Pros: A proven reliable powertrain, Price, Interior, Subtle styling.
Cons: Gauge placement, Acceleration, Handling, No sunroof option.
Sometime between the invention of the wheel and the 2004 model year Toyota Motors decided that young auto enthusiasts needed their very own line of vehicles. Although Toyota is far from the first company to market an offspring brand targeted for a more youthful audience, the Scion brand is certainly one of the most unique brands I have seen sprout up in the past decade. The all new Scion brand currently offers two models; the xA and xB (a third model is due out in early 2004). Unlike the xA's boxy counterpart, the xA is a much more curvaceous vehicle that resembles a small modern 5 door wagon versus a box on wheels; those who saw my Scion xA commented that it either looked like a Toyota ECHO or a mini version of the Toyota Matrix.
Instead of using trim levels to segregate vehicles with certain standard amenities, all xA's come with just one badge; xA. The xA can be had with over 40 optional accessories though, many of which you will probably already find equipped in your Scion xA when you visit your Toyota dealership. The xA comes standard with a 1.5 liter DOHC 4-cylinder (same engine that is found in the Scion xB and Toyota Echo) that pumps out an adequate 108 horsepower and 105 lb-ft of torque. Transmission options include a standard 5-speed manual transmission (equipped) and a 4-speed fully automatic for $800.
The xA equipped with the manual tranny is definitely an adequate performer for daily driving, however the twin cam 1.5 liter leaves much to be desired. Though both the xA and xB offer enough giddy-up for keeping up with in-town traffic, more power would have undoubtedly added to the fun factor of this vehicle. After all, the Scion xA is targeted towards a youthful audience that has shown an increasing interest in quick 0-60 times. Like the Scion xB and Toyota Echo, the xA is also fairly noisy when taking the engine anywhere near its power band. Since you must plan your shifts around 4,000-6,000 RPM to get the most of the xA's tiny engine, one should expect that engine noise is going to be prevalent when driving from stoplight to stoplight. For a slight increase in performance, Scion offers the option of a cold air intake system for $400 (installed).
The xA's 5-speed manual may not be the most precise transmission in the world, however the clutch is light and the throws are reasonably short. This combination not only makes shifting from gear to gear a breeze, but should also be beneficial for those who are learning to drive a vehicle equipped with a manual tranny for the very first time. My only gripe with this transmission is that the gearing between 3rd and 4th gears seems to be a bit too dramatic. To explain, when shifting from 3rd gear into 4th gear under full throttle it seems as though the engine bogs down more than it should.
Unexpectedly I found sportier looking xA to be less tossable on twisty roads than its boxy brother, I guess you can't judge a vehicle by its sheetmetal. Tough both the xB and xA are based on the small Toyota Echo's platform, the xA seems the least sporty of the two vehicles when taking to the twisties. Neither the xA or xB are exactly handling champs, however the xA does an adequate job on those demanding back roads while showing only minimal signs of body roll. The xA rides on standard P185/60R 15" tires mounted on steel wheels (alloys are optional) that help the xA with both grip and composure. Braking is about average, although the xA comes standard with ABS it seems as though it takes considerable pedal pressure to get the xA from high speeds to a complete stop.
Driving the Scion xA on the freeway is where I found my most prominent gripes with this vehicle. The xA is not only unnecessarily noisy in top gear but also feels much less refined than its boxy sibling. Driving both the xA and xB you would never guess that they share the same engine, transmission, and chassis. To explain, the xA seems more harsh on bumpy road surfaces and engine noise is far more prominent in the cabin at speeds above 65 MPH. I found the xB to be surprisingly quiet at highway speeds. If traveling over mountainous terrain is going to be a daily event you may want skip the xA and go for something with more top gear power, i.e., the Ford Focus ZTW. I wouldn't go as far to say the xA is horrible tacking hills, I certainly have driven cars with less hill climbing power, it's just that having to floor the gas pedal and downshifting into 4th gear on modest inclines is all too common.
The Scion xA was made to be an affordable wagon and its affordability is certainly not limited to its low MSRP. Fuel economy is well above average and far surpasses any competing wagon in the Scion xA's class. With an EPA rating of 38 MPG (6 MPG better then the xB) with the manual transmission (37 with automatic) visiting the gas station will also be easy on your pocket book.
