Scion xA Review

Scion xA ReviewRemember the chain E-mail from a few summers back urging drivers across all 50 states not to buy gas on May 30? Known as The Great Gas-Out, this master plan was to unite all Americans in defending their God-given rights (see Amendment XXIV: no Escalade owner should be held financially responsible for his decisions) against the likes of evil oil companies. No longer shall the world's most innocent creatures be bullied into paying an outrageous $1.40 for a gallon of fuel. It's payback time. THIS'LL SHOW EM!

Great work, guys.

Back here in reality, everyone knew this day would come. Gas has climbed a full buck over the past year alone and $3 will be the norm sooner or later (probably sooner). People are reacting in different ways. One man spent $27,900 on a Prius. Many have canceled vacations. A reported 40% of Californians have cut back on food and clothing. Food and clothing!

With slightly early timing, Toyota presented a solution to this epidemic with its Scions, a duo of affordable runabouts intended for sipping gasoline like they can't stand the stuff - especially the diminutive xA. This $13,045 ride may not be the lushest Lexus on the block, but surely it beats being starving and naked?

Road Test
Consistent with the xA's entry-level positioning is its accessible nature. Once you get the cockpit adjusted, just fire it up, get off and drive. Toyota's products (even the ones without the official label) have a certain familiarity about them, and the xA's light steering, nicely-weighted pedals, and always predictable behavior make you feel like you've met before. (If you've driven a Toyota Echo, the xA's mechanical basis, you have met before.) The xA may be the one Scion that bombed in the brand's attempts to hit its teenage target market, but this ain't a bad choice for starters.

Actually, the xA could make life easier for anyone. Subcompact dimensions plus a short 93.3-inch wheelbase pay off in an unmistakable zippiness that proves handy in all driving. Visibility is excellent (you can't even see the hood) and you can almost park by trial and error since the wheels are at the corners, and the corners are so in sight. Motorists in metropolis will delight at the ability to snatch up tight parallel parking spots that no others had the courage to go for. And even with rear drum brakes, stopping action is short and sure, with antilock and electronic brake-force distribution both standard (rare at this price). Fine city car, this Scion.

Toyota seems to think it passes for a racer, too. The particular xA handed to me was a "Release Series 1.0" edition that rolled in on 17-inch Enkei dubs shod with P205/40HR17 tires, rear spoiler, mesh grille, and Absolutely Red paint (plus a moonroof, traction and stability control, and some interior trim accents). Coupled with the xA's existing enhancements over the Toyota Echo - rear stabilizer bar, larger wheels and brakes, shorter final-drive gearing - this lightweight sticks in corners like you wouldn't imagine. If they were going for grip, they got it.

To a point, this makes sense. Though 275 pounds heavier than the Echo (and an inch higher off the ground), the 2,380-pound xA is still a feather in the grand scheme of things. Not a bad foundation for performance.

But I reckon they went a tad too far. The xA's shocks are plenty stiff to begin with, and topping them off with 17-inch wheels and super-low profile tires has the xA literally kicking one's ass up and down the street. Certain bumps also make it clear which half of the suspension is slacking, as the torsion beam axle holding up the back end jounces sharply at times. All the unsprung mass of those wheels can also occasionally delay the braking process, such as when a bump sends them flying and the shocks can't do anything about it. Look, guys, the xA has enough natural handling advantages as it is. There's no need to make it border on intolerable just for a few extra unnecessary g-forces.

Furthermore, it's hard to make a case for performance when you've only got 1.5 liters of engine to work with - the smallest displacement of any normal car on the market. Let's be clear that 108 horsepower definitely isn't bad for that size - in fact, it's more than any competitor (Accent, Rio, Aveo) can muster, and those trading up from Geo Metros will notice a 96% increase. Still, in light of the engine's 16 valves, two overhead cams, intake valve timing, and lofty 10.5:1 compression ratio, it seems like more could have been done. It also sounds a bit buzzy by Toyota's high standards, you practically need to schedule an appointment to pass someone on the freeway, and the xA hits its head on 80 MPH while climbing the L.A. mountains, foot to the floor, tachometer pegged at 5,000 RPM. The generally smooth and quick-acting automatic transmission does what it can by downshifting and holding lower gears as often as possible (cycling the overdrive button off and on upshifts it back to fourth, I discovered), but the Corolla's 1.8 engine would go a long way here.

However, living with motivational mediocrity has its reward. Despite all the external forces holding me down - the transmission's low-gear bias, the low rolling resistance tires, a lack of cruise control (no car in this class offers cruise), lots of 80 MPH driving, and frequent air conditioner use - I averaged all of 30 miles per gallon. Think of that as the minimum; the EPA gives the automatic xA a rating of 31 city / 38 highway, and I know from experience with a Scion xB that 33 can be reached with a more even mix of driving.

