2008 Scion xB (Review) – Still Ugly, but not Ugly Enough

Expert Reviews Scion

by Kurt Gensheimer


  • More powerful engine
  • More cargo space
  • More standard features


  • More mainstream
  • More boring
  • More hefty

Ruling: More is less, especially in this author’s futile attempt for wordplay.

Some things in life have such endearing characteristics that no matter how much you want to hate it, you can’t help but love it. Take for instance the Pug – a scrawny mutt with no neck and a face that looks like it got bashed flat with an iron skillet. The first time I laid eyes on it I thought, Who could ever find that thing cute? With its bulging eyes, incessant snorting and ungraceful waddle, I found it to be one of the most heinous-looking dogs ever created. But as time went on, my dislike for the animal was replaced by – not love – but an appreciation. Sure it was still ugly, but that’s what made it unique. It stood out from the crowd. It’s ugliness became its greatest asset.

The first time I saw the xB, my sentiments were comparable to the Pug. Who on Earth could find that car attractive? Would somebody actually cruise Sunset Boulevard in a rolling refrigerator without being completely mortified? Although my initial disdain for the xB was fierce, after seeing them every day for a few years, just like the Pug, an appreciation for the xB grew.

2008 Scion xB

Now that I have finally accepted the appearance of the original xB, wouldn’t you know it, Toyota decides to do a complete redesign. Like a Pug that ate waaay too much kibble, the new xB is longer, wider and heavier to the tune of 12 inches overall length (4 inches in wheelbase), 2.8 inches in width, and nearly 600 pounds in additional heft, which has got to be some kind of record for model redesign weight gain.

Our test vehicle was a 5-speed manual base model in a snazzy Black Berry Crush Metallic color, which was generously provided by Stevens Creek Scion. I couldn’t believe it, but at first glance my styling preference was with the original xB. For 2008, Scion rounded the edges in an attempt to soften its appearance. They definitely succeeded in softening the xB’s look, but like the Pug, its appearance is what made it special.

Driving Impressions

Once inside, the xB was noticeably more spacious than its predecessor. It was also noticeably more powerful too. Although the xB has picked up 600 additional pounds of heft, it has also picked up a more gutsy 158 horsepower/162 ft. lbs. torque VVTi 4-cylinder engine – the same engine found in the zippy tC. This was a much-needed upgrade considering the old wheezing 103 horse powerplant couldn’t even stumble out of its own way on the interstate. But this upgrade in power and weight has come at a fuel economy penalty of about 5 MPG.

Even though its got rounded edges, don’t let the Scion fool you, it’s still boxy. But even for a rounded-off rolling refrigerator, the xB handles quite well. It doesn’t seem to mind the occasional corner throw, but don’t ask too much of it on the twisties. Not that you would, I mean, seriously, it’s a Whirlpool with wheels.

2008 Scion xB - 158 HP engine 2008 Scion xB - cargo area 2008 Scion xB 5-speed manual transmission


The xB is Ashford and Simpson approved. Solid. Solid as a rock. Tight body panels, great insulation for quiet highway driving, comfortable seats, quality plastics that don’t get brittle and break – expect the same quality you would get from a Toyota. Add in the standard features which include A/C, power doorlocks and windows, satellite-ready stereo with CD player and iPod integration, four wheel anti-lock disc brakes and traction control, all for a paltry base price of only $16,270.

Then of course there’s the options and aftermarket accessories which reads longer than a five-year-old’s Christmas wish list. Upgraded Pioneer stereo system, front headrest DVD players, 19-inch wheels, cold air induction kit, carbon-fiber doo-dads, chromed whozee-whatzees and lowering springs don’t even put a dent in the exhausting list of what’s available.


What the xB lacks in exterior looks, it makes up for on the interior. The seats are supportive and comfortable, have quality cloth fabric and the driver’s seat even has a captain’s chair armrest for gettin’ your lean on when cruising the boulevard low and slow. Although I like the look of the gauge cluster, I still don’t get the Echo/Prius practice of putting them in the dead center of the dash. It may look different and unique, but it’s a big pain in the assay. And the digital MPG gauge is nice, but why not take a cue from Mazda and put the digital readout inside the RPM gauge to consolidate? That way you can put the gauge where it belongs – in front of the steering wheel.

