2013 Scion xD Hatchback Quick Spin Review: Introduction
A decade ago, Toyota launched its Scion brand as a way to market small, affordable vehicles to young buyers through the use of music, pop culture, and exclusive models from the Japanese home market that could be customized through an array of dealer-installed extras.
Originally, the plan called for limited runs of these exclusive models as a way to foster a “get ‘em while they’re hot” sense of urgency with the target audience, but the success of models like the tC sports coupe and xB multi-purpose vehicle changed all that. Well, that coupled with a massive recession that forced Gen Yers to move back home and live with Mom and Dad to save money. Money that could not be spent on a new car. Which meant Scion wasn’t about to invest in product and marketing designed to appeal to people without means.
Fast-forward to today, and Toyota is telling its dealers that if they want to bail on Scion, they can. The idea is to reduce dealer count, perhaps to make the brand more exclusive. Rumor also has it that Toyota wants to move Scion away from the cheap sets of wheels it has historically sold, and reposition Scion as a more upscale and tech-driven brand building fun-to-drive cars. In fact, dealers were recently shown an FR-S Convertible and a small SUV that would compete with the Nissan Juke as examples of where Scion is headed in years to come.
This re-positioning of Scion likely means that the car you see here would vanish from the lineup. This is the 2013 Scion xD, one tricked out with Toyota Racing Development (TRD) parts. A relative rarity among sub-compact 5-door hatchbacks, Scion sells one xD for every four Sparks moved at the Chevrolet dealer, while Kia sells 14.5 Souls for every xD that hits the streets. Let’s just say you’re not going to see yourself coming and going if you elect to get an xD, especially one painted like our test car in Blue Streak Metallic with a Black roof, which costs $500 extra.
2013 Scion xD Hatchback Quick Spin Review: About Our Test Car
Scion sells its vehicles in what is called “mono-spec” format, meaning there are no trim levels, and the car is offered with a handful of upgrades in addition to standard equipment.
The 2013 Scion xD is a well equipped vehicle for $16,500, including a destination charge of $755. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, power windows with auto-down for the driver’s glass, power mirrors with LED turn signal indicators, power door locks with remote keyless entry, a trip computer, a tilt steering wheel, and cruise control. The xD also includes Bluetooth connectivity and a premium audio system that offers HD Radio, a USB port, iPod connectivity, and an auxiliary audio input jack. The standard 60/40-split folding rear seat slides forward and also reclines, and the xD is equipped with intermittent front wipers, a rear wiper, a first-aid kit, eight air bags, and a Smart Stop system that prevents accidental acceleration if the brake pedal is pressed. Buyers can choose from three different wheel cover designs to further personalize the xD, and every xD includes two years or 25,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance.
Our test sample added an optional automatic transmission ($800), the extra-cost paint job ($500), a rear spoiler ($385), and a set of floor and cargo mats ($184), bringing the price to $18,369. In addition, the car in the photos is equipped with several TRD upgrades, including 18-inch black-painted aluminum wheels wrapped in 225/40 Z-rated Toyo Proxes 4 performance tires ($1,999), TRD performance shocks ($790), a TRD sport muffler ($489), TRD lowering springs ($399), and a TRD rear sway bar ($325). The grand total came to $22,371.
Now, before you choke on the number, it actually represents value. Compare my tricked-out Scion xD to a base MINI Cooper with blue metallic paint, a black roof, an automatic transmission, and no other options at $22,245. Of course, there are two sides to every coin. You could also buy a turbocharged FIAT 500 Abarth with 160 horsepower for $22,800.
2013 Scion xD Hatchback Quick Spin Review: Styling and Design
To put it kindly, the Scion xD is unconventional in appearance. A 5-door hatchback, the xD is stubby and squat, a look reinforced by a short hood, a compact greenhouse, tall body sides, a thick windowless C-pillar, and a thin vertical backlight. A set of 16-inch aluminum wheels is affordable at $795. The three different 18-inch wheel options, not so much.
Inside, the xD features dimpled matte-finish plastic paneling that looks more expensive than it is, surrounding a mix of conventional and unconventional displays and controls. The single gauge in the car’s center cluster includes both the speedometer and tachometer, graphically rendered to ensure each is easy to find, and flanked by two pods that contain digital fuel gauge and trip computer displays, plus system warning lights.
2013 Scion xD Hatchback Quick Spin Review: Comfort and Quality
Believe it or not, the Scion xD is quite comfortable for four full-sized people, and is exceptionally easy to get into and out of. Though the front seats do not offer seat height adjustment, neither requires it. The driver and front passenger sit tall on firm, supportive chairs wrapped in quality fabric. The only thing missing is a center armrest, but the Scion dealer is happy to install one in exchange for $155.
Rear-seat occupants also sit high with good thigh support and plenty of foot room. Legroom is tight, but the front seatbacks are soft, making it comfortable for the knees and shins that come into intimate contact with them. The rear seat includes a 60/40-split folding design, and can be moved forward to maximize cargo space or reclined for napping.
With the rear seat raised, the xD provides 10.5 cu.-ft. of cargo space, measured beneath the optional cargo cover. That’s not a big number, and I am utterly flabbergasted that the company doesn’t publish a volume number measured to the roof, or measured with the rear seats moved forward, or measured with the rear seats folded. I mean, the whole point of a hatchback is to benefit from extra cargo carrying capacity, yet Scion’s published number of 10.5 cu.-ft. beats a Fiat 500 by a single cube. And Fiat says a 500 will carry up to 30.1 cu.-ft. Talk about a missed opportunity.
