When Toyota first launched its Scion division of vehicles aimed at younger, hipper consumers the buying public threw them for a loop. The funky new box on wheels (dubbed “xB”) was actually being snatched up by boomers hand over fist.
Since that time the playing field has leveled a bit and other automakers have responded with their own Lego-mobile on wheels. And looking at sales figures from 2010 the Scion division has lost sales at a rate of nearly 22 percent over the previous year. Sure, some of this may be attributed to the fact that 2010 was perhaps the worst year for Toyota publicity-wise, and lower fuel prices combined with better domestic product availability certainly was no help to the bottom line either.
Toyota needs to turn things around in the Scion division. We recently took delivery of a 2011 xB model and despite their boasting freshened interiors and exteriors I still saw much of the same as when the model line was first introduced years ago. Time for some more of that revolution in the segment, not evolution (and that may be coming soon with the early-in-2011 launch of the new Scion iQ microcar).
For the xB, I noticed little change over the previous design but did enjoy the new tilt and telescopic steering wheel and enhanced gauge display. As for the redesigned seats, I was already uncomfortable an hour into a two-and-a-half-hour trip over the weekend. Ouch. And my passenger (i.e. spousal unit) felt the same.
I still enjoy xB for what it is: An urban utility vehicle that is easy to operate and offers some of the best interior space in the segment. It is powered by a spirited 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine producing 158hp but ultimately is hindered in both smooth operation and fuel economy (20 mpg city/28 mpg highway) by still being mated to a four-speed automatic gearbox. A manual transmission is available but our tester came with the auto. Pricing begins at $16,950 with our test model coming in at $17,825.
Maybe it is time to put a hybrid into the Scion lineup. Prius is going gangbusters in sales numbers. Heck, maybe with the new Prius models coming later this year Toyota should mothball Scion and spin off Prius into its third division. It is fun to mix a bit of funky into a functional lifestyle but at the end of the day Toyota has to sell cars and when one entire division is outsold 2-to-1 by the parent company’s minivan, perhaps it is time for some serious discussions.