A decade ago, Toyota introduced its Scion brand as a way to appeal to younger buyers seeking affordable, alternative forms of transportation. The idea was to fill Scion showrooms with special, limited-production models that had quirky personalities, offer them at reasonable non-negotiable prices, and provide ways for buyers to customize the cars through dealer-installed accessories. Toyota envisioned Scion as a way to capture Generation Y buyers when they bought their first new car, moving them up into a Toyota when they settled down and had a family, and then into a Lexus once they made it into the executive ranks at ABC Inc.
At first, Scion was a success, an automotive culture unto itself manifested in alternative music, sponsorship of social events, and in the unusual yet affordable vehicles themselves. Then, right around the same time that the Great Recession struck and the target audience decided it cared more about spending money on smartphones, tablets, and data plans than it did a new car, Toyota seemed to lose interest in the project. To eke out a profit, models remained in production longer than originally expected, and when the original vehicles were replaced the new redesigned cars were basically the same as the old cars, only more modern.
Today, 10 years after its debut, Scion is struggling. Aside from the buzz surrounding the debut of the FR-S sport coupe last year, Toyota isn’t giving its youth-oriented brand much love. In fact, it has told its dealers that they can bail on Scion with no penalty, if they want to.
Now, what’s the point of all this backstory? I happen to be a Scion fan. The cars have personality, something that cannot be said for many Toyota and Lexus models. The cars are affordable, representing genuine bargains even at sticker price. The cars are dependable, promising years of trouble-free service, a trait appealing to buyers of all ages. And, the cars can be upgraded with lots of Toyota Racing Development (TRD) goodies that make a genuine difference in terms of fun-to-drive factor.
The Scion xB was the vehicle that originally put Scion on the radar, an ugly little box of a car that, for mystifying reasons, inspired genuine passion in its owners. Last redesigned for the 2008 model year, the iconic Scion xB remains a staple of the lineup, despite advancing age and rumors of its imminent demise. In fact, after a protracted 2013 model-year production run, Scion has elected to continue the car for the 2014 model year.
Given the xB’s continued production, I decided to spend a week with one. My test car had an automatic transmission but no other options, which kept its sticker price to a reasonable $18,675. In light of the Scion xB’s utility, that’s a bargain, but it comes at a cost.