2008 Scion xB interior 2008 Scion xB - gauge panel

The shifter sits high on the center cluster which gives it a video arcade feel, which is not necessarily a bad thing if Scion were to have made that cluster useful. However, underneath the tall, minivan-esque shifter console there is no storage space, no cool cubby-holes; just a 12V power outlet. A waste of space, in my opinion.

2008 Scion xB - iPod integrationWith the longer and wider dimensions of the new xB, interior cargo room is up dramatically. With the rear seats folded, the 2008 model has 70 cubic feet of space compared to only 43 in the predecessor. The xB has moved from Honda Fit territory and graduated into the realm of the Honda Element and Chevy HHR.

Perhaps the coolest standard feature inside the xB is its iPod integration. A jack underneath the center console allows you to plug in your iPod and run the controls straight from the head unit. Although I found operation of the head unit a bit confusing, with a little time and practice, it makes for much safer iPod operation while driving. Not that anyone would do that, of course. Because, you know, that’s unsafe and whatever.

(Continued on page 2)

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  • Derek says:

    @Alex – Thanks for mentioning the tight turning radius and the multitude of compartments for stashing your stuff. We can’t cover everything in our reviews, so I really appreciate the feedback and insights from the people who use their cars everyday.

  • Alex says:

    I’ve had my 2009 xB for almost two years. And I still get a bit giddy thinking about how practical this box is. Being an instrumentalist, I find myself dragging around an upright bass and/or a cello much of the time and this thing can hold its own with any SUV. I don’t think that this article mentions that the 2nd generation xB has a tighter turning radius than a corolla! This article also failed to talk about the cars neat compartments littered throughout the car. If you’re looking for a practical car but one that is sporty and fun at the same time, go take a look at a xB.

  • Heidi says:

    I just bought a 2011 Sizzling Crimson Mica XB and I love it! To be honest, I’d never even heard of it. I was dead set on buying a Jeep but my dad insisted I take a look at it and once I did, well, let’s just say that Jeep or any other SUV/minivan/car/truck doesn’t hold a candle to it! I also can’t wipe the smile off of my face! I love my new pug!

  • Anne says:

    I have one (an original, not the softened new version), and the chief joy of owning it is getting to whine about how ugly it is. I get to whine a lot, because people do stare, even now that it’s pretty old. It’s perverse, really, but ragging on this car is a pleasure. Oh, and for great effect you can watch people boggle when you call it an SUV. Ha. No complaints about how it drives though… very smooth and quiet ride, relatively high off the ground, visibility is great, safety seems good, fits into tiny parking spaces.

  • Nancy says:

    3 weeks ago a drunk driver going 65 miles an hour plowed into me in my 2008 Blackberry Crush XB. After getting my bearings and making sure my passenger was alright, we both climbed out of the vehicle and were back at our normal rountine the next morning, my car is totalled and my biggest problem now is convincing the other driver’s insurance company what this car is worth to me, as I will have nothing but another one. I just read the XB was added to a list of top cars for saftey; they don’t have to convince me!

  • Derica says:

    i LooVeeee thiss car is my favorite

  • andy says:

    This is an increadible upgrade from the older style. Bought my 2008 over last Christmas and will drive it until the planet runs out of oil. Toyota/Scion did a remarkable job making a niche vehicle even better. Took it to 111 mph (I know, that’s illegal), and the ride remained completely smooth with the engine just humming along. Felt like it could go 5-6 mph more if I pushed it. Superior car, wonderful dash and interior.

  • lori says:

    I love my brand new 2009 scion xB. It is too cool and definitely is an eye catcher. I thought that I was originally an older model person until I test drove a 2005 and a 2009 all in one day. The old model doesn’t even compare!