After driving some comparably priced economy cars, i.e., the Kia Rio, Kia Spectra, Nissan Sentra, etc. I found that even into the 2004 model year many car manufacturers are still ignoring interior quality. Toyota, on the other hand, has created the Scion xA with everything you would expect to find in a more expensive Toyota product. If I were to rate this vehicle on interior quality alone it definitely would receive 5 stars.
The interior of the xA is very similar to the xB, you are presented with a stylish dash with only a modest amount of titanium accents. The switchgear is also all logically placed and very easy to use. If I have any major gripes with the xA's interior it would be with the increasingly popular instrument cluster positioning. Instead of the main instrument cluster being directly in front of the driver, Toyota has moved this cluster almost directly above the center stack. Though Toyota claims that this gauge placement makes for easier driving and even suggests that it's safer than conventional instrument clusters, (your eyes are on the road and not on the instrument cluster) I find this positioning awkward and annoying at best.
While the Scion xA is not loaded to the brim with standard amenities, the xA does come with more equipment then most vehicles in its price range. Standard on the xA comes AC, power everything, an excellent sounding single CD player by Pioneer with a total of 6 speakers, rear wipers, dual front air bags, tilt steering, and much more. For a complete list of standard amenities you can visit Scion.com.
If you are looking to "pimp out" your Scion xA, Toyota Motors has decided to create its own line of interior and exterior options. From the option of a leather wrapped steering wheel to auxiliary interior lighting, the Scion xA can be had with almost anything to make your ride one that conforms to your own personal style. There is a catch here though, these optional accessories can be almost double the price of what you can buy them for at retail stores or online automotive stores. Another gripe is that some of these "options" are already installed on many of the xA's I went to look at. If I were to buy an xA, which is definitely a possibility, I don't want to pay $400 for a Bazooka subwoofer or $50 for a door sill protector. Out of 4 xA's that I looked at, all of them came with accessories that increased the MSRP dramatically.
Seating is excellent. Not only do the front cloth bucket seats provide good bolstering supports for both the lower and upper body, but they are also very comfortable and feel as if they belong in a more expensive vehicle. The rear seating surfaces are also made for comfort and come standard with 3 way head restraints; something you don't always find in sub $13,000 economy cars. One should note that the xA can sit up to 5 adults.
Creature room should be more than adequate for those looking for an economy car. The xA offers excellent leg and especially good head room up front. Rear leg room, however, may seem a bit limited for those who are over 6' tall. At 5'6" I had a surplus amount of both head and leg room, though you may want to want to test out the xB which offers slightly more rear leg room if you are taller than 6' or plan on having passengers who are tall. Cargo room is equally as impressive in the xA. Though not as large as the Scion xB, the xA still offers more than enough cargo room for large household items. From cubbies throughout the cabin to the rear cargo area, the xA is one of the roomiest hatchbacks under $13,000. For more stowage, the rear seats fold completely flat which doubles cargo volume, there is also a small underfloor storage area in the rear.
With a base MSRP of $12,480 (approx. $1,500 more than the base Toyota ECHO), this makes the Scion xA the second most affordable vehicle to come from Toyota Motors. I feel that if an ECHO is on your shopping list you should definitely check out the xA first; the xA offers much more bang for only slightly more dough. As mentioned in my xB review, if you plan on buying accessories with your xA, I highly suggest looking elsewhere. My xA came already equipped with the Bazooka subwoofer ($400) and the all-weather floor mats ($120) which brought the MSRP to over $13,000 (almost xB MSRP territory). If anything happens to your new xA, Toyota Toyota Motors backs up the xA with a 3 year/36,000 mile bumper-bumper warranty and a 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty.
Although I do have my gripes with the new Scion xA, i.e., only adequate performance and horrible gauge placement, this little wagon is very hard not to like. The xA offers high levels of quality, economy, and utility, all for less than most cars in its class. I did like the xB better than the xA, however if you are in the market for a small wagon then I highly suggest checking out the xA before making any final purchases.
Scion xA too small? check out my review on the Scion xB
- Thanks for reading!