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Scion xD still looking for attention

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The Scion xD is a thrifty, nimble, small hatchback made by Toyota. It has more horsepower than its major competitors, and for 2010, it's a Consumer Reports recommended car with a strong reliability record.

But the five-door, five-passenger xD can't seem to shake the image as the Rodney Dangerfield of small hatchbacks. Sales are down 25.5 percent through the first seven months of 2010, and the xD is the slowest-selling of all non-luxury Toyota cars.

It's easy to overlook the xD at Toyota's youth-oriented car brand, Scion, where attention goes to the boxy-styled Scion xB and the sporty-looking Scion coupe, the tC. But the xD, with odd styling, also is no bargain.

The front-wheel drive, 2010 xD has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $15,620 with manual transmission and 128-horsepower, 1.8-liter four cylinder. With automatic transmission, the lowest-priced 2010 xD starts at $16,420, and the test model with stylish alloy wheels, rear spoiler, upgraded audio and other options topped out at nearly $20,000.

The 2010 Nissan Versa, another small, four-cylinder-powered hatchback, has a starting retail price of $14,140 with manual transmission and 122 horsepower. And the 2010 Toyota Yaris hatchback, whose platform is used under the xD, starts at $13,665. The Yaris, however, gets just 103 horses from its four-cylinder engine and is a bit smaller than the xD. Even the 117-horseower, 2010 Honda Fit, whose starting retail price of $15,650 is on par with the xD, is outselling the xD by 5-to-1 this calendar year.

Introduced in 2007 as the replacement for the often overlooked Scion xA, the xD is still searching for an identity.

It's true the xD has the lowest starting retail price of all the Scions for 2010. But the difference between the base xD and the base MSRP, including destination charge, of the larger xB is less than $1,000.

Still, the xD is a capable little car with some nifty features. The back seat slides forward and aft to help accommodate the needs of passengers and cargo. This is something not always found in this segment. Rear seatbacks also recline. The xD's seat fabric looks pricier than buyers might expect in the segment. The split, folding rear seats go down for a flat cargo space that maximizes at a decent 35.7 cubic feet.

Fuel economy in the test base xD with manual transmission was noteworthy at a combined 30 miles per gallon in city and highway driving, even though I didn't even think about maximizing fuel economy. The federal government rated the test car at 27 mpg in city driving and 33 mpg on the highway, so getting 300 miles on an 11.1-gallon thankful of regular gasoline is eminently doable.

At just over 2,600 pounds and shorter in overall length than the Versa hatchback and the Honda Fit, the xD often felt spunky in city driving as I worked the five-speed manual through the gears. The gearshifter felt a bit notchy, and the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine could get raucous when pressed. Torque peaks at 125 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm. This compares with 127 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm from the 2010 Nissan Versa's 1.8-liter four cylinder.

But I mostly noticed inside the xD the near-deafening sounds of road noise on certain kinds of pavement. The test car rode on uplevel, 18-inch tires that were on black-finished alloy wheels that young people favor these days. The ride was a bit rough, too, in large part because the low-profile tires had little sidewall to absorb bumps. Note that standard tires and wheels are 16-inchers.

Because of the short distance — less than 100 inches — between front and rear wheels, the xD had a tendency to bob up and down on some road surfaces, such as over bridge expansion joints. But the little xD got me around without a hiccup, and I parked with ease in almost any parking spot that I saw. Yes, the xD can be an excellent, no-fuss urban car that Scion envisioned.

Passengers ride lower to the pavement than they do in taller vehicles, so views out front can be obstructed. And seat cushions are short, coming to mid-thigh on tall passengers. It's also a tight fit for three adults in the back seat. Headroom in back is 37.6 inches vs. the 39 inches in the back seat of Honda's Fit, and rear-seat legroom in the xD measures 33.9 inches compared with 34.5 inches in the Fit.

No one looked at the xD during the test drive. It's neither sleek and sporty nor cute. Rather, the thick pillars around the windows, front and rear, and an overall shape that's akin to a short wagon make the xD look a little odd.

The upgraded Alpine stereo put out strong, clear tunes, even if the 4.3-inch color touch panel seemed small. The Alpine system includes HD Radio technology and Alpine's MX technology that enhances the compressed audio sound of digital music.

This is the first year that electronic stability control is standard on the xD. Other standard safety items include curtain air bags, anti-whiplash front-seat head restraints and antilock brakes with Brake Assist.

The xD earned four out of five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal crash testing by the federal government. Side crash test results were better — five out of five stars for passenger protection.

The xD was among many Toyota models recalled in the 2010 model year because tire labels might not have had the correct load-carrying information.

The 2010 Scion xD

BASE PRICE: $14,900.

AS TESTED: $19,815.

TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger subcompact hatchback.

ENGINE: 1.8-liter, double overhead cam, four cylinder with VVT-i.

MILEAGE: 27 mpg (city), 33 mpg (highway).


LENGTH: 154.7 inches.

WHEELBASE: 96.9 inches.

CURB WEIGHT: 2,624 pounds.

BUILT AT: Japan.

OPTIONS: TRD 18-inch wheels with black finish alloy $1,999; security system $469; Alpine premium audio $449; rear spoiler $385; Bluetooth connectivity $299; TRD rear sway bar $250; carbon fiber B-pillar applique $189; carpeted floor mats $155.