2008 Scion xD Review

By Chris Haak


Toyota’s Scion sub-brand has had some sales struggles lately (down 5.3% in June); many of its newest products (particularly the second-generation xB “box on wheels”) have been criticized as having lost the charm of the originals. Yet, the brand’s three models are relatively fuel efficient in an era of $4.00 per gallon (or more) gasoline in the US, so I felt that it would be relevant for me to review at a time that consumers are rapidly showing interest in small, fuel efficient vehicles. Toyota was happy to supply a Barcelona Red test vehicle to me for a week for evaluation.

While the xD shares its platform with the Yaris and is definitely a very small car, it also has the larger 1.8 liter engine (128 horsepower) from the Corolla instead of the puny 1.5 liter (108 horsepower) mill from the Yaris. Dimensionally, the xD is very close to the Yaris sedan, but has a shorter wheelbase, and therefore less legroom in the rear. However, its hatchback body allows for significantly more cargo volume behind the back seat, and even more still if the back seat is folded.

Before I receive most of the vehicles that I will test from manufacturers, I usually get a copy of the window sticker (called the Monroney sticker in industry parlance), so I have an idea of what to expect. From the Monroney, I was a little puzzled that my test vehicle was to be equipped with the TRD sport exhaust (a $469 option), but there was no mention of alloy wheels. Fortunately, it was equipped with some presumably dealer-installed alloys that weren’t too big and weren’t too small. Unfortunately, all of the photos of the xD accompanying this review are from Toyota’s media website, because I lost our digital camera containing about 25 photos of the xD on vacation before uploading them to my computer, but my test vehicle was the same color, with smaller (and different) wheels.

The other thing that I most anticipated about the xD before I got it was that it had a five speed manual. I owned several cars over the years with manual transmissions, but it’s been probably two years since I last drove one, and I was looking forward to re-synchronizing my feet and shifting arm.

As noted above, the car was in a really attractive, deep red. It featured the TRD sport muffler (which has a large diameter exhaust outlet) and a $385 rear spoiler. Rounding out the options list were VSC (stability control) for $650, floor mats for $155, a cargo net for $65, a premium Pioneer stereo with iPod connector for $389, and XM Satellite Radio for $449.

While the car’s appearance was certainly enhanced by the spoiler, dark red paint (one of my favorite hues in any vehicle anywhere), and aluminum wheels, I couldn’t help but think that Scion tried too hard to show a family resemblance between the xD and xB in terms of their shape. Not that it’s ugly – and actually it’s better looking than the xA that it replaced – but the xD has interesting proportions. For example, the hood is extremely short. It’s almost twice as wide as it is long. The hood’s width to length ratio is probably more extreme than that of a minivan’s, which is really saying something. The short hood, at least, meant that a fashionably short front overhang was possible. Another nod to automotive fashion was the short side windows; they look cool from the outside but do somewhat restrict visibility from inside the car.

Although the car did not include many additional options ($2,562 worth), Scion packs their vehicles with standard features. The car had power windows, power locks, six airbags, cruise control, keyless entry, ABS, and air conditioning. The final tally came to $17,732 including destination; the had an MSRP of $18,410 and had an automatic transmission (which the xD lacked), but did NOT have cruise control, power windows, or keyless entry. TrueDelta.com shows the xD as being between $1,500 and $2,200 cheaper than the Corolla when adjusting for equipment differences, as well. Basically, if you want to buy a small Toyota, the xD is a much better value than the Corolla. Dimensionally, the xD is very similar to the Corolla, except that it’s a few inches narrower, which affects hip and shoulder room in both rows.

Inside, it’s not a bad place to be, but like the Corolla, there were too many hard plastics. The headliner was the same “furry cardboard” that the Corolla suffered from, and the sun visors were the cheap-looking vinyl-covered variety, which I did not care for. The entire dash panel is hard plastic, with soft points throughout the interior fairly difficult to find (the armrests on the doors have fabric near them and the seats are fabric; that’s about all). There was no center armrest, which was somewhat annoying when driving longer distances.

