COAL: 2008 Scion xD- I’m Not Sure What the Point Is (But I Like It)

Well, here it is, folks…the last COAL feature about cars I’ve owned. It’s a bittersweet moment for me. This has been a fun ride and I’ve so appreciated the comments y’all have made about my rather humble rides. Thanks to everyone for reading about and, most of all, appreciating these cars. This week’s installment features another–surprise, surprise–Toyota product: the Scion xD.

Though Scion has been covered here at CC (thanks mostly to Paul’s 1st – gen xB), I don’t believe the xD has been given any kind of write up or feature. So I’ll give a little background on this car first. The xD is actually a second-generation Toyota ist–yes, you read that right, “ist.” Not sure what they were smoking when they came up with that name, but apparently the “logic” is that the car’s name was supposed to evoke a person who is passionate about something, like an artist. Okaaaay… (The first-gen ist, by the way, was known in the US as the Scion xA, sold here from 2004-2007). The car was also available in other markets as the Toyota Urban Cruiser. Under the skin, all of these cars are slightly elongated Toyota Yaris/Vitz 5-door hatches. So yes, the xD is really just a Yaris with a square body. By now, you’ve probably figured out why this car appeals to me.

I was hoping we’d be able to hang onto to our Yaris for years to come, but fate—in the form of a mid-speed impact from a stolen mid-‘90s Chevy Blazer—had other plans. I wasn’t ready to buy a car, but now my hand had been forced. Not wanting any kind of car payment to worry about, Ms. D and I decided to see what we could find for around the amount of the insurance settlement money. Well, that pretty much meant another Yaris, unless we wanted to consider a Hyundai or Kia. We did—briefly–but the CR red circles with the white dots won the day, and we decided to stick with what we knew. Korean cars have come a long way, but I wasn’t ready to try one used.

Hawk-eyed CCers may notice several Curbside Classics in the background of this photo.

I started scanning and other sites for used Yari and Scions, as I knew the latter were basically Toyotas, some based on the Yaris. With another Yaris, I would have been as happy as Mr. Creosote at an all-you-can-eat buffet, but in the end we decided to go for an xD, mostly because it at least gave us the illusion we were getting a different car altogether. In December of 2018, we purchased this black ’08 xD for about $500 more than the insurance payment, so that was close enough. Best of all, it only had 96,000 miles on it versus the 144K the Yaris had. Mechanically and cosmetically, it was in pretty nice shape for (at the time) a 10-year-old car. There were, not surprisingly, scratches and minor dings, especially on the front. The inside, however, was immaculate and except for some minor wear on the driver’s seat side bolsters, everything looked almost new. Even the floor mats were in good shape. The car needed new tires, but that was about it. Otherwise, all I’ve had done since purchasing this car is routine maintenance and a brake job last fall.

Not long after we purchased the xD, I happened to be poking around one of those “other” car websites and came across a piece by a certain “JT” who was publishing a semi-regular series on cars he considered meh. Not bad cars, necessarily, but cars that seem to have no real purpose or no niche to fill in the marketplace. Cars that were destined to be utterly forgettable, in other words. When he wrote up a piece on the xD, the headline asked, “What was the point of the Scion xD?” After having owned one for over a year now, I can confidently say and with head held high, “I really don’t know…but I like it!”

If you just look at the dry stats, the xD is a mixed-bag. Toyota, apparently working in some sort of alternate universe where the laws of physics are the opposite of ours, made the cargo capacity smaller than the xA it replaced, even though the car actually grew slightly in dimensions. On the plus side, the 1.8L engine that also showed up in the ‘09 Corolla sits under the xD’s the hood and definitely gives power and acceleration a little nudge. This move reduced fuel economy a bit, but I’m getting a respectable 35-36 mpg on the highway and about 30 around town, so I’m not complaining. In my eyes, the styling improved from the xA to the xD, and the car’s boxy features give the impression of a mini-mini-crossover. However, the rear quarter area design includes rather large blind spots similar to the ones that afflict the 2nd-gen xB. Finally, Toyota gave the xD 16-inch wheels that give the whole car a bit more of an aggressive stance to go with the squarish styling.

Yep, it’s a Scion. The gauge cluster housing is strangely-shaped, but I love the one-piece speedo-tachometer. Climate control knobs (yay, knobs!) are identical to our Corolla’s. The shifter is stock Yaris.

