Impressions of the 2011 Scion xB

Recently I had the opportunity to try out a 2011 Scion xB while my car, a 2003 Toyota Matrix, was being serviced overnight.

One’s assessment of a vehicle is subjective by nature- we all have different body proportions for the vehicle to satisfy if we are to be comfortable, and each of us asks something different from our vehicles. So bear in mind, I’m not going to give a sweeping statement pronouncing the xB as good nor bad, but whether or not it would be a good fit for me and my needs. Also, I’m not in the market for a new car in any way, but I do know a few friends of mine would be curious for some feedback.

Overview

Scions are basically rebadged Toyotas that rely on style and price to attract younger buyers. The car I was loaned, the xB, is a five-passenger wagon that, along with the Honda Element, has largely phased-out station wagons. When I purchased my car, the Toyota Matrix, all Scion models either were just being launched or had yet to debut, and it is unwise to buy an early run of any car (best to wait for the kinks to be worked out for a year or so, in my opinion). The Matrix is the wagon version of the Toyota Corolla, which has been around for decades and at the time boasted an impeccable record for reliability. It will serve as the primary comparison for the Scion xB.

When I bought my Matrix, my priorities were price, reliability, versatility, fuel economy, part availability, handling, cargo capacity, comfort, and styling. Other vehicles I looked at in 2003 were the Volkswagon Golf, Ford Focus, Honda Element, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Pontiac Vibe (which is a Pontiac-badged Matrix), and Subaru Impresa WRX. The Matrix satisfied more criteria than the others.

The xB is most similar to the 2011 Honda Element, Kia Soul, and Nissan Cube. I’ve taken a curious look inside an Element, but I’m still driving my Matrix until it dies. The xB overall is adequate- any day that you can drive a new, clean car with less than 4,000 miles on it is a good day- but it was rather bland, if not slightly annoying the longer I spent with it. It isn’t a great fit for me, but then again, it could be just what you’re looking for, so I will do my best to explain my preferences as I go.

I drove the four-speed auto, which had a sticker price around $17,500 and delivers a fuel economy of ~22/28. So far, this is identical to my Matrix. I am fairly sure the engine is the same size, a modest 1.8L. However, my Matrix is AWD, an option not available on the xB. In the dead of New England winter, I have come to like this feature.

Both cars are manufactured by Toyota, so you would expect a similar driving experience and layout. The shifter, air conditioning controls, lights, and wiper controls were all in comparable spots. The shifter and air conditioning controls functioned differently, and the instrument clusters were markedly different- more on that later.

On the Outside

Here is an external shot of the xB:

2011 Scion xB, 4-Speed Auto

Compared to the Matrix I’m used to, it has a shorter ground clearance. This makes it slightly easier to enter and exit the vehicle, but this would not serve well on a snowy road. Unlike some of the newer Toyotas, such as the Corolla and Camry, the head and tail lights are flush with the body, which I prefer. The newer Corollas with the bulging lights look like an accident waiting to happen.

With the vehicle low-slung, the roofline is slightly shorter than my Matrix, which would make washing and clearing snow from the top easier. I did not drive in strong wind, so I can’t comment on whether or not its boxy shape is a severe detriment to its handling.

Styling is all a matter of personal taste, and I happen to think it’s fairly futuristic and agreeable. It has improved from earlier versions, in my opinion:

2006 Scion xB

Both versions recall this image from my childhood:

Cowabunga....?

For reference, here is what I’m used to:

2003 Toyota Matrix

The ground clearance of the Matrix is slightly higher, which is nice for the winter weather and speed bumps.

It’s What’s On the Inside That Counts

Both vehicles offer excellent forward view, and the Scion’s forward field of vision was expansive and felt panoramic. The Matrix has better rear view, though, with more glass and non-tinted windows. Both have a rear wiper. The Matrix wiper nearly clears a 180 degree swath, while the Scion’s wiper stops just after 90 degrees, roughly at 110 by eye. The Scion thus has decreased rear visibility.

Here is what the interior for the xB looks like:

From the Car I Drove

Pro-Shot Publicity Photo

Here is what I’m used to:

This is a 2006... the only appreciable difference is the gauge color.

So in terms of fit and finish, we have a draw. The materials used are identical as far as I can tell. However, the longer I drove the xB, the less I liked its cabin. Allow me to explain.

Both vehicles had ample headroom, and I should hope so- I’m only 5’7″, so if I feel I have to crouch to fit, something is terribly awry. The air vents for both were extremely adjustable. Both used three controls for the system- the combination of vents on the left, the strength of the air in the center, and the temperature on the right. For reasons unbeknownst to me the Scion requires you to push the knobs in and then rotate, while the Matrix is a simple click to the left or right. Making anything more complex is a bad idea, as it draws further attention away from the road while driving.

