- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

When I’m listening to the radio and I happen to hear a song come over the airwaves sung by Ringo Starr as a solo artist, I always say to myself, “He was really an underrated Beatle.”

In other words, he’s much better than he ever got credit for. That’s sort of how I viewScion.

This is a brand that’s not getting proper notice. It’s the Ringo of the Toyota trio. Everyone knows the star performers - Toyota and its rich sidekick, Lexus. And there’s little Scion, a Johnny-come-lately, strumming away in the background with its three-car lineup.

When people talk to me about affordable cars, they never mention Scion. I tell them to look at the brand - first, because it’s an affordable, value-driven product, and second, these cars are solidly built and run great. The Scion tC is probably one of the best small coupes on the market that money can buy.

As I spent time this week in the 2009 Scion xB, with a base price of $16,700, I kept thinking of all the different types of people who would get enjoyment from ownership of this five-door car. Tops on my list are older folks who need a functional utility-type car that is easy on the knees.

The xB is box-shaped like a sport utility vehicle, yet it is more user-friendly with its low-to-the-ground entry and exit. The xB has a ground clearance of 5 inches, whereas most SUVs have 8 to 9 inches of ground clearance. This means a higher step-up height when getting into the vehicle.

The xB’s doors open wide, and there’s no ducking to avoid hitting your head against a sloped roof because the roofline is square and boxy like the entire body of the xB. The xB offers a cavernous interior with five-passenger seating capacity. Cargo volume when the second row is folded is nearly 70 cubic feet.

Scion describes its xB interior as loungelike. The driver has a right-side armrest and the seats recline fully, not only for cargo space, but also for a roadside rest. Adding to the flexible functionality is the array of interior storage units. The xB has a fixed sliding tray under the second-row seats that can hold laptops, small electronics and reading material. The dash panel layout took time for me to get used to, however. The readout of various functions is spread across the front dash, midway to the passenger’s side.

I wasn’t expecting much in the area of performance, but there I go, underrating the Scion. And I should know better to make that assumption because I’m already a fan of the brand. I stepped on the accelerator and was really pleased with the smooth, linear response from the electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission as it seamlessly and quietly moved through the gears.

Contributing to the smooth ride is the MacPherson suspension system up front. The xB, despite its over-shaped boxiness, is easy to maneuver with a curb-to-curb turning circle of 35 feet. The xB rides on standard 16-inch steel wheels.

The engine breathes so well, allowing all of its 2.4-liter four-cylinder capability to be enabled. Variable valve timing with intelligence is the key to better performance, as well as the lightweight aluminum alloys used in the engine block and head.

The four-cylinder in the 2009 Scion has 55 more horsepower than the previous generation. The new xB has 158 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 162 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. The xB is offered in both five-speed manual and four-speed automatic, and both transmissions get the same EPA-estimated fuel consumption of 22 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg highway.

Send e-mail to keane@motormatters.biz

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