Pros: Peppy acceleration; Toyota's reputation for reliability; plenty of customization options; versatile sliding/reclining rear seats

Cons: Outdated transmissions; poor highway fuel economy for this class; steering wheel doesn't telescope

Although Scion is technically Toyota's hip, edgy brand, the 2012 Scion xD compact hatchback plays it safe. With its crisp, simple lines, the no-nonsense xD eschews the adventurous styling that has become increasingly common in this class. Under the hood is the tried-and-true 1.8-liter engine from the Corolla, so the xD doesn't take any chances there, either. The xD is still a Scion, of course, so you can dress it up with all manner of flashy accessories and fancy sound equipment if you like. But at heart, the 2012 xD is really just a dependable Toyota hatchback that's ready for years of hassle-free ownership.

The competition has closed the dependability gap in recent years, however, so the aging xD's deficiencies are now a bit more glaring. For example, the automatic transmission has just four speeds and the manual transmission five, which helps explain why the xD can only manage 33 mpg on the highway. The steering wheel doesn't telescope, making the driver's seat a no-go zone for tall folks. What's more, the xD's suspension-based on that of the previous-generation Toyota Yaris-yields a firm and noisy ride. Many newer rivals are more refined.

Nonetheless, the xD's promise of Toyota reliability over the long haul is hard to ignore. For shoppers who like to play it safe, the 2012 Scion xD is unlikely to disappoint.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Scion xD is offered in one trim level with a variety of available upgrades. Standard features include 16-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, power accessories, cruise control, a first-aid kit, a tilt-only steering wheel and a six-speaker Pioneer audio system with HD radio and iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

Extras include 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, a premium Pioneer audio system with a 5.8-inch touchscreen and Pandora Internet radio connectivity (iPhone required) and a navigation system with a seven-inch touchscreen (replacing the premium stereo's smaller touchscreen).

There's also a limited-edition RS 4.0 model for 2012 that features special white paint, 16-inch alloy wheels, white interior trim, exclusive upholstery with white stitching and individually numbered badges-you know, for when the RS 4.0 is a collector's car someday.

The xD's front seats are pleasantly firm, but they don't hug you much through the corners. Given all the xD's sport-oriented accessories, we're surprised that sport seats aren't on the list. The tilt-only steering wheel will frustrate long-legged drivers, as there's just no way to get your arms comfortably close to the wheel without ramming your knees into the dash. But everyone will appreciate the exceptionally user-friendly climate controls.

The xD gets style points for its unusual gauges, including a cockeyed speedometer with a nearly vertical tachometer tucked alongside. The quality of the interior materials is nothing to write home about, but the plastics have interesting textures, and we like the look of the standard non-touchscreen Pioneer face plate; it adds a custom touch to an otherwise straightforward center stack.

The xD's back seat is perhaps its most distinctive aspect. The seat has six inches of fore/aft travel, so you can prioritize passenger space or cargo space as needs dictate. The seatbacks also recline, a feature typically seen in SUVs. With the seat slid all the way back, there's adequate room for a couple of adults, which is no mean feat considering the xD's compact dimensions.

Less impressive is the xD's cargo capacity, which tops out at 35.7 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded down. That's near the low end of the spectrum for four-door hatchbacks, but the XD is a pretty tiny car.

Technology

The xD's standard Pioneer stereo is way nicer-looking than the typical base stereo in this class. We especially like the iPod-inspired mode selection dial. The optional touchscreen stereo is very tempting, however, as it brings the added functionality and wow factor of that 5.8-inch screen-plus an iPhone-powered Pandora feed and a little extra power-for under $500. Check out the cool font on the touchscreen, too. Someone sweated the details on this one. We're a little disappointed, however, that a subwoofer doesn't come standard with the premium system; Scion provides the necessary RCA output (with the base system as well), but you'll have to go buy a sub yourself.

The other notable bit of high-tech kit is the navigation system, which boasts a seven-inch touchscreen. It works fine, but it'll run you about two grand, and wouldn't you rather stick with the neat 5.8-inch touchscreen and use your phone for navigation?

Performance & Fuel Economy

The front-wheel-drive xD comes with a 1.8-liter inline-4 rated at 128 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is standard; the optional automatic is a four-speed. Acceleration is pretty sprightly with either transmission-credit the xD's modest curb weight of about 2,600 pounds for that. But most rivals offer more speeds in their gearboxes these days, and the xD pays the price on the fuel economy front, checking in at 27 mpg city and a low 33 mpg highway with the manual transmission. The automatic suffers a 1-mpg penalty in both city and highway ratings.

Safety

The 2012 Scion xD comes with standard stability control, ABS and six airbags (front, front side and full-length side curtain).

The government hasn't crash tested the xD, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the xD its top rating of Good in all categories and named it a Top Safety Pick.

Driving Impressions

The xD's last-generation Yaris underpinnings reveal themselves in the firm, sometimes unyielding ride. Road noise is prominent at highway speeds. Steering response is quite sharp, but not in a way that makes us want to head for the hills. Although the xD is perfectly adequate as a short-distance runabout, we wouldn't call it especially refined.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Sonic - The turbocharged Sonic LTZ is pricier than the xD, but the regular Sonic hatchback with the 1.8-liter engine is a strong Scion competitor.

Kia Rio - One of our favorite subcompacts, the Rio blends style and practicality like few others in this class.

Toyota Yaris - If you're looking for a Toyota product, know that the Yaris was just redesigned, so it's got some updates that the xD lacks.

AutoTrader Recommends

We'd have to have that 5.8-inch touchscreen, but otherwise, we'd stick with the standard xD to keep the cost down. Scion's accessories can quickly bump the xD's price up into Ford Focus hatchback territory, and that's just not a fair fight.3

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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