The obvious difference is the instrument cluster location- the Matrix is traditional, where the Scion is centered like the old Toyota Echo or a MINI Cooper. It took a little getting used to, but why you’d move the instrument cluster to the center of the dash is a little puzzling. It’s great if the car is going to be used by a driving school, as it lets the instructor see just what’s going on. I found it pulled my attention to the right of the car, rather than what was directly ahead when I’m driving alone. It also seems like it would give ammunition to anyone who wants to be a backseat driver, and whether that’s good or bad is another discussion altogether.

The Matrix has four analog gauges, telling (from L-R) RPM, speed, gas level, and engine temp. There is a digital gauge for the odometer and the outside temperature. There is also a dial that allows you to adjust their brightness, which also activates the general cabin/map light.

The Scion has (from L-R) a key-shaped digital gauge telling range left on the tank and the odometer, a digital speed gauge, an analog RPM gauge, an analog gas gauge, and then a digital clock and external temp gauge. I thought it was rather silly to have the mixture of digital and analog, and I’ve never been a fan of range gauges-that’s what the gas gauge and odometer are for. Given the fact that the Scion would be ripped to pieces should it leave the pavement, its further silly to think you’d need a range gauge given the distribution of gas stations in the US.

Unlike the Matrix, the Scion has two independent cabin lights, one for the driver and one for the passenger. You have to push on the light itself to turn it on. This is in the Scion’s favor if you are a passenger, as in the Matrix you have to ask the driver to turn the light on should you need it during a night trip.

The radio is one of the things most easily and commonly changed in cars, but for the curious, I found the Pioneer in the xB wanting compared to the stock radio of the Matrix. The latter easily allowed changes to bass, tremble, and reverb levels, while the Pioneer left you stuck with one of three preset configurations with no apparent way to alter it. The dealer didn’t leave the owner’s manual in the glove compartment, so I let it go.

The shifter in the Scion is staggered compared to the straight line of the Matrix. I’ve knocked my Matrix into Neutral exactly once in the eight years I’ve had it, so this is a little unnecessary. The shifter console is of significant difference. In the Scion, it is easily twice as wide as the Matrix, for no reason- my AWD Matrix has a more compex transmission, and all this serves in the Scion is to take up room. In the Matrix, there is a clever compartment just under the shifter, which I use to store a pair of sunglasses, a pen or two, and a small flashlight. Level with the shifter is a storage box which I use to hold my nametags for work and a pack of gum, sometimes my phone or iPod. The Scion’s shifter console has no such storage, thus it wastes space.

To the left of the steering wheel in my Matrix is a compartment just large enough for a small notebook, which I use to record repairs, gas fillups, and other quick little notes, like phone numbers or directions. My phone fits in here as well. In the Scion, there’s a open recessed compartment, slightly smaller. I don’t like the open compartments, as it allows things to go flying if you stop short.

On the passenger side the glove box is very low on the Scion, practically impossible to access should someone be riding shotgun. There’s another open compartment the width of the glovebox in the dash, but evidently whomever designed this did not take into account whatever you put in there would slide out and onto the floor the second you take a turn. The Matrix has a simple, traditional glovebox.

The Scion, like the Matrix, has two cupholders in the center console, and a center box. This center box is one compartment in my Matrix, with a cigarette lighter-style charger in the bottom that I use to charge my phone while driving. Speaking of which, the Matrix has two- one I use for the phone, and one to power an FM transmitter/charger for my iPod. In the Scion, this compartment has a flimsy plastic divider, with a USB input at the bottom. Very convenient to empty the whole compartment out each time to plug in the iPod for a trip. There’s only one cigarette-style light in the Scion, so I suppose it’s a wash. However, this makes it impossible to use a car charger for a cell phone and a GPS at the same time, unless you have a phone that charges via USB.

The real disappointment for me came when I popped the rear hatch. In the rear of my Matrix, someone thought ahead and made a nice heavy-duty plastic floor. I appreciate this as I stuff my bike into the rear rather than use an external carrier. It looks like this:

It’s very easy to clean and the tracks you see on the right allow you to screw in little tie-down anchors. The front seat also folds down and has a hard plastic back, so I could stuff a ladder in here if I wanted without damaging anything. The cargo floor is heavy plastic and has a built-in hook that grabs on to the outside, like so:

I carry a few things like jumper cables and general tools underneath, and this little touch is nice while rummaging around down there.

