xB weighs more than 3,000 pounds. The front strut and rear torsion-beam suspension, combined with good electric power steering, give it a crisp, maneuverable feeling around town, but at speed the stock-tune xB feels clumsy in any quick maneuvers. Ride comfort is okay around town but it can get pitchy on the highway. Fuel economy ratings are just 22 mpg city, 28 highway—the biggest disappointment of all, we think.
Once you've seen how the seats fold down, you might also be disappointed at how much cargo space is actually there. The front passenger seat folds flat, though, and the second-row seat has enough room for adults, a big failing of the first-generation xB. But the seats themselves aren't comfortable enough in front for longer trips.
Customization and personalization—and a no-haggle base price—remain a big part of the xB's appeal. If you can stay away from the seemingly endless chances for dealer-installed accessories and upgrades, you'll get one of the best deals on the market for those who want a relatively well-equipped, van-like vehicle but don't have high demands for driving dynamics or behind-the-wheel thrills. This year it gets better, too, with a nearly standard Display Audio system that includes a 6.1-inch touch screen, with six speakers, Bluetooth and HD Radio technology, a USB port, and an auxiliary audio jack.