Thursday, February 4, 2016

My History With Scion and How It Shaped Me As a Car Enthusiast

My 2005 Scion xB

With the announcement that the Scion brand is going extinct, I got to thinking about how the brand affected me. And believe me, it did. In fact, it shaped this blog.

From the late 1990s though the early 2000s, I used to frequent the Japanese market sites of brands such as Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Toyota. I was a big fan of the funky small boxy cars the Japanese markets had. When I began working at Scale Auto magazine back in 2001, I remember when Tamiya came out with the Toyota bB 1:24 scale plastic model kit. I remember thinking the bB was so different, so cool. I actually said aloud that I wish someday Toyota would bring it to the U.S. because I'd buy one. Not too long after, Toyota announced it was creating a new brand called Scion and it showed the bbX concept in 2002—essentially a Toyota bB. I couldn't believe it. I had to have one.

I visited the Chicago Auto Show in 2004 specifically to see the new xB. It was love at first site. I had honestly never fallen for a car like this before. It was so different. A year later, I sold my 1998 Honda Prelude SH and purchased a Polar White 2005 Scion xB with a manual transmission. On more than one occasion, my coworkers would tell me how unhappy I'd be going from a 200 hp sports car to a 108 hp toaster. I said that the fuel savings alone would make me happy.

My Scion xB on 18-inch ATS wheels
My xB on 18x7 (+40) ATS Comps. Wheels were big, tire sidewalls were small.
Shortly after purchase, I became very active on, which was a great place for the rapidly growing Scion enthusiast community. It supported the xA, xB, and tC and it was a great place to see what the trends were, what the best parts were, and where the next meetups were. I bought some Tein lowering springs and beautiful 18-inch German-made ATS wheels. In 2005, the car turned a lot of heads, garnered a lot of questions, and gathered plenty of stares. "Is that an EV?" "Who makes that vehicle?" "Does it come with the body kit?" "How much horsepower does it have?"

In early 2006, Mercedes and I traveled to Germany where we toured the BMW factory. They talked a lot about building the "Ultimate Driving Machine" and making their cars perform as well as possible. It was there I decided to go a different route with the xB.

Autocrossing my xB at Miller Park in Milwaukee
Leeeaaan into it! The xB was actually a fun autocrosser.
I kept the springs, but sold off the 18-inch wheels. I added a set of H&R TRAK rear spacers, lightweight A-Tech 16x7 wheels shod with sticky Yokohama tires, and a rear swaybar from Progress. I also added an intake and an Espelir JGT500 exhaust—still one of the best-sounding exhaust systems I've had on any car. Suddenly my xB became much more fun to drive. In fact, it was remarkable how well it handled. It certainly didn't feel as tall as it looked. I even autocrossed and took third place with it back in Milwaukee. People came up to me and said, "What did you do to that thing?" I told them just the basics. It was great being the underdog in a unique vehicle.

My xB in near Mt. Hood in Oregon
The xB near Mt. Hood in Oregon
August of 2006 marked a huge change in our lives. We were moving from Wisconsin to Oregon. For our first phase of our move, my dad and I packed up the xB with as much stuff as we could (which was quite a lot) and drove from Milwaukee to Portland with stops in South Dakota and Montana. Two weeks later I flew back and drove a moving van with our '98 Honda Civic in tow.

That next week I attended my first Scion car show at Beaverton Scion. I still had a Wisconsin license plate. I was amazed at the fact a dealer was putting this show on just for Scion vehicles. Everyone was super friendly and welcoming and we had a blast. In fact, I still keep in touch with several people to this day who I met at that show.

Fast forward to spring of 2007. We were getting settled in Oregon, and I knew I wanted to take the xB up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mt. St. Helens. The road was newly paved and curvy which made for a great driving road. However, rather than simply going up alone, I posted on Scionlife to see if anyone else wanted to go too. I think we ended up with 10 or 11 cars. We had a really good time. The next year, Scion of Gladstone offered to sponsor the run by chipping in food. We had bunch more people go; maybe 30 or so cars. The run's success got the attention of Scion corporate, and they have since sponsored the Mt. St. Helens Cruise event every year since (even last year). Scion was forming friendships, creating events, and turning people into gearheads. Scion had a great, supportive following back then.

