2010 Scion xD Review
By Roger Boylan
There could be no greater contrast between cars than that between my previous test vehicle, the massive Ford F-150 Raptor, and my current one, the diminutive Scion xD. Indeed, so accustomed had I become to the mighty Raptor that I muttered in disgust when I first sat down in the little Scion: This small? This cheap? Are you kidding? Give me back my truck! But the mood passed, and I soon found myself looking forward to driving the xD, for quite specific reasons that could never apply to the Raptor: maneuverability, zippiness, and frugality.
It was ironic that I should be testing my first Toyota product at a time when the Japanese goliath is experiencing its greatest public embarrassment and worst-ever decline in reputation, with Mr. Toyoda, the boss, apologizing to stockholders, owners, and colleagues, seemingly every day, bowing in wounded dignity, like the modern-day shogun he is. Well, didn’t you ever read the old Greeks, Toyoda-san? Sophocles, Aristophanes, and those guys? It’s called hubris, and no one’s immune. But worse things have happened–remember the rolling-Explorer-Firestone crisis that haunted Ford for years? And before you know it, the luster will be back on the Toyota name, because by and large the company makes products that people want, that perform well, and that exceed expectations.
The xD is a good example. At this price point–a no-haggle $14,900 for the base model with manual transmission, $15,600 with the 4-speed automatic–it pretty much aces the contest with its rivals, the Honda Fit, Kia Soul, Nissan Cube, all of which may be funkier (especially the Nissan and the Kia), but none of which offers the wide variety of basic features and customization options available on the xD. Start with the base model and you already have keyless entry, a six-speaker Pioneer audio system iPod connectivity, cruise control, a full complement of airbags including the side-curtain variety, electronic stability control, a first-aid kit, a chrome-tipped exhaust pipe, a matte-black roof antenna, power windows and door locks, ABS with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, a rear-window wiper, multi-reflector halogen headlights, and a sliding and reclining rear seat. The Scion brand, of course, is renowned for its instant-customization option, whereby, after picking out your xD, you can toddle over to the Scion Genuine Accessories shop and check off anything from illuminated doorsill logos to a spoiler to illuminated cupholders, including useful and/or highly desirable things like an armrest for the front seats and 16- or 18-in. alloy wheels to replace the ugly plastic wheel covers the car comes with. Then, once you’ve given the nice salesman your check for a sum probably not much in excess of $17K, you drive off into the sunset in your brand-new newly accessorized Scion xD, happy as a tree frog in the Amazon.
It’s an appealing paradigm. It brings originality to a bland segment of the car market. It creates a bond between buyer and car, and it fosters brand loyalty. It also makes the xD stand out in the crowd, if that’s your thing. Certainly the little hatchback is more distinctive than the Toyota Yaris on which it’s based. It rides on the same 96.9-inch wheelbase but is 4 inches longer overall, with the more powerful 128-hp 1.8-liter engine (with 125 lb.-ft. of torque) moving things along–pretty briskly, too, as I was pleased to discover during a series of meteorologically challenging commutes in the downpours and mud of a Texas winter.
I was equally pleased under those circumstances to learn that the xD is highly maneuverable, a virtue when, say, a speeding semi suddenly decides to change lanes in front of you. The xD hits 60 from a standstill in about 8.5 seconds, perfectly respectable in the econobox class. In fact, its drivability belies its price point: the brakes feel superb, as I once had an opportunity to discover mere inches from an intrusive lane-cutting road hog, as well as on several less nerve-wracking occasions. The car’s electronic power steering is well-balanced, light, and precise, and the triple-spoke steering wheel, with mounted audio controls, feels good in the hand.
The xD’s interior, although unmistakably that of an economy car, is quite comfortable and well laid out, with firmly bolstered fabric bucket seats in front and, as noted, rear seats that can tilt and scoot forward and backward and that, when folded forward, yield a cargo area of 35.7 cu. ft.–not spectacular (the Honda Fit boasts 57 cu. ft.), but, with all the ambient storage space–six cupholders, two glove boxes, a small driver-side cubby, and bottle-holders in the door pockets–quite ample.
The amber-lit gauge binnacle in front of the driver (not, thankfully, center-mounted, as in the Yaris) is easy enough to navigate, if a bit odd-looking: The speedometer and tachometer share the same gauge, the speedo on the left, with needle going clockwise, the counterclockwise tach on the right. However, the info display is easy to read: average mpg, trip odometer, distance to empty, etc. The HVAC and audio controls are unorthodox–the audio knob feels a bit flimsy–but are easy to use, once you get the hang of it. The Pioneer sound system is good, and there’s a button between the front seats to enable iPod/USB connectivity. The dashboard and door panels are sheathed in a rather down-market grayish plastic with a kind of pebbledash texture that looks like goose bumps.
Overall, the xD’s a comfortable enough place to spend time in, although a colleague who rode in the rear seat found her quarters cramped enough to inspire claustrophobia. But I was perfectly comfortable in the driver’s seat, and at ease in the car generally, with one notable exception. When I took my wife–who’s in the market for a successor to her aging Chrysler PT–out for a spin in the Scion, we went over some rough road surfaces, and the car’s air of unimpeachable Toyota solidity was suddenly undermined by some very noticeable buzzes and rattles from the dashboard area. Yes, it was a test car, and yes, test cars are abused; but still. It had only 5000 miles on the odo, and a quick recon of Scion chat forums turned up fairly widespread complaints about the same thing. My wife had thought very highly of the little xD until then, and it’s still on her list of possibilities, but we’ll be listening very carefully when we take another one out for a test drive. It’s not a deal-breaker, considering the car’s other virtues (and price), but it’s worth bearing in mind.
Among those other virtues is mileage. EPA fuel estimates are 26 city and 32 highway for the 4-speed automatic (Honda Fit Automatic: 27 /33 mpg), which is what I drove. The dashboard info center said 31.8 mpg was my average. I see no reason to dispute this, and it’s a pretty good score, although the problem with small cars is that the trade-off is frequently small fuel-tank size (the xD’s holds 11.1 gal., the Honda Fit’s 10.6) vs. good fuel economy, necessitating more stops at the fuel pump than does, for example (oh, I don’t know), a Ford F-150 Raptor (18 mpg combined), with its 26-gal. tank. On the other hand, the big truck costs a lot more to fill up. Bottom line: The xD is a fuel sipper, but your range is less than a bigger car’s would be.
Outside, the xD has more character than its even tinier predecessor, the Scion xA; and it’s better-looking, in my opinion, than its larger but still-boxy sibling, the xB. It has a low, aggressive, almost bulldog-like front end, adorned with a pair of horizontal black grilles, mock-vent emplacements whose real function is to get you to spring for a pair of aftermarket fog lights, and color-coded power mirrors with turn indicators, a feature not usually found in this class. The rear is square and clean, and the liftgate opens wide.
In sum, the Scion xD’s a nice capable little machine. It delivers fun and gobs of value in the fast-growing sub-$20,000 market, suitable for hipsters and their parents–and their parents, too. And who knows? One may well take up permanent residence chez nous in the not-too-distant future.
As long as we find one that doesn’t rattle and buzz over coarse asphalt. That’s the car’s sole major flaw, and it can be easily fixed from Toyota’s end with a few judicious bits and pieces of sound insulation. And, also from their end, it’s certainly not a good time to raise further doubts about the quality of Toyota products.
Are you listening, Toyoda-san?
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