The Scion in comparison has a cheap cardboard/carpet that pulls out to reveal the same getup underneath. Yuck. Groceries will eventually wreck that, nevermind my drums* or bicycle.

* I did come across a silly Motortrend article while looking for pictures of the Matrix cargo area that you may read here: http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/wagons/112_0205_sport_wagons/index.html

Only fools would load musical equipment without at the very least wrapping it in blankets.

Here’s someone else’s comparable shot of the cargo floor and spare tire arrangement. Notice how thin the material is, and how that’s staying up in the photo is a mystery- the whole thing can be simply pulled out and is in no way durable.

Progress? Not here-keep looking.

So while it was fun to try another car for a day, I’m not eager to trade my ride just yet. It’s a good fit and I’m sure I’ll be looking for something similar the day it has to be retired. The Scion xB I wouldn’t recommend for stuffing a dirty bicycle into the rear, or a large dog, or for driving in the snow. But for moving five people around comfortably in a fairly warm climate, this would be a sensible alternative to an SUV.

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On Goals, Maturation, and Pragmatism

This could easily be the basis for a few “Important Things With Demetri Martin” shows. For those who may be unfamiliar, Demetri Martin had a show for a little while on Comedy Central that was very organized. Each show would have a topic, and the skits and their jokes would be reasonably related to the overall concept. Some shows were more coherent than others. I didn’t laugh as often as I would during other comedy shows, but it was more intellectually engaging to me than anything else the channel offered. I digress.

With the new year many people make resolutions. I tend to only have one recurring resolution, and that is to read fifty books a year. Some years I’ve come dangerously close, but I haven’t been able to accomplish it.

I’ve been thinking more about goals overall recently, and I can attribute this to three prompts. First is my overall goal for a career choice. Given that fact that there are so many people having trouble finding work, I’m lucky to have even largely seasonal employment, and also lucky that my licensure is valid for five years of professional long-term contracted employment, not five calendar years. The best I can do now is look, try to further improve my writing through practice, both formal and informal, and do what I can to make myself as well-rounded an individual as possible, and further my knowledge in my chosen academic field.

The second thing that has me thinking about goals involves music. I feel that this directly relates to maturation. I have hit a point where I feel I will not considerably improve as a drummer, lest I do nothing but practice for multiple hours a day. I can only play rolls so fast before I plateau. Maturation tells me that there are other ways I can improve besides increased speed and volume. It also has helped me to recognize what is best suited to make me better at my hobby versus whatever some person in a glossy magazine ad is telling me is the best thing to buy. I have before and could easily again dedicate an entire post to drum construction and my thoughts on why I feel I can design something better than what the market offers right now, but I’ll save that for later.

Pragmatism has struck me because when I was younger, the first thing I thought of when I came in to unexpected money was to look at my drumset and find an area to improve. Currently I’m looking at pooling Christmas and birthday money to get a hard-shell cymbal case. The one I have now is soft nylon, which does keep them organized and scratch-free, but a topple or fall would prove fatal. To my chagrin, it seems like every case I can find with wheels has the wheels integrated into the main compartment. This means sand and the general muck around New England in winter is siphoned and gently sandblasting the $1,000 worth of metal I’m trying to protect.

I’m starting to think the entire industry is incompetent.

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Some Snapshots From the Children’s Holiday Concert, 2010

Most of you who would likely be reading this were present. I only managed to get a few clear/acceptable shots. My camera has rather limited zooming capacity.

Yes, my little brother played at this show as well. Like me, he also is relegated to the back. I actually chose drums for this very reason- I would be well-hidden.

The next concert I shall have to jump into the fray and get a backstage shot.

I include this last photo only because I was a sophmore in high school (2000) when this bass was purchased. I’m still scratching my head over not only how funding was approved for a new, remarkably expensive instrument, but how remarkably in ten years it still appears to not have a ding, dent, or scratch on it.

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Hello Again, and Why the Adrian Gonzalez Signing Makes Me Cringe

Aloha to anyone reading. I’ve let this fall by the wayside while getting caught up in work and other hobbies. Writing is something I should, nay, we all should be practicing.

What inspires me to write today is the tidal wave of positive press the Boston sports media is producing in response to the trade for Adrian Gonzalez. In fact, I have found precisely one article, authored by Jeff Passan, that views the signing in a negative light.