It's in the city where the xA shines anyway: in addition to the size and parking advantages, it's a nice feeling to sit at a red light knowing that guy in the 5.4-liter Expedition is burning roughly three times as much gas. It's downright satisfying to fill er up to the tune of $30, then glance over at that same Expedition that just put a $100+ dent in its owner's wallet. A sort-of-small gas tank keeps the xA's driving range at around 300 miles, but at least its gas gauge is more accurate than usual, falling from "F" at a linear rate and not setting off the low-fuel light until down to two gallons. One last thing: with the Toyota Echo's passing, the Scion xA scores a record as America's most fuel-efficient non-hybrid car of 2006.

It pays to think small.

Inside & OutScion xA Review
How small is small? At 154.1 inches, there are exactly three cars stubbier than this little squirt: Mini Cooper, Toyota MR2, and the hatchback version of the Chevy Aveo. In passenger space, this fortunately does not prove to be the penalty it sounds. The front seats feel as roomy as any car's, and even the back, where head and footroom are great, feels near Civic levels. This 66.7-inch car is narrow, though, so keep seating to four. (Besides, too full a load feels like it might make the engine throw a connecting rod or two.)

The xA may be short, but at least it's tall, towering over most cars at a full five feet in height. You'll notice this not only in the great headroom but in the elevated, somewhat buslike seating position and big windows. (Too bad it also renders the sun visors nearly useless.) Comfort and roominess ranking higher than expected? That's the Toyota way.

Let us pray that the design of the dashboard will never become the Toyota way, even though things have been headed that way for a while. As in the Echo, the xA continues the use of a speedometer mounted illogically, stupidly, and distastefully in the center of the dashboard. Falling out of line with instincts, the driver's sightlines, and good taste, this is a colossal ergonomic screwup that you'd think even GM would be incapable of. Having one pod white and the other black is just kooky, and finally with only 120 MPH showing, the speedo could use more frequent 10 MPH markings. It also leaves the interior too dark at night. At least there's a tachometer, unlike in the Echo.

Continuing the disappointment are Echo-sourced air vents that fail to look stylish and an overall layout that reeks more of afterthought than conscious thought. At least the major controls (power windows, locks, climate controls, wipers, etc.), unchanged from the standard Japanese layout, work well and feel rich.

If you haven't yet heard Scion's awesome Pioneer MP3 stereo, you're missing out. As long as the equalizer's set to "Feel," through those six door-mounted speakers you will hear the punchiest sounds imaginable at this price; the sheer strength of the bass will have you searching in vain for a nonexistent subwoofer. The stereo has more interior noise to compete with than in the Scion tC, but it definitely comes out on top of the class. And this stereo's one problem - a missing volume knob - will be addressed for 2006, as in all Scions.

Aside from having no armrest, the seats are every bit as good as any other Toyota, both in support and cloth quality. While they only adjust fore-and-aft, it's hard to imagine them being too low for any frame. The real problems come down to inadequate legroom for those over six feet and an awkward arms-out driving position for people of any height thanks to a faraway steering wheel. This seems to be a problem on every Toyota up until the Camry, where they start giving telescoping adjustments. The xA could use some.

All positions have full seat belts and removable head restraints, and with the optional side and side-curtain air bags, the xA proves to be the safest member in its immediate family - the Echo can't get curtains and the xB can't get anything. (When you weigh 2,380 pounds, you'll want all the help you can get.) Both Scions have that cute first aid kit, though.

One more thing exclusive to the Scions is their five-door body style. That's pretty much the only saving grace of the xA's cargo area, which is clearly where this car pays the price for its smallness. Volume behind the back seat is a puny 11.7 cubic feet, and cut that number in half for the part that doesn't block the window. Folding down the split back seats expands that to 32.8, not quite as impressive as the xB's 43.4 but still making for one handy hatchback.

Other Thoughts
In keeping with Scion tradition, the xA comes one way: loaded. Power windows and locks, air conditioning, antilock brakes, nice tunes, and 15-inch wheels are all here. Like other Scions, there's only one factory option - the $650 side and curtain airbags - and like Saturns, there's only one price for everyone. In the xA's case, that's $13,045 with a stick, $13,845 for the automatic.

Primary competitors are a trio of Koreans: the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Chevrolet Aveo. All four are basically 100-horsepower bottom-feeders that end up right around the same price with similar options: 14 grand. One difference is that you can knock a thousand or two off any of these, since their prices are negotiable. The other difference is that Scion's resale value stands about $3,000 above all after one year's time, promptly paying all that cash right back.

Know that the Accent and Rio are getting 2006 redesigns and the Aveo gets its own in 2007, at which point Honda and Nissan will re-enter this class after a nearly 20-year absence, and Toyota will bring over the next-generation Echo, to be called Yaris. The pecking order in this fast-crowding class may look far different in two years.

Last WordScion xA Review
But two years is a long wait, and until Honda and Nissan get here, Toyota's little engine that could keeps the xA the gas mileage champ. Toyota quality also keeps it ahead of the reliability laggards, and topped off with Scion's marked resale advantage, it only leaves room for one question: do you mind that the most fuel-efficient car in America is also, apparently, the cheapest to own? [source :]


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