Scion, Toyota’s youth oriented brand has been on the market for only about four years, but Toyota has managed to hit their target market head on. One of the main reasons that Scion is one of the most recognized car brands among younger drivers is because of their marketing. Scion is not pitched as only a car brand, but a lifestyle. When you buy a Scion you are not only getting a “cool” ride, but you are also gaining access to a community.
This is where Scion Backstage comes in. This event takes place all over the country and it is a chance for Scion enthusiasts, owners and future owners to gather and celebrate everything that has to do with Scion. Attendees can check out the latest Scions, display their own customized rides and check out other ways that they can personalize their cars.
For this year’s event I attended the event that took place here in LA. I mainly wanted to check out the new xB, but was surprised by the other elements of the event. The event took place at the Santa Monica airport in a vacant airport hanger. Once inside it was apparent that Toyota is not kidding around with their “lifestyle” brand. There were separate seminars that attendees could go to, to find out about engine modifications, audio accessories and other car accessories. They also had a separate section dubbed “Club Scion” where you could grab dinner and drinks (non-alcoholic of course). It seemed that the highlight of the event was the trivia section of the event where attendees could compete to see who could correctly answer the most questions about Scion and the Scion vehicles (Scionic Challenge). Lastly there was the Scion xB test course, where we are all given the opportunity to test drive the new 2008 Scion xB on a small (very small) closed course.
So what was my take on the whole event?
Well I definitely liked how Scion has managed to build a community around their brand. It was nice to feel that if you actually buy a Scion you are getting a lot more than just a car and for some of us a car payment. Other automakers may build awesome vehicles, but the whole experience of buying and owning the car is lacking.
For a second I thought how cool it would be to own the new Scion xB…but that was until I drove it.
For 2008 Scion has released an all-new much larger Scion xB. The new model is bigger in almost every dimension than the last generation. It is a foot longer, 3 inches wider and over 600 pounds heavier. To move all the extra weight, the new car ditches the old 1.5L from the old model for the same 158 horsepower, 2.4L engine that is currently in the Camry and Scion tC. Even though it has the same engine as the Camry, the xB does not get the Camry’s 5-speed automatic, instead it uses the same four-speed from the old model. Overall the interior size of the new xB is more in the realm of the midsize Camry than the old model that was about the same size as the Corolla.
The exterior styling is similar to the last generation, but with more rounded edges and a much larger hood. Most people at the event felt that the new styling is much better than the old model. The old model was never designed for the U.S. market, which explains why the new car is much bigger and more akin to our tastes.
Inside the look is very different from the old xB. The 2008 model has bigger seats and a busier dash. Overall I like the interior of the old model better. The simplicity of the old xB appealed to me more than the seats that were overly squishy and the dash that looked like it was styled by a video game designer ( I guess that appeals to this car’s main buyers). The design and feel of the seats looked like they would have been more at home in a Camry or other boring midsized sedan. Although I hated the overall design of the interior, it was spacious. I did feel like some of the materials that Toyota used, were not of the highest quality. I also didn’t like the way the doors sounded when they were closed. A loud tinny sound is not what I expect from a Toyota.
So how did it drive? Well it felt very substantial for a “small” car. It’s ride was solid and I didn’t get the initial feeling that I was driving an economy car. The driving position was suitable and the view out was good. I didn’t like the placement of the auto shifter. For some reason it felt cheap and awkward. The car had acceptable power, even though the engine did seem kind of loud and not in a good way. The handling was what I expected, nothing better. I felt like I was driving a Camry more than a “cool/ fun” Scion. There was also a little more road noise and rattling noises than I expected.
So what is my overall conclusion about driving the new xB?
After I turned off the engine and slammed the tinny sounding doors shut, I felt somewhat disappointed. I had high hopes for the new model, especially since there is a renewed interest in small cars right now. The old model excelled well in many areas, the new generation just seemed like a watered down and bloated version of the last generation. It lacked the character of the old xB. For some reason I felt like I was driving an American car, not a Scion. It was no longer fun to drive. I couldn’t help but recall a recent test drive of the Honda Fit after leaving this car. The Fit is smaller than the xB, has a smaller interior and less horsepower, but it is a lot more fun to drive and has better quality. If I were to choose right now between the new xB and the Honda Fit, Honda would get my vote.
Who knows maybe the new Scion xD will be better, since it is smaller than the new xB.
Here are some more photos from the event: