When the Scion xB subcompact made its debut in 2004 (along with Toyota's Scion brand itself), America got its first real taste of undiluted Japanese eccentricity. A barely altered version of the domestic-market Toyota bB, sold in Japan since 1999, the xB stood out on American roads like a Bento box in a Texas steakhouse. Tiny, austere, and so unabashedly square it was actually cute, the xB won a loyal following among young (and old) drivers who admired its purity of purpose and uniquely unstylish style. Toyota sold more than 47,000 xBs in 2004; by 2006, that figure jumped to more than 61,000 annually.
Yet like everything American, or Americanized, the xB wasn't destined to remain tiny. The second-gen model, unveiled for 2008, grew by 12 inches in length and roughly 600 pounds. At the same time, it lost the original's neo-architectural physique, instead wearing more conventional sheetmetal fashioned like a melting bar of Lifebuoy. It also lost, it seemed to us then, much of the first xB's charming Japaneseness. The xB had grown up, yes, but in the process it had become a safe, tepid California Roll compared with its predecessor's serving of deliciously horrific sashimi.
Mind you, a good California Roll can be enjoyable, as we quickly learned when a 2008 xB entered our long-term fleet in October 2007. Starting at $16,270, our xB included satellite radio and -- -- a navigation system, among other upgrades. Total sticker: a not-so-compact $21,103. Yet the accolades piled up fast.
"I owned an original xB," wrote managing editor Rusty Kurtz in the logbook, "and this new version addresses all the complaints I had about the first one. With more horsepower, it can now keep pace with fast-moving freeway traffic. Our long-term tester also has cruise control, something I was told wasn't available even as a dealer-installed option on the first-generation car."
Obviously, Rusty was pleased to have the new twin-cam, 2.4-liter four under this right foot, its 158 horsepower easily outgunning the 103 horses of the original xB. Like the original, our gen-two xB offered a four-speed as the only automatic. Didn't seem to be a hindrance, though. "Normally, I'm a disappointed in modern vehicles that use four-speed automatics, but the unit in this xB is quite nice," wrote Ron Kiino. "It's responsive and seamless, offers useful sport and manual modes, and delivers good fuel economy. I like it over the Corolla XRS's five-speed auto."
The xB's biggest draw, though, was its, well, bigness. "The interior is massive, and it has way more amenities than you'd expect at this level," wrote Allyson Harwood. "Easily passes my hockey-bag check," agreed Mike Royer. "Plenty of room in the hatch for a lot of things." I remember driving to lunch one day with Ed Loh in the passenger seat and commenting, "This xB is so smooth and roomy, why would you buy a Civic?" Ed just stared back and replied, "Good question."