  • steve says:

    I bought my XB 2008 out in NH and drove it back to Michigan via Vermont and NY. I love this car. You can’t get a better car anywhere for the money. I was getting 30-32 mpg on the expressway at 70-75 mph. Windows up, air off, cruise control on. Flat roads. Around town I get about 24 to 26 mpg,if I drive it easy. It is a real nice cruising vehicle, and I could pull over anywhere and take a nap in back with all the room, if I needed after driving for hours. I’m in love with my XB, especially after I put the cool wheels on it.

  • morbius14468 says:

    Things I love about my 2008xb
    Lots a room , very good mileage, not great but close to the 28mpg
    gauges in the center seem much more practical once you actually drive it a few days the stability control feature is usually found on more expensive vehicles and sorry to the earlier purists but I prefer the aesthetics of this version
    The engine is quick and powerful it seems as if your driving an v-6. So far its been fun and reliable and fits in well with its big brother (honda Pilot)

  • JanMann says:

    Back in May 2007, I bought the second 2008 Scion XB automatic sold at one of the Toyota dealerships in Northern Virginia. I added the rear roll bar, fog lights, the front strut stiffener, and carpets. It currently has 9,800 of mixed miles on it, is averaging 39.8 MPH and getting 28.7 MPG. This yoogly thing corners almost as good as my 1970 Mullholland-race-suspension-equipped Datsun 240Z, and, although it definitely doesn’t meet my Datsun’s O-ring-headed, Crown-turbocharged, acceleration times, it’s just about as zippy as a non-modified 240Z was. The shifter is not as responsive as a real manual, but it works well enough to have some solid fun, and you don’t have to row yourself to death in the heavy local traffic. Add to that, the B holds bushels of stuff, has every modern safety feature, is cheap, and HAS THE GAUGES WHERE THEY BELONG — IN A LOCATION WHERE I CAN SEE THE DARN THING INSTEAD OF THE NORMAL RIDICULOUS LOCATION IN FRONT OF THE STEERING WHEEL. THIS MEANS THE ADJUSTABLE STEERING WHEEL DOESN’T BLOCK THE GAUGES, AS IT DOES IN EVERY OTHER CAR THAT I HAVE EVER OWNED THAT HAD AN ADJUSTABLE STEERING WHEEL! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU TOYOTA – DO NOT LET THESE CLOWNS TALK YOU INTO CHANGING THE GAUGE LOCATION!

  • ciroman says:

    Normally, I prefer the reliability of public transportation in San Francisco, but after getting a new Scion XB I haven’t had as much interest in riding the bus. Infact, I’ve found more excuses to drive. I wasn’t even in the market for a new car, but test drove one of these 3 weeks ago and bought one. WHAT A RIDE!! I really like the 0-60 in 8 seconds. The handling is superb too. I’m over 6’4″ and can get in out of my 2008 Scion Xb comfortably. There’s no more of that Fred Flintstone head hit the ceiling effect with this vehicle. The safety features are nice, and I also take advantage of the mp3 connection over the jammin’ stereo.

    It’s just too fun to drive!

  • Majik says:

    I’ve owned the 2008 xB since October. I used to own a 2 door late 1980s BMW and the handling of the xB is comparable. That’s impressive for the price. The auto shifting logic is way ahead of other cars. I can beat an automatic 2008 Mustang from a dead start. My only complaint so far is that the shift guide makes it too easy to accidentally shift into Neutral from drive.

    As far as gas mileage, the live mpg calculator allows you to maximize fuel effeciency if you wish to. Just look at it while you’re driving and you’ll learn mpg saving techniques. My last car was a Land Rover that only got 14MPG in the city. I don’t mind getting 23-28 in the city now.

  • Derek says:

    Looking at my notes, the Scion xB got 23 MPG during our test drive around the SF bay area. Sorry for the omission. Usually I have a spec sheet that includes MPG and other errata. Safety ratings for the 2008 xB can be found on autos.msn.com or autos.yahoo.com.

  • Hugh Curran says:

    I’m bemused by reviews that say nothing of importance about a car. What is MPG and what is the safety record. Any family man or woman would ask these simple questions about the Scion xb but the reviewer decided to ignore the obvious question that the average person would be interested in whikle extoling appearances. Amazing!

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