Inside, the xD is very much Scion, replete with funky styling touches to separate it from its more work-a-day Toyota brethren. My favorite bit is the quirky off-kilter speedometer/tachometer combo unit. Where have you seen anything like this in any other car? Yet, with its legible typeface and optitron illumination, it’s easy-to-read. Funky, yet functional.

Though the xD’s interior contains just about as much hard plastic as our Corolla, it is at least better executed. Maybe it’s the unique texture or the monochrome black finish, but it looks more expensive compared to the el-cheapo vibe the Corolla interior gives off. Like most Toyota products, fit and finish is excellent—better, in fact, than either the Yaris or the Corolla, and rear seat room is decent. Oddly, the driver’s seat does not raise up or down, though I’ve found the height to be just fine. One other thing that is conspicuously missing is a center console storage bin. Kind of a strange omission, but most likely it would just get filled with useless crap, anyway. If I’m really hankerin’ to have one, there are aftermarket ones available.


On the road, the xD drives almost exactly like Miss E’s ’07 Yaris hatch, though acceleration feels a tad livelier thanks to the extra 22 horses from the 1.8. It’s just as nimble as our old Yaris and has quickly become our default car for Portland trips. In fact, at only 155” long, it’s 14” shorter than the Yaris sedan, so it’s much easier to wedge into those tight parking spots downtown. On the negative side, the car’s short length means I often have a hard time finding the car in a parking lot, especially if it ends up parked between two POUSs (Pickups Of Unusual Size), and there’s a lot of those around here in Clark County.

The lack of cargo space (a thimble-sized 10 cubic feet with the back seats up), is the car’s biggest demerit. Things improve to 33 cu. feet with the seats down, so the utility factor of this hatch is decent, but not outstanding. However, I rarely need this car to haul anything other than groceries (which fit, tightly) and our kayaks and kayak gear. With the seats down, the gear fits easily, so this car is definitely our preferred choice for weekend getaways with our boats. Besides, the kayaks probably look better on top of the Scion than they ever would on top of the Corolla.

Our Kayaks are 12- and 13-feet long respectively, and they fit just fine on top. My brother-in-law, however, regularly strapped a 19-foot long sea kayak on top of his first-gen Prius!

The Scion is also my car of choice for anything else recreational. Whether it’s a trip to the coast, east into the Gorge, or up into the Cascades for hiking, this is the car I take. Not only is the fuel economy a tick better than the Corolla’s, like the Yaris, it’s just more fun to drive. And I think I may be starting to understand other reasons why I have such an affinity for little runabouts like this Scion. For starters, I’ve never had a desire for any kind of “image” car (obviously!). I never went through a mid-life crisis where I felt the need to prop up my sagging masculinity with a giant pickup or a muscle car. In fact, I think it’s these little cars–like the Yaris and like the Scion–that keep me feeling young. They are not obvious choices for someone of my demographic, a guy in his mid-50s from the urban/wildland interface. They also make me think back fondly of the little cars, like the Tercel, and yes, even the Saturn, that we had when I was first married to Ms. D. The ease of ownership reliable little cars offer for a mechanically-challenged person such as myself, as well as the overall lower cost of ownership compared to larger vehicles, is the icing on the cake.

The Scion (see it there?) underneath the tall Ponderosas at the Conboy Lake Refuge parking area, WA. The refuge is in Klickitat County, just a little north of the Columbia River Gorge’s eastern half.


Mt. Adams as seen from Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Returning to the question about the “point” of the Scion xD, however, I still can’t exactly say what Toyota was thinking. And, truth be told, if I had been shopping for a small runabout back in ’08, I don’t think it would have been my first choice. But when circumstances required us to find a decently built, reliable used car for not too much green, this xD was there to replace the hole left by the Yaris. It has performed splendidly in this role so far. So I don’t think it will be forgettable. Far from it. Despite some of the misses I’ve mentioned here, I love this car. It’s not perfect, but when I see it, it brings a smile to my face. When I get behind the wheel, my grin widens.

Time for a wrap. Thanks again to all who read my COAL series, I am truly grateful. I’m not going away completely, however. I have a few ideas for pieces about other cars that have been a part of my life in one way or another, even if I didn’t own them. So stay tuned and may you always drive the car that brings a smile to your face, no matter what it is.

March 6, 2020