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2006 Scion xA review

November 20, 2005 01:16 PM EST | Scion , Sedans | Email to Friend

View large imageRoomy and well equipped, the spunky Scion xA is one of the best buys for 2006 in the economy car segment.

Pros
Handles well for an economy car, lengthy standard equipment list, comfortable seats, easy to load cargo, better deal than Toyota's Corolla.

Cons
The cool stuff costs extra, modest passing power with automatic transmission, no cruise control.

What's New for 2006
For 2006, the Scion xA gets a mild styling refresh that includes updated designs for the lower air intake, headlamps, taillamps, wheel covers and front grille. Inside, there is new seat fabric and the speedometer background is now white instead of last year's silver. The xA also receives a new steering wheel with audio controls, and the Pioneer audio system has a new head unit design and remote mini-jack port for portable music sources. Additionally, the xA offers dedicated Apple iPod connectivity, which delivers iPod display information and allows unit control and recharging through the audio system. Finally, the xA's horsepower rating drops from 108 to 103 due to new SAE testing procedures.

Introduction:
With the Scion brand, Toyota is making a credible effort to understand the Generation Y market and give it what it wants without pushing it down its throat. Housed within Toyota dealerships, Scion salespeople are instructed to play it straight with consumers. This means no-haggle pricing and the ability to get a car the way a customer wants it in about a week. And by offering over three dozen dealer-installed options, Scion hopes to give its buyers unprecedented opportunity to customize their cars on the front end.

Much has been made of the Scion xB, which looks like nothing else on the market, save for a passing resemblance to Honda's Element. The smaller xA five-door hatchback, meanwhile, could almost pass for a regular Toyota. From some angles, it looks like a big-headed toddler version of the Toyota Matrix. And indeed the car emphasizes space efficiency through its tall seating position and easy-folding rear seat. True, the xA can't hold anywhere near as much stuff as the Matrix, nor does it have a wipe-clean load floor with cargo tracks, but with a base MSRP around $13 grand, we'll cut it some slack.

So what do you get for your money? Antilock brakes, air conditioning, a six-speaker Pioneer stereo with a CD player, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a tachometer and power windows, locks, mirrors and steering -- in short, an impressive list for the lower end of the economy car segment. For comparison, most of this stuff is optional on the Toyota Corolla, and adding these items can quickly push its price above $15 grand. The only factory option on the xA is a set of side airbags for the front seat and full-length head curtain airbags (everything else is added a la carte at the dealership). Throw in a pleasant driving demeanor, and the well-equipped, reasonably priced xA definitely begins to sound like a good car for someone under 30 -- and we daresay, someone of any age.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The xA is sold as a single trim level. Each one comes with ABS; air conditioning; power windows, locks, mirrors and steering; a six-speaker Pioneer stereo with a CD player and remote mini-jack port; a rear wiper; rear defroster; a tachometer; and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat. The only factory option is a side airbag package, but there are about 40 dealer-installed options. This list includes a CD changer, satellite radio, a subwoofer, alloy wheels, a roof rack, keyless entry and a lighting kit for the footwell, just to name a few. Those seeking to eke out a bit more performance can opt for a strut tower brace and/or a cold air intake.

Powertrains and Performance:
Under the hood is a 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder with variable valve timing. It's the same engine used in the xB, and it makes 103 horsepower. This isn't a lot by modern-day standards, and acceleration isn't particularly spirited. Still, the xA has enough get-up-and-go for city driving, and it cruises along nicely on the highway. Passing maneuvers require a little more effort, particularly on cars with the four-speed automatic. A five-speed manual is the other transmission choice. Gas mileage is rated at 31 city, 37 highway with the automatic and 32/38 with the manual.

Safety:
The xA comes with antilock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, three-point belts in all five seating positions and a first aid kit. Side airbags for front occupants and full-length head curtain airbags are optional. An xA without side airbags earned four out of five stars in all government front- and side-impact crash tests.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Inside, the xA is perfectly agreeable for an economy car. Various surfaces have been trimmed in faux aluminum that's more attractive than the stuff you'll find in some Toyotas. Lots of hard plastic is inevitable at this price, but most of it is low in gloss. The gauge cluster is mounted in the center of the dash and takes some getting used to. As in the xB, a tall cabin design yields a spacious feel and allows occupants to sit tall. Although the xA's backseat isn't as roomy as the xB's, its dimensions are on par with those of the larger Toyota Matrix. With the rear seats in use, there isn't much cargo space. Fold the seats and you'll have 32.8 cubic feet.

Driving Impressions:
Although the xA is built on the same platform as the former Echo (a car we've never considered a good handler), it's amazing what a set of 15-inch wheels and tires and a rear stabilizer bar can do. On the highway, the xA feels nicely connected to the road. Driven enthusiastically around a few twists and turns, the xA is more entertaining than its economy origins would suggest. While enthusiasts would be better served by a Mazda 3 or Civic, most drivers will be satisfied with the Scion's ride and handling.

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