The Scion xD is a small, efficient, relatively inexpensive four-door hatchback with style. It was introduced as a totally new vehicle for 2008.
The xD has a boxy roofline and a bulbous hood. The xD is designed for easy personalization, and Scion offers dozens of dealer-installed parts, starting with an array of custom wheels.
The Scion xD is a roomy little car, with lots of headroom and comfortable space for four medium-size adults. The rear seat is particularly handy: It reclines, slides fore and aft to maximize passenger or cargo room, or quickly folds totally flat, creating an excellent cargo space measuring a maximum 35.7 cubic feet.
On paper, the Scion xD has the right stuff. Its short overhangs front and rear give it a sporty appearance suggesting agile handling. This is backed up with a 1.8-liter engine with VVT-i variable valve timing for strong power and good fuel economy. The xD is rated at 128 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. The xD is EPA-rated at 27/33 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission.
On the road, we found it has spry performance. Ride quality is acceptable in most circumstances, and while it isn't the sportiest performer in its class, it can be fun to drive. We recommend the five-speed manual transmission, because the weakest link in the xD package is the optional automatic. It's a conventional four-speed and, with the XD's free-revving engine, it feels like it needs more gears.
The xD comes well equipped, with air conditioning, a high-watt Pioneer stereo and a full complement of power accessories.
The xD sets the class benchmark for safety equipment. Front, side and curtain-style airbags are standard, as is a sophisticated anti-lock brake system. The xD is available with optional electronic stability control, which isn't even offered on most cars in its class.
The 2009 Scion xD comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a choice of five-speed manual ($14,650) or four-speed automatic ($15,450) transmission.
Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows, door locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry, tilt steering wheel with audio controls, first-aid kit, a 60/40 reclining, sliding and flat-folding rear seat, 16-inch steel wheels and a 160-watt, six-speaker Pioneer sound system wired for MP3, iPod and satellite radio.
Vehicle Stability Control ($650) is optional, and more than 40 dealer-installed accessories developed by Scion are available, including a plug-and-play navigation system ($1,950), Sirius or XM satellite radio ($449), a remote starter ($529), 16-inch alloy wheels ($795), and a cargo cover ($259). Speed and style parts are available from TRD (Toyota Racing Development). And aftermarket suppliers are supporting the Scion xD with a wide range of products, ranging from an supercharger to carbon-fiber body trim.
Safety features include dual-stage front airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags and curtain-style head protection airbags front and rear. A tire-pressure monitor is standard. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist. VSC electronic stability control with traction control is optional.
The Scion xD is a bit shorter and wider than the redesigned 2009 Honda Fit, its most obvious competitor. It's quite a bit smaller than the Nissan Versa and Dodge Caliber.
The xD is only half an inch longer than the old Scion xA, on a wheelbase that's 3.5 inches longer. That means shorter overhangs, engineering that should result in a better ride and more room inside.
The xD roofline is boxed in at the rear corner with a wide C-pillar (like the xB). Its fender flares have lost some of the xA's smooth shapeliness, and its hood is longer and quite bulbous, in place of the xA's cool steep slope from the top of the windshield to the front bumper. The halogen headlights are sleek, but they're pinched in a shape at odds with the roundness of the hood, which has a chrome Scion emblem stuck on the front.
The standard steel wheels measure 16 inches in diameter, and the wheelwell gaps have been tightened, which is good. But none of the three wheelcover styles do much for the car. A sharp set of wheels goes a long way toward bringing the xD alive, and that's part of Scion's personalization platform. We've seen xDs with the six-spoke, 18-inch polished alloy wheels available from Scion dealerships, and they totally change the bulky looks of the car. The 17-inch black alloys look great too, and those who don't want to spring for new tires can choose 16-inch alloys. With wheels and a rear spoiler to extend the lines of the roof, the xD looks more like something worth showing off.
The aesthetic appeal of the Scion xD cabin lies more in unconventional elements rather than clean, elegant design, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. From the functional perspective, the xD interior works well.
Materials used inside the xD are generally good for a car in this price range. The expansive plastic that covers the dash and door panels has a woven-grain, matte finish, and it's more appealing than the glossy hard stuff in some inexpensive cars. The shiny black plastic trim pieces look like piano lacquer, and better than fake wood or metal.
The seats are covered in dark charcoal fabric and are quite handsome, especially when compared to the cloth that comes with some other cars in this class. The upholstery isn't plush, but it feels sturdy. The front seats are firm but not too firm, and provide decent bolstering, which is good because many xD owners will be ripping around corners after they add Toyota Racing Development suspension components.
Switches are well placed, with the audio system above the air conditioning controls in the center stack. All the knobs are big and easy to find, though those for the climate controls have a slightly loose, jerky feel.
The gauges are mixed bag. The primary display, which Scion calls a concentric combination meter, is a speedometer and tachometer in one package, centered over the adjustable steering column. It's designed to be different, but in this case it's not better. With the tachometer and speedometer needles moving in opposite directions around a circle, it's hard to process the information at a glance. The gas gauge is a bright, easy-to-read LED to the left of the steering column, and the xD comes standard with a multi-information display that allows the driver to toggle between the odometer, trip meters, instant fuel economy, average fuel economy, distance-to-empty and average vehicle speed.
The 160-watt Pioneer sound system with six speakers is loud and clear, and plenty for a car this size. Dealer-installed upgrades are available for buyers who want more. The standard system is wired for iPod, MP3/WMA, and satellite, and includes an auxiliary input jack. Like the trip computer, the redundant audio controls on the steering wheel spoke are the exception in this class.