My Rays Texan Shotguns (16x7, +37, 4x100 and 5x100)
I decided to switch things up again on the wheel front and bought a set of rare two-piece Rays Texan Shotguns from Japan. They were in terrible shape when I got them. But I disassembled them, had them polished, and put back together. They were pretty badass and I kind of wish I still had them. I learned a lot from that experience. Firstly, JDM wheels were expensive, often came in shitty condition, and their centercaps were impossible to replace. I also lived in mortal fear of curbing them. Thankfully that never happened. I never found new centercaps, however.

Anyhow, Scion was making subcompact cars cool. The xB was cool. The xA was cool. Suddenly, other subcompact cars started appearing on the market. The Toyota Yaris, the Nissan Versa, The Suzuki SX4, and Honda Fit. Since I always had an affinity for smaller vehicles, I thought this was great. Choices!

I did have a few issues with my xB. The clutch went out just before the warranty ran out. After a fight, the dealer did pay for it (with help from a rock star service manager who I am still friends with). Shortly after the replacement,—I mean within a few thousand miles—the clutch started slipping again, and was back in the shop. Plus, there was some premature rust happening on the doors. At the time, I don't think I'd kept a car more than a year and a half, and that two year new car itch was surfacing, this time in the shape of the Toyota Yaris three-door hatchback. So I stripped the xB of many of its parts and traded it in on my current Yaris.

In 2008 Scion came out the the second generation xB and replaced the xA with the xD. I immediately didn't like the xB. I wanted to like the xD, but did didn't do much for me. Then in 2008, I got laid off from my job.

With my love for small vehicles galvanized thanks to my xB ownership, I decided to start a blog site called Subcompact Culture to proclaim that some people actually preferred to drive small vehicles and may legitimately have an interest in them. The first post was January 23, 2008. Not long after starting the site, I wrote an editorial called Scion in a Slump? That was almost eight years ago to the day that I write this sentence.

Subcompact Culture has now been going for just over eight years. And honestly, if I hadn't fell in love with a Scion xB, I might not be writing this. I might not have had the opportunities I've had, and I might not be doing what I'm doing today both personally and professionally. So for that, Scion, I am grateful.

The brand was a grand experiment, and to call it a failure might be an overstatement. Although it didn't go in the direction I'd hoped, its initial product offerings helped to shape me into the automotive enthusiast I am today. 

The Scion xB shaped me into who I am today

1 comment:

Anime Gee said...

When the xB first appeared, my dad & I were like, "What an ugly looking piece of turd." My dad had a Toyota Sienna Symphony Edition minivan at the time. That was quite "comfortable" & "roomy". One day, we went to the mall & by chance we happened to park right next to the xB. I was like, "Ugh. What a stupid looking box." My dad felt the same way, but out of curiosity, we peeked through its back windows. Then we were like, "What the heck? It looks roomy!" We were kind of surprised. A few weeks later in 2005, the LA Auto Show was going on & we went. Just for poops & giggles, we went to the Scion display. We hopped into the xB & we were quite shocked at how comfortable it was. In fact, it had more legroom than my dad's Toyota Sienna. Yes. You could only fit 4 very large people extremely comfortably in the xB & 5 people kind of squeezed together in an emergency, but even though the the Sienna could sit 7, it was "uncomfortable" compared to the xB. It didn't have the legroom like the xB. We walked around the xB at the show, looked at it from top to bottom & figured that the asking price was a pretty good deal. Well, in January of 2006 my dad decided that he didn't need the Sienna anymore & guess what he got? A brand spanking new xB in Thundercloud Metallic. He figured that he was wasting too much gas & that the Sienna was a bit too much for him & my mom. It has been 10 trouble free years for him since then. He still has it today. The car still feels like new & it has been on several long road trips. I think it has close to 200,000 miles now & it still runs like a top. I totally love it & its boxy design grew on me over the years. I keep telling my dad to never sell it. It's a cult classic now! Hahaha! Long live the classic xB!