I used to play Little League baseball. I wasn’t very good at it. When I moved to Cape Cod, I gave up sports in general as I was pushed more towards music. Suffering a bad knee in my early teens, I can’t say I regret the decision. By the time I entered high school in 1998, I had all but lost interest in baseball and professional sports. Consequently I missed perhaps the most remarkable pitcher of his generation, Pedro Martinez, work in his prime, but I did catch some of the games with an authentic Dominican audience while at work. That in itself was a unique experience.

However, distancing myself as a fan gave me the opportunity to pursue other interests, and importantly allowed me to establish perspective. The idea of escapism is something that has been with humanity for some time; it has merely changed forms. One could argue religion, and here I am sticking with Christianity/Catholicism as it is the only one I have a rough understanding of, appealed to many because it told of something better than the life many of its early followers experienced. Job endured his misfortunes because he would be rewarded for his faith in the afterlife. Those who adhered to the commandments would have their shortcomings forgiven and achieve everlasting prosperity.

The United States of America was founded on the hope that one could improve their station in life by escaping their present situation. The history of this country is full of migrations brought on merely by the promise of prosperity, such as Westward Expansion and the California Gold Rush.

Literature abounds with the stories of characters, working-class characters, who dream to improve their station in life, despite the hardships they may face. Miller’s Death Of a Salesman and much of Steinbeck’s output comes to mind.

As society advanced into modern times, our collective fantasy life has remained fairly constant- dreams of socioeconomic and political freedom. We dream of riches, power, and the ability to wield it however we want.

What has changed are the avenues we use to indulge these fantasies: beginning with the oral tradition, giving way to literature, and then the rise of film, and the overall entertainment industry today.

Now for baseball- it is, along with all other professional sports, a division of the entertainment industry. For the sake of argument one could explore whether or not the net effect on society is positive. For instance, from an environmental standpoint, a stadium full of people is likely using less electricity attending the game than each sitting at their collective residences doing something else. Many entertainers and athletes also do extensive charity work for their communities. I personally am inspired to get off the couch and engage in physical activity watching Dustin Pedroia.

Conversely, sports can lead many people to allow themselves to get caught up in something larger than themselves, and that can have a negative impact on their lives. Anger and violence can stem from the outcome of a children’s game. There are also anecdotal accounts of violence precipitated by the New York-Boston rivalry. People also use these games as an event to gamble on. Would all of these negative behaviors cease if sports did not exist? I don’t think for a second that they would. Violence and financial ruin have been around before the twentieth century. It isn’t healthy if your team loses that you want to punch a wall, nor does it make sense to be hostile to total strangers because there team is from a geographic area.

….

Anyway, onto Adrian Gonzalez. The Boston press and team’s front office has been touting this chap as the perfect man to play in Fenway Park for years, mostly because it is smaller than the San Diego venue, Petco Park, and he has a tendency to hit the ball to the left, which many feel that the ball would sail clear over the Green Monster night in and night out.

I agree with Passan (the article I linked earlier) that this is bad for the sport overall. I’ve earlier, months ago by now, argued here that baseball would be best served by having consistent ballpark dimensions, maximum annual player salary and maximum contract years, a schedule in which every team plays every other, and the elimination of divisions entirely so that the final record is all that matters.

A favorite charge of Red Sox fans against the New York Yankees regards the payroll disparity. New York doesn’t have the most talented team or clever front office, Red Sox fans argue, they simply buy the best players from other teams. Oddly, these charges make little sense given the number of players on the 2004 team who did not start their major league career playing in Boston. In 2007 and 2008, it was more accurate, as the core of the team did in fact pay their dues in the Boston minor league system and was now in the big show.

When the current ownership group took charge of the team sometime around 2000, they promised that they would field a competitive team that would be fun to watch. They also actively tried to remove Manny Ramirez and his enormous contract, which was something like $20 million a year for seven or eight years, I think eight. I’d have to look it up. In any event, it is almost exactly what is rumored that Adrian Gonzalez would be seeking for an extension.

In 2004, the charm of the team was that it was a ragtag collection of players that stuck it to the financial elite of the sports world. In the interim, Boston’s payroll is now second only to New York’s. Boston is no longer the metaphorical David vs the Yankees Goliath. Boston has now become precisely what the fanbase and writers claim to protest, the poacher of elite talent from other organizations, inflater of salaries.

The amount of money being thrown around in the sport is a difficult problem to solve, but it surely will be its downfall. A generation ago the ballpark was an affordable night of entertainment, a reasonable alternative to going to see a movie. Now, even though many complain about movie ticket prices, the reality is that you can see the same movie in the theater for a week straight for the cost of one (1) semi-decent ticket to a Red Sox game. That is absurd. It is cheaper to go to most concerts.