While the Scion xD is an inexpensive car, it doesn’t often strike me as a cheap car. Push on that front passenger cupholder, which deploys from the dashboard, and it glides out feeling solid and refined. Lift the fuel door release, and it feels strong and secure rather than like a cheap piece of plastic that will snap like a chicken bone the moment the warranty expires. Adjust the vents, and they don’t resist or stick. The controls, most of which are yanked out of Toyota’s Giant Bin O’ Generic Parts, feel similarly refined in operation. The xD’s interior isn’t perfect, but it displays a level of quality and sophistication often lacking in cars that cost thousands more, let alone what Scion asks for the xD.
2013 Scion xD Hatchback Quick Spin Review: Features and Controls
The 2013 Scion xD has a standard Pioneer stereo that looks and works like an incomprehensible aftermarket unit. This changes next year, when the xD receives a new 6.1-inch color touchscreen audio system, and the car will be better for it. In any case, connectivity is no problem thanks to Bluetooth, a USB port, and an auxiliary audio input jack. And the standard stereo sounds much better than most entry-level economy cars, so its wonky operation is worth getting acclimated to.
Below the stereo, super-simple rotary climate controls are refreshingly easy to operate. Secondary switchgear, including the controls for the power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, and cruise control, are familiar to anyone who has owned or spent considerable time in a contemporary Toyota product. Note also that the xD offers dual glove boxes with plenty of storage space.
2013 Scion xD Hatchback Quick Spin Review: Safety and Reliability
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2013 Scion xD is a “Top Safety Pick,” having received the best rating of “Good” in the moderate overlap frontal-impact test, the side-impact test, the roof crush strength test, and the rear-impact injury prevention test. This IIHS has not assessed the xD’s performance in the new small overlap frontal-impact test. Likewise, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not performed crash tests on the Scion xD.
Certainly, it helps that the xD is equipped with eight standard airbags in addition to the usual safety suspects including traction control, stability control, and anti-lock brakes with brake assist. The xD is also equipped with a first-aid kit, as well as Smart Stop technology that prevents the car from accidentally accelerating as long as the driver is pushing down on the brake pedal.
In addition to favorable crash-test ratings from the IIHS, the Scion xD receives the highest possible reliability prediction from Consumer Reports, and won an award for dependability from J.D. Power in the market research firm’s most recent Vehicle Dependability Study.
2013 Scion xD Hatchback Quick Spin Review: Driving Impressions
Given the xD’s impressive crash-test and reliability ratings, low price tag, long standard equipment list, and the ability to customize the car with appearance and performance upgrades, it sure is a mystery why so many small car buyers skip it in favor of other models. That is, until you check the car’s fuel economy ratings.
The xD is equipped with a 128-horsepower, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, which is adequate for motivating the car’s 2,625 pounds. A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a 4-speed automatic sitting on the options list. As a result of these aging transmissions that are missing at least one extra gear, the Scion xD isn’t particularly fuel efficient. Regardless of which one you get, the car is rated to get 27 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg in combined driving. I got 26.6 mpg, likely in part due to the huge 18-inch wheels are wide performance tires.
If you don’t mind the mediocre MPGs, those TRD wheels and Toyo Proxes tires deliver extraordinary grip. On my testing day, the weather was unusually hot and muggy, and these tires proved faultless while flinging the xD down Mulholland Highway toward the famous Rock Store. Zero squeal, zero understeer, and amazing stick combined with the TRD performance shocks, lowering springs, and rear sway bar allowed the xD to descend the hill carrying a thoroughly entertaining level of speed.
Trouble is, the stock xD’s seats lack bolstering, so while the TRD components are brilliant at holding the car on the road, the seats are terrible at holding the driver behind the steering wheel. The other problem is that the TRD components serve as a bright yellow highlighter calling attention to the car’s disconnected and numb electric steering, disc/drum brakes, and general lack of oomph. Making matters worse, my test vehicle had the automatic transmission. Ugh.
As cool as it is that TRD offers the wheels, tires, and suspension upgrades – as well as a loud coffee-can exhaust system that I could do without – these are somewhat pointless without more sophisticated transmission choices or some kind of engine upgrade, like a turbocharger. After all, to enjoy driving a TRD-massaged xD down a hill, you first must drive up it.
The good news is that the xD’s automatic can detect when the car is traveling up a hill, and will hold a lower gear to help prevent transmission hunting and to keep the engine revved closer to its horsepower and torque peaks. The noise is deafening with the TRD exhaust, but at least the car can keep up in traffic.
It cruises down the freeway at prevailing speeds, too, though the xD always feels like it is traveling faster than it really is. The noise from the TRD exhaust system combined with the stiff and bouncy ride from the TRD suspension upgrades are partly responsible for the artificial sensation of speed, while the electric steering’s frequent lack of straight-line stability is the other reason this car makes its driver feel like he or she needs to slow down. While driving down the infamous 405 freeway in Los Angeles, acutely aware of the car’s vibrant blue paint, big black wheels, and loud exhaust, I checked the speedometer to see how large a speeding ticket I might be inviting. As it turned out, I was going about 10 mph slower than I thought I was.
2013 Scion xD Hatchback Quick Spin Review: Final Thoughts
Dynamically, there isn’t much reason to choose the xD. It relies on proven but aging powertrain components, is equipped with disc/drum brakes, and has electric steering that exhibits ambiguous feel and directional stability at best. Fuel economy isn’t great either.
Nevertheless, a Scion xD deserves consideration if you’re shopping for a small car that’s different from what everyone else is driving. Reliable, safe, and affordable, the Scion xD is an unusual selection not only in terms of styling and packaging, but also for its rarity on American roads.
Scion provided the 2013 Scion xD for this review
2013 Scion xD photos by Christian Wardlaw
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