by Clint Burgess

There are cars that are "noticeable" -- and then there are cars that turn heads. Toyota's Scion line has created a whole new kind of head-turning phenomenon. Scions may be marketed to a younger generation of car buyers, but they're gaining fans across the board for their imaginative styling and Toyota quality. Scion promises to be a force in the market in the 21st century.

What could be described as Scion's answer to another small, very popular car is the xA, embodying the idea that good things can come in small packages. The car is shockingly small, but it still seats five comfortably and there's still room behind the back seat for a skateboard. The price tag is also small, starting at an ultra-affordable $12,995. The xA offers all the perfect appointments for today's young hipster on the go and is practical enough for the sensible driver in all of us. Standard features include power everything, a six-speaker CD stereo sound system that is satellite radio-ready, front and rear wipers for our soggy climate and a dash configuration that comes straight out of a science fiction movie. But this car isn't all looks. Driver and passenger airbags in the front, anti-lock brakes and three-point safety belts are just a few of the safety features on the xA.

While this car doesn't offer gargantuan proportions, there is plenty of legroom and head space for the average person. Every-thing in the vehicle is laid out functionally, and small things -- like the absence of an annoying sound when your door is open and the keys are in -- go a long way with drivers like me.

Chris Vanleuven, finance manager at Downtown Toyota/Scion, knows that these vehicles may look a little different, but they are making their mark. "You can't be sure how the buying public is going to react to a car like this," says Vanleuven. "When we all saw them, we weren't sure about the designs, but so far the customers love them."

In fact, these cars are so popular that I didn't see hardly any on the lot because they sell so fast. It's not hard to figure out why with the xA. "People have been buying them for the gas mileage as well," Vanleuven says. "At 40-plus miles to the gallon for a car made by Toyota -- that's pretty good."

These features might sound good on the surface and the price might be right, but there are intangible factors that come into consideration on vehicle purchases. I can't stress enough how much this car just made me want to drive -- to just get out and go. Usually 108 horsepower isn't an engine size I would bat an eye at, but this car has get-up and it glides effortlessly across the roadway. Even at highway speeds, there's almost none of the typical road noise. These comforts make it easy to hop in and enjoy the driving experience. I have also never driven a car that people could not stop looking at, literally. It didn't matter where I was: At the store, in the drive-thru, on the freeway or at a red light, everyone noticed this car. That's not necessarily the chief purpose in buying a vehicle -- but let's not kid ourselves. "How cool do I look in this?" is a question that has passed through the mind of many a car buyer.

Fortunately the designers and engineers asked these same pressing questions -- and then combined looks and performance into the Scion xA.

Publication date: 11/18/04

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