Scion may view the Pioneer stereo head unit (which was an uplevel one in my test vehicle as well) as a selling point, but I really disliked it. Not only was the sound weak (there is no subwoofer), but it has an extremely annoying animated display that constantly moves when the radio is powered on, and it was far more difficult to operate than any factory-installed system I’ve seen this side of BMW’s iDrive. For instance, the power button was on the top-right corner of the unit, about as far away from me as it could possibly be. It took me half a day before I actually found it there; instead, I was just muting the volume when I wanted silence. Further, the standard iPod integration is not a regular USB interface like Ford’s SYNC system; instead, the connector requires a proprietary plug, so I was unable to test the car’s iPod integration.

The xD’s front seats seemed to be reasonably comfortable, although I didn’t spend more than an hour at a time in them during my time with the car. The rear seat in the xD split and folded forward to make a flat cargo area, and also could slide forward and backward on tracks to either enlarge cargo area or rear seat legroom by a few inches, depending on needs. A clever touch was that the seat could be moved forward or backward via a lever on the seatback, so you did not have to leave the vicinity of the cargo area to adjust the seat’s position if necessary.

On the road, the five-speed manual slightly helped performance relative to the slightly larger and heavier Corolla that I drove (which was saddled by a four-speed automatic). Clutch takeup was pretty easy to get used to, even for someone like me who was a bit rusty (I suppose it really is like riding a bike!) The electric power steering didn’t seem to be quite as uncommunicative as it was in the Corolla, but still didn’t exactly inspire confidence. The biggest annoyance when driving (other than the animated stereo and lack of a center armrest) was the TRD sport muffler. I felt some embarrassment as I boomed down my street, the same way young kids do in my neighborhood in their souped-up 15 year old Eclipses (who always cause me to mutter nasty things about them under my breath). I doubt that it adds much power to the car, but it adds not only a loud bark upon acceleration but also a constant booming drone at highway speeds. The car is geared relatively low, too, so it is running around 3,000 RPMs at 70 miles per hour, and that doesn’t help the noise issue. Unless you’re 22 years old or younger and want to piss off your neighbors, I’d advise against the TRD sport muffler.

EPA fuel economy figures are 27 city/33 highway. My observed economy was about 31 miles per gallon, which is among the best I’ve experienced (about tied with the Camry Hybrid and Corolla, and behind only the Prius.)

To me, the biggest irony about Scion is that nearly all of the brand’s marketing is focused on the youth market (who generally cannot afford new cars, even if they cost $17,732), yet the brand also appeals to practicality-minded empty nesters who want a value-packed Toyota at a fair price. If you can tolerate the Pioneer stereo’s interface, the nighclub beat marketing, and hard interior plastic (which is pretty much par for this class and price range, anyway), then the Scion xD is worth checking out. I’d let my son drive one – if he was 16, and if it had a “normal” muffler.

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. This place is too damned lonely, so lets spruce it up a bit =). I’m a recently turned 22 year old and I was looking at this car just for fun as it’s relatively affordable in the vein of financing I suppose and it looks quite nice! Only problem I ended up having with this car though was the atrocious blind spot the car has behind the C pillars and perhaps the center roof mounted seatbelt. Talk about awkward.

    Oh and I think the Corolla would still be a better deal (or Matrix for a more direct comparison) if you’re willing to haggle as Scions are non-negotiable AFAIK.

  2. also, since Transports Canada decided to have less stricter bumper standards for Canada (having the same safety bumper standards now as the US for the 2009 model year), it could be interesting to see if those “armored trucks” (they looks like armored trucks from Garda, Brink’s, Loomis and all) will go in the Great White North without cannibalizing the sales of the Yaris and Corolla.

    With the Scion drop of sales, I wonder if I could made a parralel with the Mustang? Lee Iacocca once complained in his book then Bunkie Knudsen during his short presidency at Ford allowed the Mustang to be larger (and to some fans, more uglier)for the model-year 1971. Maybe the same thing happened with Scion.

  3. I think Toyota is running Scion into the ditch lately, as the cars are getting uglier and the push towards the young customer is getting a little embarassing. If I want something like this, I’d get a Matrix and I’m in my 20’s but maybe I’m the one out of step. But to me it just seems all so artificial and lame.

    Josh Bickley

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