Pros: Energetic engine; ample cargo capacity; unique styling; plenty of technology features

Cons: Aging transmissions; poor fuel economy; bus-like driving position

What's New: The 2013 xB receives new front and rear bumpers, minor interior trim changes and an optional BeSpoke premium audio system with mobile app integration.

Introduction

When it comes to pure utility, nothing beats a box. That's really what keeps the 2013 Scion xB relevant. Its squared-off shape gives it almost as much cargo capacity as a midsize crossover SUV. As such, if your next vehicle needs to have a killer cargo van mode, the xB merits close consideration.

But stay tuned, because this pony has more than one trick. The 2.4-liter engine, for example, was basically borrowed from the previous-generation Camry, so it's a lot of motor for a small vehicle. And despite its advancing age, the xB has stayed current in the technology department, offering cool stereos and plenty of neat smartphone connectivity features.

Also, the xB is as customizable as any Scion, so if you want a body kit, a sport exhaust or you name it, your local dealer will hook you up, all without affecting your warranty in the least.

Demerits? Well, the 4-speed automatic transmission gives us 90s flashbacks (most rivals have five or six speeds) and it's one of the main culprits in holding the highway fuel economy below 30 miles per gallon. Same goes for the standard 5-speed manual shifter. Then there's the decidedly odd driving position, which we'd describe as a cross between a school bus and a UPS truck.

But the xB still offers more space efficiency than any other vehicle of this size and it does so at a bargain basement price with lots of available amenities. There's room for improvement, but we can understand why you might find Scion's box-on-wheels irresistible.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 Scion xB is offered in one trim level with numerous available accessories. Standard features include 16-inch steel wheels (with your choice of three plastic cover styles), air conditioning, power accessories, cruise control, a first aid kit, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel and a 6-speaker Pioneer audio system with HD radio and iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

Add-ons include 17- or 19-in alloy wheels, fog lights, a rear seat DVD entertainment system with two 7-in LCD screens, a premium Pioneer audio system with a 5.8-in touchscreen and BeSpoke mobile app integration (see the Technology section below) and a variety of mild performance aids, such as lowering springs, stiffer shocks and a sport exhaust.

The xB model's front seats are firm and flat, offering little in the way of adjustability. Forward visibility is perhaps uniquely strange (the FJ Cruiser also comes to mind) thanks to the upright windshield, which seems like it's about five feet in front of you. The tilt-telescopic steering wheel is obviously an improvement over the tilt-only wheel in earlier xB models, but it still doesn't extend out far enough for lanky drivers. It's also angled forward pretty aggressively, even at its lowest tilt position. Think big yellow bus here. At least the climate controls are user-friendly for all.

The xB model's driver information center consists of a row of four overlapping circles mounted toward the middle of the dashboard. The digital speedometer is the closest circle, so keeping track of your speed shouldn't be an issue, but we're not sold on the ergonomics of putting gauges somewhere other than in the driver's line of sight. Interior materials are mediocre, but we suppose plush polymers aren't really the point of a car like this. The standard (non-touchscreen) Pioneer faceplate looks great, adding a bit of custom flair to what's already a pretty distinctive cabin.

Moving to the back seat, the xB offers such satisfactory accommodations for two that we consider it a viable alternative to compact crossover SUVs for passenger-carrying duty. The rear cushion is reasonably high and legroom is plentiful. Cargo capacity is another of the xB model's SUV-like traits, starting at 21.7 cu ft behind the backseat and expanding to a formidable 69.9 cu ft with the rear seat backs folded.

Technology

The xB model's standard Pioneer stereo is much more attractive than the typical base stereo in this class and it even lets you customize a 16-character welcome message that appears every time you turn it on. We especially like the iPod-inspired mode selection dial.

The optional touchscreen stereo is tempting, though, as it brings higher amplifier wattage and the added functionality of a 5.8-in touchscreen, with a distinctive typeface thrown in for visual appeal. This setup also offers BeSpoke mobile app integration (including Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and more), as well as a little extra power, for a reasonable premium. Note, however, that BeSpoke was not compatible with the iPhone 5 at the time this article was written, although a fix was under investigation.

The xB also offers a rear seat entertainment system with twin LCD screens mounted in the front headrests, a rare offering at this price point.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The front-wheel-drive xB is powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4 rated at 158 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. That's a lot of motor for a compact utility vehicle -- in fact, the midsize Camry sedan used to employ the same inline-4. Off the line, the xB really scoots and the acceleration only tapers off once the brick-like exterior hits highway velocities.

A 5-speed manual is standard, with a 4-speed automatic available at extra cost. Although they work well enough, these transmissions are down on speeds relative to most rivals and that shows in the xB model's lackluster fuel economy -- 22 mpg city/28 mpg hwy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Safety

The 2013 xB comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front side, full-length side curtain).

The government hasn't crash tested the xB using its new methodology, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the xB its top rating of Good in all crash test categories.

Driving Impressions

The xB experience is dominated by its driving position. Reaching forward for a compact steering wheel that's angled away from you, legs akimbo, you peer through a windshield that seems impossibly far away. It's memorable, to say the least. We admire the xB model's responsive steering, though handling limits are ultimately quite low. The ride is firm and noisy at times. Not the last word in refinement, this xB.

Other Cars to Consider

Honda Fit: The Fit is a perennial all-star in this class because of its amazingly versatile interior, but the xB can actually swallow considerably more stuff. The Honda gets better fuel economy, however.

Kia Soul: Perhaps the only competitor that rivals the xB model's funkiness, the distinctively styled Soul boasts updated engines that yield much better fuel economy and acceleration.

Nissan Cube: The Cube is a less serious utility vehicle than the xB, but its asymmetrical styling is arguably cuter -- and don't tell us that cuteness doesn't matter.

AutoTrader Recommends

We're fans of Scion's 5.8-in touchscreen with BeSpoke, but otherwise, we think the trick with cars like this is to keep the price as low as possible. So give us a base xB with the 5-speed manual and tack on the touchscreen stereo. That's a lot of car for a reasonable price.

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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