The economical Scion xA packs a lot of punch into its small frame
04:14 PM PDT on Friday, September 22, 2006
By PETER BOHR
That spanking-new Super Whizbang GT sitting in your garage is more than just a car; it also could be a threat to your "golden" years.
According to recent stats from the Federal Reserve, the typical new-car buyer borrows $25,000 to pay for a new ride. And to afford the monthly payments, buyers typically stretch out the loan to five years or more, which adds yet another four to five grand in interest charges to the tab.
Saddled with debt like that, is it any wonder that so many Americans save so little for their future?
But Toyota's Scion division has a solution to such financial woes: the xA four-door hatchback. It does just about everything a $25,000 car can do, at about half the price.
Including destination charge, the xA could be yours for $13,320
-- or, if you're a recent college graduate, for $400 less than that. And the difference in monthly payments between a $25,000 car and a $13,000 car could fund a very nice nest egg.
Despite its price, the xA is no bare-bones tin can on wheels. It has four doors, seats for five and comes with such standard equipment as air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, power door locks, power mirrors, power windows, a tilt steering wheel plus a six-speaker Pioneer AM/FM stereo with a CD player -- even steering-wheel mounted controls to operate the sound system.
Scion The Scion xA may be small in stature, but its high gas mileage and low price, make it a strong choice in today's market.
The xA has been around since 2004. Now in its final model year, Toyota will continue to sell the 2006 version until the automaker launches a replacement next spring. It's the least expensive of a trio of cars offered by Scion. The tC sports coupe sits at the top of the line, followed by the cube-like xB and finally, the xA. Exterior styling of the xA is conventional hatchback, but with a couple of twists that distinguish it from other hatchbacks.
The fender wells are pronounced, giving the car a slightly aggressive look. And the rounded rear window, plus the pair of rear quarter windows, add interest. Ditto for the redesigned grille and headlights, new for 2006. The xA's styling isn't beautiful, but it is cool in a kooky sort of way -- and is definitely less oddball than the xB's styling.
The xA's seating area has plenty of room for most adults.
It's also practical. A relatively high roofline means that driver and passengers can sit tall, with good headroom and good outward visibility. Many hatchbacks come with two doors only. The extra pair of doors on the xB make it so much easier to load family and friends -- or, when the 60/40 split folding rear seat backs are down, for loading cargo.
Inside, my 2006 xA test car offered some pleasant surprises when it came to the seats. They're firm, very supportive and have good bolstering on the sides to keep you in place -- much like the seats you'd find in a much higher-priced sports sedan. The fabric upholstery looks handsome and seems durable. The tilt steering wheel, also unusual in an inexpensive car, allows drivers of most any size to find a comfy seating position.
Much like the Mini Cooper, the car's dash has set the instrument panel in the middle, sometimes making it difficult to see.
The interior has its share of funky styling too, notably the instrument pod containing the speedometer, tachometer and fuel gauge that sits smack in the center of the dash, a la Mini Cooper. It's unusual, but it makes the instruments harder to see. The interior has a lot of hard plastic surfaces; but then, this is an inexpensive car.
I suppose the low price point also dictates a small engine. The xA and xB share the same 1.5-liter, 103-horsepower four-cylinder engine. To be sure, it's no powerhouse. But instant throttle response makes it seem peppy and willing enough.
The xA comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission (a four-speed automatic costs an additional $800). Though the little engine doesn't feel particularly winded at 65 to 80 mph, it is turning some high rpms which makes it buzzy inside the cabin. A sixth gear would bring down the engine speed and make things a little more serene inside the cabin.
But the small engine's fuel economy is sure to please. Thrash it hard, and you'll still get close to 30 mpg. Drive it gently and you'll approach a hybrid car's mileage.
For a short-coupled car, I found the ride surprisingly compliant over rough surfaces, though the suspension is on the firm side. The well-controlled suspension together with the quick, responsive steering and the precise manual gearbox delivers some driving fun, despite the modest size of the xA's engine.
Toyota created the Scion division to lure youthful buyers into the Toyota family. And so it's no surprise that the automaker offers plenty of gadgets as options that might appeal to young drivers -- from fancy alloy wheel packages to various sound-system upgrades. But the $429 Bazooka Tube Subwoofer on my test car took up half the cargo space in the modest-sized trunk area.
The only option that would be on my list of must-haves is a $650 safety package consisting of side-impact airbags for the front seats and overhead curtain airbags for both the front and rear seats -- important items on a small car. The xA received good four-star ratings in government crash tests without the side and head airbags. Had the crash-tested car been equipped with the extra airbags, the side impact rating could well have been five stars, the highest rating.
Toyota may slot the Scion xA as a car for young drivers. But given its diminutive price tag, I'd call it a good retirement plan for motorists of any age.
Contact Peter Bohr at pbohr@PE.com