Cold Start: Meet The Autopian Test Car


Yes, the moldy old Scion xB has found a new, vitally important role for its twilight years: the Autopian Test Car. It served David and I extremely well this week as we undertook some important automotive research, and we’ll have more experiments planned. Or, something fun, at least. I hope.

She’s running rough, but won’t quit. Ever, as far as I can tell. at some point it’ll just become one giant check engine light you can ride in straight into the mouth of hell itself.

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39 Responses

  1. I had a 2004 Scion xB with the 5-speed manual. I traded it in after sixteen years and 200,000 miles because the transmission was starting to go and would need to be rebuilt. The cost I was quoted was $1000 for the work, which exceeded the value of the car by then as it’d been hit three times over its lifespan.

    I still miss that car. It always ran, you could fit an absurd amount of cargo in there by laying down the seats, and it got decent mileage. I like my new car just fine, but always wonder whether I should have kept the xB. If they’d still been making them in 2020, would have bought one in a heartbeat.

    Also, for those of you saying that it was scary getting it onto the freeway: do you not have on-ramps where you live? Not trolling, I know that roads in other parts of the country just sort of shunt you right into traffic with no room to accelerate. Never had an issue getting the Scion onto the highway.

  2. A guy at work had one of these bread boxes on wheels. His only issue was having to replace the windshield on a regular basis due to rocks hitting it. I guess that upright position didn’t do it any favors. Other than that, you know, it was a Toyota.

  3. I had a first generation xB and I loved that thing. So much fun to drive around town, but it showed its aerodynamics and structural integrity at highway speeds. Rolling down the windows on the highway was interesting.

  4. Stupid questions: What is the role of the test car? Will it be a camera car for photographing vehicles as they’re being driven for reviews? Will you use it to try out aftermarket accessories to see how they really perform? What are some of the first plans you have for the noble steed?

  5. I had one of those… after a few years it felt like such a chore to drive. Yes, it was the manual. The mpg’s never got above 30, because it’s a box, and I had to wind the snot out of it just to keep up with traffic. Yet somehow now I wish I had it back.

    1. I almost bought one. Took it for a test drive and wow was it underpowered. I couldn’t imagine how terrified I would’ve been merging onto a parkway twice a day. And the road noise was unbearable. I loved the idea of it and cost but I needed something with a little more sound deadening. Hell any sound deadening because those doors were thin!

    2. Those first-gen xBs were horribly underpowered but otherwise a really great car. My son learned to drive in his grandfather’s xB. During his initial driving session he was shocked hear my wife tell him “floor it” in order to merge onto the freeway. He had to be told “yes, I meant it – hit the gas NOW!”

      1. My Yaris has the same drivetrain (1NZ-FE/U340E) as these xBs, and it’s certainly not quick, but I rarely use the last quarter of pedal travel and make it scream unless I’m climbing either a short onramp or a particularly steep mountain pass of the sort folks from out West would simply call a “hill”.

        Really demonstrates how the aerodynamic properties of a shed (plus an extra hundred-odd pounds) will kneecap your performance, all other factors being equal. I don’t say that to be mean to the Brave Little Toaster; their shape is wonderfully practical and charming in its own right. (I’ve owned several rectilinear Volvos, so if anything I’m biased toward the xB.)

    3. 167K Miles on mine and loaded with people and ski and snowboard gear. Had it wound out to redline to merge with traffic. Felt the little slip and the whiff of clutch. Made it to the ski hill with no more drama. Had the same whiff and slip on the climb up the hill out of Duluth on the way back. Me and my buddy put a new clutch in it with no more instructions than him looking at it and going, Looks like a Volkswagen. Hardest part was the motor mount in the back.

      Bought it with 50K and sold it with 200K

    1. Bought this exact car for my SIL, was great. She stupidly traded it in 3 months ago for a used Hyundai SUV and 500+ a month payment and it is a few months from being repossessed. Can’t fix stupid.

  6. Not in a bad way, this can be like the Donut Media test cars. Try out stuff, show what upgrades can be done, common wrenching techniques, etc.

    I can also see it as the rolling merch mobile.

  7. Does this mean hijinks like finding out just how crappy Ebay “performance” mods are? Or why those supposed “fuel saving” things are a load of hooey?

    Actually you should demonstrate how much of a beating rallycross puts on a car. For science.

    1. Interesting thing about the xB, if you take out the head rests, the front seats recline back to meet the rear seats evenly. If you really wanted to, a sleeping bag and pillow is all that you’d need to make it through a night in relative comfort (weather permitting).

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