The rear seat is quite roomy when rear-passenger space is maximized. The rear seat easily slides forward or backward six inches, adding space for either cargo behind the seatback or passengers in front of it. With the rear seat moved full forward, there's enough legroom for a 12-year old; with the rear seat moved back, there's room for medium-sized adults. Head room is expansive, and with the front seat set for a 5-foot, 10-inch driver, there was enough rear legroom for a 5-foot, 9-inch rear passenger. Moreover, the rear seatback reclines 10 degrees, which remains a rarity in all cars. The rear-seat headrests rise a long way from the seatback, allowing more comfort for passengers when the seat is occupied, and better rearward visibility for the driver when the seat is empty.
Cargo volume is good, which is important if it's stuff you carry more than passengers. The rear seat folds totally flat, opening 35.7 cubic feet of space behind the front seats. That's substantially less than in either the new Honda Fit (57.3 cubic feet) or the Nissan Versa hatchback (50.4). Small compartments under the xD's cargo floor hold the jack tools and leave some extra room, though not enough to hold and hide a laptop. A cargo blind to cover whatever is behind the seats is available from Scion dealers.
Small storage areas are plentiful in the xD, or at least in the forward half of the interior. There's a 5.3-liter upper glovebox and 5.7-liter lower glove box. There's a box in the center console between the seats, a small compartment for change, a small storage tray that slides out of the dash, and five cup holders, including two molded into the hard bins at the bottom of the doors. There are no pockets on the seatbacks, so it's a different story for rear passengers. They get a cupholder molded in each door and a third at the rear of the center console.
We found the air conditioning works well. The interior is airtight. With just the driver's window slightly open, there's a thump in your ears, so you have to crack a second window to let the air out, common in many cars nowadays. Much sound-deadening material has been used in many places. The xD is not the quietest small car around, and it's one of the noisier Toyota products we've tested. But with that excellent Pioneer stereo blaring, you may not notice.
The Scion brand is supposed to be different by design, but it's still a product of Toyota, and on the road the Scion xD tends to reveal its Toyota roots. By this we mean that the xD travels straight down the middle of the road, in the figurative sense, as Toyota's vehicles often do by design. It's neither a standout nor a slouch in any particular dynamic category, and it's finished to satisfy the broadest possible cross-section of buyers.
Our driving included a wide range of conditions, from hard twisty corners to a crowded, choppy stretch of Los Angeles freeway to casual errand-running through suburbia. The xD's suspension is neither too soft nor too firm and responsive. It's tuned for a balance between decent ride quality and decent response. In typical circumstances the xD handles well, with a crisp, moderately sporty feel, and its driver will quickly develop confidence in how it will react in any situation.
If you really push the xD, however, as we did through some tight switchback corners, its front end presses down toward the pavement and the front tires quickly start to slide. The driver's natural inclination is to lift a little off the gas pedal, and the xD responds by plowing safely through the curve. It's not as responsive or inspiring as a Honda Fit Sport, for example. Toyota Racing Development, however, offers parts specifically to improve handling.
The ride is good, particularly when the road is relatively smooth. The xD is comfortable, without wallowing in a way that makes the driver think the car is floating around underneath. Moderate bumps are no problem either, as there is enough suspension travel to soak up the shock before it travels up into the cabin. But when the bumps come one after another in rapid succession, the xD gets a bit bouncy and unsettled. If those bumps are big, the front wheels can shake at moderate speeds, and the rear-end feels a bit skittish. The xD's torsion-beam rear axle simply can't keep the rear tires planted as firmly as a fully independent rear suspension.
The 1.8-liter engine in the xD makes 128 horsepower and acceleration performance with the five-speed manual transmission is more than adequate. The engine's power is biased toward the high end of its rev range, with peak horsepower at 6000 rpm, so if maximum acceleration is the goal, it's best to keep the four-cylinder spinning at high revs.
That's easy to accomplish with the manual transmission and it's an enjoyable experience to boot. With the manual transmission, the xD can hold its own with the fuel-swilling, big-engined carnivores that populate the urban jungle.
In stop-and-go freeway traffic, the xD's throttle response can be abrupt. It takes a bit of practice to get on the gas smoothly, each time the traffic moves again, without producing a little jerk. But the driver will learn, and smooth things out in reasonably short order.
We found the optional automatic transmission lacking in responsiveness. The xD has a four-speed automatic, where many small cars now offer five-speeds or continuously variable transmissions. We're not getting into a most-gears contest here, because it's a matter of what works. And with its high-revving four-cylinder engine, the xD's automatic doesn't perform that well except at the pokiest pace. In short, the automatic transmission does not offer the spry acceleration of the manual, especially at slower speeds.
Fuel economy for the Scion xD is an EPA-rated 26/32 mpg City/Highway with the automatic, 27/33 mpg with the manual transmission. A Nissan Versa gets 26/31 with a manual, according to the EPA, while a Honda Fit manual matches the xD at 27/33.
We were able to test the xD's brakes fairly well, using them hard in the twisties, and they did a good job. They've got the full complement of electronic assistance, meaning the car's computer will maximize stopping power while allowing the driver to maintain steering control. All the driver has to do is apply the pedal.
The Scion xD is fuel-efficient and practical, with a roomy cabin. It's stylish and is designed for easy personalization. It comes standard with a full complement of safety features, except for electronic stability control, which is the only factory option.
Sam Moses reported to NewCarTestDrive.com from Hollywood, with J.P. Vettraino in Detroit.