2011 Scion xB Tech: Light On Substance

The Scion xB is a car for young people, so it better have the tech to match. Electronics in a car can be a beautiful thing – when done right. We got a fully equipped Scion xB for the week and checked the gear.

The xB is one of those boxy-looking cars that can be customized with a slew of accessories from the factory. From a $449 XM radio receiver to a $290 illuminated doorsill, the xB’s À la carte menu can add what ever your young-at-heart heart desires.

When tech is an afterthought, the result can feel unskillfully aftermarket. For a few of the Scion xB’s tech options, that notion is apparent. Not only that, but the price to pay for those “aftermarket” accessories is often more than real aftermarket. Does this mean the Scion isn’t worth a $27,000 price tag?

Yes and no. While there are some really neat things going on in and outside of the cabin, some of the tech options are plain boring. For example, the $299 BLU Logic handsfree system was just a set of three buttons. Setup included pressing and holding buttons and waiting for beeps. (If it’s so complicated that the manual needs to be broken out, then it’s usually worth skipping.) After all the beeps and holds, the system was okay and once connected, we even got Bluetooth A2DP to work — though it required changing tracks on the paired device. There wasn’t any voice activation built-in for calls; instead it uses your phone’s voice recognition; that works much better anyways. Call quality was great and those on the other end could hear us fine.

The Scion was also equipped with the $449 Alpine Premium HD Radio with iPod connectivity. We liked this more than the BLU Logic. Though it looks slightly out of date and out of place, it was easy to use. The connectivity for USB devices was better than expected, and songs can be selected by touching through the menus — pretty self-explanatory here. It wasn’t with out flaws though, when seeking around XM channels it could be a bitter faster between stations. And, our biggest affliction with AUX-in usability involves searching for another artist: the Alpine takes you all they way to the start of search again. Many cars do this and it’s annoying.

If you’re keeping track here, the Scion has $1197 in radio, hands-free and XM options — no navigation on this one (that’s $700 more.) You can get an aftermarket touchscreen navi system for around $1000 that can do all these functions with better integration. If you decide to go the real aftermarket route, grab some subwoofers too because the low-end in the car isn’t great. The standard six-speaker system doesn’t rattle teeth, something the look of the car proffers.

In the back seat we found two 7-inch LCD monitors mounted in the front headrests that offered DVD playback. Again, these aren’t connected to anything else in the car, the DVD player is built into each monitor. So for $1599 you can have two different movies going. Quality wasn’t bad on the monitors, but we’d pass on that option. We’d recommend getting two iPads with rear seat mounts — who watches DVDs anymore.

So while the Scion xB is a great car for young people – we firmly believe this – some of the tech options aren’t. Those who are tech-savvy aren’t going to want the radio setup when a better one can be added later, for cheaper. But, a lot of people aren’t going to want to mess around with installers and warrantees, so it would make sense to go for the Scion-customize options. Personally, we’d hold off on some of them.