Scion replaces smallest car with 2008 xD

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Scion's smallest car -- the odd-looking xA -- is out, and the xD five-door hatchback is in, with new styling, larger four-cylinder engine, added safety equipment and more standard features than its predecessor.

Even better, the new-for-2008 xD is among the most fuel-thrifty new cars with a government rating of 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 33 mpg on the highway for a manual-transmission model.

But this doesn't quite match the exemplary numbers of the 2007 xA, whose highway rating topped out at 37 mpg. The reasons: The xD is larger and some 285 pounds heavier than the xA and has a more powerful four cylinder.

The 2008 fuel mileage numbers also are affected by new, federal government calculations that are lowering mileage numbers on most vehicles.

Alas, the Scion xD is pricier than its predecessor.

While the starting retail price for the last model year of xA was just over $13,000, the xD's starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $15,170 for a base model with five-speed manual transmission. A 2008 xD with automatic starts at $15,970.

At least some of the price increase is due to added standard equipment, including air conditioning, cruise control and side curtain air bags.

All xDs also come with keyless remote entry, antilock brakes, tilt-adjustable steering wheel with audio controls, power windows, outside mirrors and door locks as well as a strong-sounding Pioneer audio system with six speakers, iPod adapter and auxiliary input. A subwoofer and satellite radio are available accessories.

The front-wheel-drive xD rides on a new platform and is larger than the xA. At nearly 13 feet long, the xD is about an inch longer and an inch wider than the xA and has 4 more inches in the wheelbase.

The latter helps provide a smoother ride over choppy pavement because front and rear wheels are farther apart and can better manage road chop and undulations. In fact, while passengers in the test xD sat up some from the road and could feel vibrations from road bumps most of the time, the ride wasn't harsh.

There was road noise, however. Note the xD comes with 16-inch tires and wheels, which are larger than the xA's 15-inchers.

The larger wheels help balance the bolder styling. At the front of the xD, for example, is a massive-looking front bumper, and buglike headlights with amber turn signals at the outer sides.

Peak horsepower now is 128, up from the anemic 103 horses in the xA.

The xA had a four cylinder with 1.5-displacement, while the xD's new engine is a 1.8-liter double overhead cam unit with variable valve timing.

And given the xD's weight, the new engine provides more torque -- 125 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm.

The engine, with five-speed manual transmission in the test car, was comfortable for around-town driving, where I easily logged more than the government's estimated city mileage of 27 mpg. At highway speeds, in mountains and in passing situations, though, the four cylinder got buzzy at high revs.

Most surprising is how little of the five-door xD is behind the rear doors. There's just a smidgen of car body back there. But the 10.5 cubic feet of cargo space aft of the rear seats can grow to a generous 35.7 cubic feet if rear seats are folded flat.

This back seat is a close fit for three adults, and the seat cushions are flat and feel like a firm sponge. But the completely flat floor in the xD rear seat makes it easy to move around back there.

I liked that the back seats -- split into 60-40 sections -- can slide forward and back on seat tracks to improve legroom. At 5 feet 4, I had enough room to extend and stretch my legs if the front seat wasn't back on its track all the way.

Watch the middle shoulder belt in back, which is connected to the ceiling. The one in the test car kept ratcheting me in each time I moved, and the strap rested uncomfortably close to my neck.

Also be careful when backing out of a parking space. The metal body area behind the xD's rear door windows is thick and obscures the view.

Gauges are in front of the driver now. In the xA, gauges were up at the middle of the dashboard, by the windshield, leaving the dashboard space in front of the driver empty.

But while the xD's gauges are in the typical spot, they aren't typical.

Speedometer and tachometer share space in one round dial, so at the 9 o'clock position of the speedometer, the car is already traveling 45 miles an hour. At the noon position, the xD is traveling 100 mph.

Scion had a record year in 2006, selling 173,034 of its three car models.

Part of Toyota and sold only at Toyota dealerships, Scion also has the youngest driver median age in the auto industry -- 30, according to company officials.

And 80 percent of Scion customers are new to Toyota.

The focus is on style, and Scion offers dozens of accessories for buyers to customize their vehicles.

Indeed, the average Scion transaction involves more than $1,000 in accessories, such as jazzy wheels, shift knobs, light-emitting diode taillights and sport pedals.

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