Who deserves the blame? If you were an owner, you’d pay for good public relations to field the best team you can. That makes the team more fun to watch, and hopefully puts more people in the stands. If you’re a player, this is basically your sole job skill. How many of us would turn down success? Many players are very charitable.

At some point, $23 million dollars a year is too much. Ticket prices are prohibitively expensive, especially when the game is as flawed as it is. Replay technology is available, but here they choose to draw the line to supposedly preserve the integrity of the game, costing that pitcher in Detroit his rightful recognition of a perfect game. Yet replay is frequently used in home run calls in Fenway Park. It is this inconsistency and hypocrisy that sours me on baseball. It is prohibitively expensive to go to a game. It is no longer the common man, democratic crowd in the stands. It is a place for the elite to be seen. If this practice continues, eventually all teams will have to have an absurd payroll and charge outrageous ticket prices, and this will kill interest in smaller markets, such as San Diego and Florida.

In this specific case, the acquisition of Gonzalez does nothing to address the fact that two outfielders will be departing after this season nor that the bullpen requires extensive attention. Boston already has a plus first baseman. He has had some experience playing third base, but as he ages, first is the less demanding position. Youk is also much, much cheaper at the moment. Employing a full-time designated hitter is wasteful, as the lineup spot can be used to rest regulars, or allow another position player on the bench, which makes the team more versatile.

Finally, long-term, big contracts are something that this ownership generally recognized as being foolish. The current market offers Adam LaRoche, who is also a good defensive and offensive first baseman, costs roughly a third of what Gonzalez would annually, could be signed to a shorter contract, and did not require three of the best six kids in the farm system.

Did I mention Gonzalez just had labrum surgery on his shoulder and could not swing a baseball bat to demonstrate his skills to his new employer? Would you hire someone who couldn’t show you then and there that they had the necessary skills for the job? I wouldn’t either.

I may be in the minority, but this is a mistake. It is a mistake now, and mark my words, more will agree with me as the player ages and he becomes virtually impossible to get rid of.

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The Inspiration for Cell Phones Came From This Franchise, Too

This story is a little late, as I and I’m sure many other people made the connection instantly when Apple debuted its iPad device.

I have mixed feelings about Apple stuff. I tremendously enjoy my iPod (120 GB), which allows me to program my own radio station before I even get in the car. No fiddling with the radio lets me focus on what’s really important, the road.

There is no denying that iPhones and Droids, the app-platform smartphones, are current status symbols. Netbooks are as well, to a lesser extent, and in this company I lump the iPad.

All but the last are more protable than my laptop. However, the monthly contract and data plans quickly make them more expensive than my laptop. I also have much more hard drive memory and the option to store more content on external hard drives or by way of cloud computing.

The touch interface of these screens is nifty, but typing is much more cumbersome on any phone or touchscreen compared to a standard keyboard.

Perhaps this is nothing more than a permutation of the stick shift vs. automatic transmission debate.

In any event, let’s collectively apply ourselves to figuring out food replication, medicinal, and atmospheric defense technologies rather than fighting amongst ourselves.

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My Winter Plans and When the War Came

First, I should announce that I have decided to remain in Massachusetts for the time being. This is where I belong for the time being, and I will find a way to make things work. So I shall look forward to seeing you intermittently over the next few months.

Second, those of you with good memories will recall an entry some months ago about people purchasing abandoned missile silos and converting them into living quarters. I recently came across this article, originally published by USA Today .

In the event the link expires, the article is about the resurgant interest in fallout shelters, originally popular during the Cold War. In my travels I have come across only one building that expressly advertises having such a facility. There is an extensive facility built into the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, intended to defend Congress until recently. What really piques my interest is that if the government has relinquished control of such a facility, they must have either extensively upgraded (which is my inclination) or they have deemed such a place wholly unnecessary.

The article does address the fact that this is another form of class warfare (literally), and there are some specifics that would need to be clarified prior to investing in such a service. The comment section, normally a lawless, tribal land, uncharacteristically stays on topic and further develops issues the article both raises and overlooks. Notably, how self-sufficient are such units? What type of diagnostic equipment do they possess to determine if the surrounding environment is hospitable once more? More importantly, would the cultural elite be able to independently rebuild society? I don’t even change my own oil. I can’t even drive a stick. Would I trust myself to be a farmer, or to design a waste management system?

It’s no wonder some commenters desire a quick exit.

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Some Snapshots of Music Night

I try to play music with a friend across town roughly once a week. Here’s a few shots of what the space looks like.

This was very common when I was in high school. A pizza and plenty of room to make some creative noise goes a long way.

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