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Built like a Toyota (because it is one), the Scion xA offers solid construction, quiet operation, comfortable accommodations and low maintenance costs.
Unlike the Scion xB and tC, the xA doesn't set the world on fire with its styling, but it comes well-equipped with convenience and safety features. It's comfortable in the front seats, though the rear is a bit cramped, and it offers decent cargo space.
The ride is firm and it handles reasonably well. It doesn't have a lot of power, but nets an EPA rating of 32/38 mpg City/Highway.
A new limited-edition model in bright red is available for 2005 that comes with special seat fabric, a sunroof, and active safety features.
Scion xA ($12,480) is powered by a 1.5-liter 16-valve four-cylinder and comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic is optional ($800).
The list of standard features is surprisingly long for a car in this price class: antilock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake Distribution (which boosts braking pressure in emergency situations); air conditioning; power windows, door locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; tilt steering wheel; tachometer and trip meter; 60/40 split folding rear seat; cargo area cover; and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD Pioneer sound system that reads MP3 files and is satellite radio-ready.
The only factory-installed option Toyota offers on the xA besides the automatic transmission is a safety package comprising front seat-mounted side airbags and front and rear seat side curtain airbags ($650).
A limited-edition model called the xA Release Series 1.0 is available for 2005. Positioned as a package ($1,395), the Release Series 1.0 comes with special Absolutely Red paint and is further distinguished by its sports grille and color-keyed rear spoiler. A power tilt and slide moonroof come standard along with vehicle stability control (VSC) with traction control (TRAC). Inside, the limited-edition model is distinguished with black seat fabric with red highlights, along with red lighting in the center storage compartment. Only 1,550 units will be produced and will have individually numbered series badges applied to the interior.
Some 40 accessories are available, installed at the factory or dealership. Many are appearance oriented and include appliques for B-pillars, the fuel door, instrument panel, door sills and rear bumper; license plate frames; mudguards; tail lamp garnish; rear spoiler; removable roof rack; red, blue or clear covers for the remote keyless entry; and sport pedals in choice of red, blue or silver. Functional accessories include a cargo liner, net and tote; carpeted floor mats; auto-dimming rear view mirror; satellite tuner and auxiliary antenna; subwoofer; security system; wheel locks; and alloy wheels. On the performance list are a cold-air induction system; front strut tower brace; and an assortment of bits from Toyota Racing Development, including 18-inch wheels with Pirelli P Zero tires, lowering springs, strut/shock set; and a sport muffler.
Scion xA looks a bit like a shrunken Toyota Matrix with a bit less of a wedge look. A squat and slightly tapering glasshouse sits on mildly rounded doors with a fairly prominent character line running along the lower edge and visually tying together the front and rear wheel wells. The windshield angles down into a more sharply angled hood. Head lamps and tail lamps notched into the leading and trailing edges of the front and rear wheel well surrounds, respectively, mirror each other, making for a stylish set of book ends from the side view. The one-piece lift gate tucks down between the tail lamps, the backlight merging smoothly with the side rear quarter windows.
The Scion xA is a subcompact, so the size and arc of the doors aren't remarkable. Tall people will have to duck their heads when climbing in, especially when climbing into the rear seats. The outside door handles, though, are the nice, full-open type, where a hand can completely enclose the pull. The liftgate clears six-footers, but not by much.
For a car as affordable as the xA, the quality of the interior and its assembly are noteworthy. No, it's not luxurious, but neither is it cheap. Broad expanses of plastic have a nice tactile texture. Brushed aluminum-like strips of brightwork accent the dash and door panels. Inside door pulls are shallow, but not troublesome. The solid-colored seat bolsters bracket the subtly patterned insets. Dash-mounted air conditioning vents pivot only vertically instead of rotating 360 degrees as their round, eyeball-like design seems to indicate.
The driving position is comfortable; the seats are competent, although anything more than a long commute might uncover some of the unavoidable consequences of the xA's affordability. Pedals are well positioned, even for spirited driving, with the brake pedal near enough to the accelerator to invite an occasional heel-and-toe downshift. Outward visibility is on a par with other cars in this class, which is to say attentive drivers should rarely find themselves in difficult situations.
The instrument cluster is centered in the upper portion of the dash. This is supposed to reduce the time and eye adjustment necessary checking the gauges. Over time, drivers will no doubt adjust, but it's awkward at first. The instruments' decor facilitates an easy quick scan, with a large speedometer communicating via black-on-white graphics parked next to a smaller, white-on-black tachometer; the fuel gauge occupies the lower quadrant of the speedometer, the liquid crystal odometer and trip meter sit in the space beneath the tach.
The stereo is mounted high on the dash, above the air conditioner control panel, for easy access. Storage space comprises glove box, door map pockets, cup holders, center console and under-floor space in the cargo area.
Overall, people space is competitive with the leaders of the class, the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and VW Golf, varying by no more than an inch or so. This may not seem noteworthy save for the fact the xA is almost 20 inches shorter than the Civic and more than 10 inches shorter than the Focus or the Golf; it is taller, though, by about 4 inches across the line. The xA shines in hip room, besting the rest of the class by 3 to 5 inches front and rear, despite being the most narrow of the group. Rear-seat legroom is cramped with anybody taller than six feet in the front, however.
The Scion xA offers more cargo space (by more than 4 cubic feet) than a Focus, though less than a Golf.
The firmness of the Scion xA's ride surprised us. To the extent, in fact, that anybody considering ordering the TRD shock and spring accessory combo ($518) should drive an xA so equipped and a base xA before deciding.
Otherwise, the xA's light weight and taut footprint promise more than the rather anemic engine delivers. Even the class leaders' base engines pump out more power, albeit at a cost in fuel economy. Seekers of spirited motoring should either look elsewhere or plan on spending a lot of time in the lower gears. Still, sufficient sound deadening materials have been sandwiched into the body and assorted braces to spare occupants significant engine whine. And the quality of assembly normally expected from Toyota leaves few if any buzzes, squeaks or rattles.
Shifts were sure and confidence inspiring. Feedback from the clutch and brakes is good.
The buzz about this car has nothing to do with quality of design or assembly, or with its sportiness or lack thereof. It's that Toyota has launched a new nameplate to introduce itself to younger car buyers looking for a well-built, durable car that's affordable, but different.