2011 Scion xD Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Shortly before I was due to return the Scion xD after a weeklong test drive, I ended up driving along a curvy, hilly country road at the back of a congo-line of cars that had just unloaded from a ferry. It was a moment that nicely illuminated the xD's purpose in life: Leading the pack was a Toyota Yaris, and then there was a Hyundai Accent, a Chevrolet Aveo, and, right ahead of me, a Honda Fit. Only one car had a driver under 50. Only one car had the music cranked waaaay too loud and the passengers bouncing in their seats. Only one car was riding on a dealer-installed wheel and tire package so meaty as to overflow the fenders. Only one car announced its presence with the pugnacious braaap of a tuned sport muffler. Yup, in this particular congo-line of compact economy cars, my Scion xD was definitely the cool one.

The cool factor is aided by the fact that Scion is a new marque in Canada, having gone on sale here in September 2010, so the cars still have that "Whoa-what's-that?!" appeal. As a brand, Scion can trace its roots back nearly 10 years, but the corporation behind the scenes has much deeper roots: Scion is an arm of Toyota, and was created by the automaker's U.S. division in 2002 to grasp a share of the youth market. Scions first went on sale in California in 2003, and went U.S.-wide in 2004. Canada didn't get the marque until September 2010, when the full lineup arrived - xB, xD and tC. A Smart-car sized little brother, the iQ, is due any time, but meanwhile the xD is the smallest, newest and least expensive Scion in the stable.

The xD was introduced in 2008 as a replacement for the original Scion xA, based loosely on the Toyota Yaris platform. The xD stays pretty true to the concept of the original xA, retaining the 5-door, front-wheel-drive subcompact hatchback layout, but where the xA had a 103-horsepower 1.5L engine that was derided as underpowered and buzzy, the xD has a significantly more powerful (128-horsepower) 1.8L DOHC VVT-i engine out of the Toyota Corolla - after all, it's tough to be cool if you're perceived as wimpy. I was given a new Alpine White 2011 xD to try out for a week, and I have to admit it brought out the kid in me and put a smile on my face.

What really sets Scion apart from other marques is its focus on customization - buying an xD is just the beginning of the ownership experience, and you can keep your car fresh and unique by installing a wide range of dealer-available accessories. These include upgraded stereo packages, wheel and tire packages, lowering kits, sports mufflers, lighted doorsills, and many other interior and exterior parts. My test car was equipped with several accessories including a premium Alpine audio system, rear spoiler, an aluminum shift knob (cool to look at, and cold to touch on frosty mornings), a sport muffler, lowering springs and big 18-inch TRD alloy wheels and low-profile tires to replace the stock 16-inch steel wheels - a selection of bits worth $3,470 total.

Equipped with these goodies the test car was thoroughly entertaining to toss about, if perhaps a little compromised in terms of comfort: Between the big low profile tires and lowering springs, the ride was firm to the point of being harsh at times, but the upside was delightfully quick responses and crisp handling, even with winter tires on (and on that subject, it should be noted that Scion has toleranced the accessory wheel and tire package right to the hairy edge of usability - the big blocky shoulders on the winter tires actually rubbed the car's inner fenders during tight low-speed manoeuvres). The sport muffler likewise pushed the limits, offering a claimed increase in power and the kind of deep resonant exhaust note that tuners desire, but at the price of a highway drone that was at times downright unpleasant, especially when climbing highway grades at lower revs and wide throttle openings.

All the stock bits and pieces work absolutely fine however. The shifter has a nice, light action and positive engagement. The brakes inspire confidence. The engine revs willingly and strikes a nice balance between gutsy and thrifty. The seats are comfortable, and the interior offered soft-padded armrests on the doors to offset what is otherwise mostly hard plastic. Still, it's a fairly good-looking interior with some funky touches that complement the blocky, slightly aggressive exterior styling - I imagine some people will like the single split-quadrant speedometer/tachometer setup and the strange "desiccated skin" look of the dashboard, while others won't. Personally I found the instruments tidy looking but difficult to read at a glance, and I rather liked the dash. My only real complaint was that Scion seems to have deliberately oriented the gas and brake pedals so that it is not just difficult, but damn nigh impossible, to perform heel-and-toe downshifts (one can't help but wonder if this is to reduce the possibility of unintended acceleration due to "pedal misapplication").

Overall the xD was lots of fun to drive, and while the accessory parts certainly introduced some compromises, that's not really a complaint - after all, they gave the test car sharp handling and superb audio, and in a sense Scion should be lauded for offering customers what they want, even if what they want is raucous rather than refined. Just be warned that if you order it spicy, Scion will serve it up good and spicy, so make sure you know exactly what you're getting into before you plunk down your money for any performance goodies.

Because the focus at Scion is on dealer-installed accessories, there are no factory options offered on the xD other than the $900 4-speed automatic transmission - the trim is what they call "mono-spec." If a car is going to be mono-spec it better fairly well equipped, and Scion makes sure this is the case: The xD comes standard with air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, tilt steering wheel with audio controls, keyless entry, cruise control, dual vanity mirrors, 60/40 folding rear seat, multi-information display, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system and more. On the safety side, the xD has dual front, side and side-curtain airbags, active front headrests with whiplash protection, tire pressure monitoring, and six key safety features that the manufacturer calls the Star Safety System. These include stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist and smart stop technology which cuts power to the engine if the gas and brake pedal are pressed at the same time.

With a standard-transmission model priced at $17,200 (plus $1,390 destination charges) and fuel economy rated at a thrifty 7.4 / 5.9 L/100km city/hwy (7.6 / 5.9 for the automatic), the Scion xD certainly fits the bill as an economy car. And with the addition of a few judiciously chosen dealer accessories, it has the edge over most other subcompact economy cars in terms of driving entertainment and street cred. A couple of notable exceptions might be the new Ford Fiesta and the Mazda 2, both of which have impressive driving dynamics and are seriously fun to drive while retaining a bit more refinement than a tricked-out xD - though at the cost, arguably, of that all-important street cred. If I were to build my very own congo-line of compact economy cars, I'd certainly want to include those two competitors, but I definitely wouldn't leave out the xD.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Scion, 2011, xD, $10,000 - $19,999, Subcompact,

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