The new xB is 650 pounds heavier, not as distinctive looking and not nearly as fun to drive as the old one.
What was tested? 2008 Scion xB automatic ($17,275).
Options: Premium audio ($425), carpet mats ($155).
Price as tested (including $580 destination charge): $17,855
The first-generation Scion xB is an icon. Even if you don't know it by name, chances are you know its funky Kleenex-box shape.
It also had an iconic driving feel, something not easy to forget. Despite being made by Toyota and looking like a miniature Wonder Bread van, it drove with the zip of a Honda Civic. It was lightweight and tossable, though not particularly muscular, and still had enough headroom for NBA players thanks to the flat, Frank Lloyd Wright roofline.
It's never easy to remake an icon, but that's what Scion had to do with its brand-defining xB for the 2008 model year. And, frankly, the second-generation xB has gone from Frank Loyd Wright to part Frank Gehry, part Frankenstein.
Here's the scary part: The new xB is 650 pounds heavier, not as distinctive looking and not nearly as fun to drive as the old one. While Scion is Toyota's attempt to find younger buyers -- who are generally perceived as being more environmentally conscious -- the new xB gets dramatically worse gas mileage than the old one. Its city mileage plummeted from 28 mpg to 22.
That's not a good sign.
Still, with all that extra weight, Scion did manage to add some improvements to the xB. Most noticeable is the engine, which has gone from 103 to 155 horsepower -- an enormous jump. While I thought the old engine was a blast to drive, even if a bit anemic, the new one offers more oomph but not as much fun.
While I thought the old engine was a blast to drive, even if a bit anemic, the new one offers more oomph but not as much fun.
It's faster but doesn't feel that way, if that makes any sense. At the same time, I'm not one to argue with a 50-percent jump in horsepower.
Another Frankenstein problem: The interior is straight out of the 1980s. It has orange gauges in a square pod with a digital speedometer, making you wonder whether Scion designers developed time travel so they could raid the 1986 General Motors parts bin.
If Scion was going for a retro look, then that's cool. Maybe cheap-feeling plastic and crappy old Pontiac gauges are a fad like 70s clothes from a trendy resale shop. More likely, though, buyers will be left with the same impression as my 23-year-old coworker: "It looks like My First Dashboard."
The new body is more aggressive looking, with rounded edges and the chopped-top style of a speedster.
Now the the pleasant, Frank Gehry part: The new xB looks better, in my view, and is more comfortable to drive than the old one. Rather than an unimaginative box that could have been designed by a 7-year-old with a ruler, the latest xB is covered in curves but still stays true to its boxy heritage.
The new body is more aggressive looking, with rounded edges and the chopped-top style of a speedster. It has a higher beltline, longer hood and longer wheelbase that adds to the cushioned feeling on the highway. It also remains very affordable, starting at $15,650.
Unfortunately, my experience with the new xB is summed up in six words.
I'd rather have the old one.
Pros: It has dramatically more power and less abrasive styling than the old xB. It's more comfortable on the highway, too.
Cons: The old one was better.