HOLLYWOOD – When Toyota Motor Corp. first decided to create a youth-focused brand for the U.S., it seeded the new marque with two Japan-market models, the Ist and bB, rebadged as the Scion xA and xB, respectively.

The move served a couple of purposes: It kept development costs low, and it tapped into the fascination some U.S. youth have with Japanese culture.

While the jury remains divided on the xA hatcback, the success of the rectangular xB ute and later-launched tC sport coupe have driven sales above projections, silencing the naysayers who believed Toyota had made a mistake with the narrowly focused Scion brand.

Now, three years after its national rollout, Scion is ready with a redesigned xB and an all-new replacement for the xA subcompact, dubbed the xD. Unlike its predecessor, the new xB rides on a separate, larger platform from the bB, itself redesigned for Japan last year. And the xD shares its underpinnings with the larger Toyota Yaris’ chassis, not the Ist.

The xB’s wheelbase, at 102.4 ins. (260 cm), has been increased 4 ins. (10 cm) from that of the outgoing model. Length is up a substantial 12 ins. (30 cm) to 167.3 ins. (425 cm), while the front and rear tracks have grown 2.7 ins. (7 cm) and 3.5 ins. (9 cm), respectively.

This boost in area helps plant the xB more firmly on the twisties here in the Los Angeles-area, although the vehicle’s square shape puts it at odds with such an excursion. Really, the xB feels most at home cruising city streets, where it blends in well with the oddballs on Hollywood Blvd.

A McPherson strut front suspension keeps the ride compliant, while the electric power steering lacks the overly light feel that’s characteristic of many other Toyotas.

The electric power steering is said to increase fuel economy 3%, though, a gain likely needed to compensate for the installation of the larger, 2.4L 4-cyl. engine under the new xB’s hood. Replacing the wimpy 1.5L of the outgoing model, the new four-banger cranks out 158 hp, up from 103 hp for the outgoing model, making for comparatively blistering acceleration.

’08 Scion xB
Vehicle type Front-engine, front-wheel-drive 4-door car
Engine 2.4L (2,362 cc) DOHC inline 4-cyl. aluminum block/aluminum head
Power (SAE net) 158 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 162 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm
Compression ratio 9.8:1
Bore x stroke (mm) 88 x 96
Transmission 5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase 102. 4 ins. (260 cm)
Overall length 167.3 ins. (425 cm)
Overall width 69.3 ins. (176 cm)
Overall height 64.7 ins. (164 cm)
Curb weight 3,020 lbs./1,370 kg (manual); 3,086 lbs./1,400 kg (automatic)
EPA fuel economy, city/highway (mpg) 22/28 (10.7/8.4 L/100 km)
Market competition Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevy HHR

Although still relatively small by U.S. standards, the engine, also available in the tC and Toyota Camry, is a real treat, often more enjoyable than even the Camry’s V-6.

In the new xB, the engine is mated to either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission, the latter of which proves competent. Despite the gathering industry movement to 5-speed automatics, Scion officials say their customers aren’t pushing for the extra gear. Cost also factored into the decision to stick with a 4-speed.

The xB’s interior is well done, despite the liberal use of hard plastic. One minor complaint on both the xB and xD is the rough-to-the-touch rat-fur headliner. Even the cheapest vehicles from Korea have moved to more appealing knit material. Pre-production models driven here also suffered from some fabric puckering.

The xD, meanwhile, is an oddity. Replacing the low-volume xA, it has grown some in size, matching up more closely to the old xB, with a 96.9-in. (246-cm) wheelbase.

It also shares the xB’s boxy lines.

Making its North American debut is Toyota’s 1.8L inline 4-cyl. engine, up to now available in the Yaris TS in Europe and the Corolla in Asia.

The mill makes 128 hp and 125 lb.-ft. (169 Nm) of torque, vs. the paltry 103 hp and 101 lb.-ft. (137 Nm) of the xA’s 1.5L.

The power boost is welcome, but it’s not enough to eliminate the occasional white-knuckle moment, as when the xD, throttle wide open, hesitates during a merge onto a crowded L.A. freeway.

Both the xB and xD engines get Toyota’s dual variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-I), marking the technology’s first use in a compact mill (it was introduced on the Avalon’s 3.5L V-6 and also is available on the Tundra’s 5.7L V-8).

Like the xB, the xD also has a McPherson strut front suspension to keep its ride agreeable.

The car carves up the curves a bit better than the xB, thanks to its more compact dimensions and lower center of gravity, but it won’t be confused with a BMW 3-Series.

The xD’s interior is a standard charcoal gray. Scion wisely located the gauges in their rightful place: behind the steering wheel, not atop the center stack as in the xA.

A cool single concentric combination meter integrates the speedometer and tachometer functions. Scion officials are mum on whether other Toyota models will get this, but it appears to be a safe bet the xD won’t mark the only application, as the combo-gauge frees up design space for more interior creativity.

’08 Scion xD
Vehicle type Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-door hatchback
Engine 1.8L DOHC 4-cyl. aluminum block/aluminum head
Power (SAE net) 128 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 125 lb.-ft. (169 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm
Compression ratio 10.0:1
Bore x stroke (mm) 81 x 88
Transmission 5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase 96.9 ins. (246 cm)
Overall length 154.7 ins. (393 cm)
Overall width 67.9 ins. (172 cm)
Overall height 60.0 ins. (152 cm)
Curb weight 2,625 lbs./1,191 kg (manual); 2,665 lbs/1,209 kg (automatic)
EPA fuel economy, city/highway (mpg) 27/33 (8.7/7.1L/100 km)
Market competition Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Kia Rio, Chevy Aveo

The xD is roomy, and front seats are comfortable on long drives. But rear seats in both the xD and xB lack padding and are quite uncomfortable and not made for extended journeys.

Fuel economy for both models is down significantly from their predecessors, thanks to their ’08 model status (that makes them subject to new, less favorable mileage calculations), larger engines and increased heft. The manual xD gets 27/33 mpg (8.7-7.1L/100 km) city/highway vs. the 32/37 mpg (7.4-6.4 L/100 km) for the ’06 xA.

The xB is rated at 22/28 mpg (10.7-8.4 L/100 km) with either the automatic or manual, vs. 30/33 mpg (7.8-7.1 L/100 km) for the ’06 manual model.

With such standard features as vehicle stability control, tire pressure monitoring, 4-wheel disc brakes and steering wheel-mounted audio controls, the ’08 xB is a good value starting at $15,650, despite its steep, 11.5% price hike from the outgoing model. Automatic-equipped xBs begin at $16,660, up 11.9%. Destination and handling adds $580.

The question is whether xB loyalists will flock to this box the same way they did to the original, smaller xB. With the redesign, the xB has lost some of its quirkiness. Sharp creases have been abandoned in favor of more rounded edges and the front fascia has been revised and now features a more conventional grille placement.

The xD, which will see pricing released closer to its August launch, features an xB-like body with a Yaris face. Subcompacts in the U.S., in general, lack allure, but this one is particularly unappealing. The greenhouse is out of proportion to the bulk of the body below the beltline, and the space between the C and D pillars makes the xD look as though it originally was designed as a sedan.

Even if it doesn’t appeal to targeted urban hipsters, the new xB, thanks to its larger engine and dimensions, should continue to intrigue Baby Boomers, who flocked to the first-generation model for its ample interior space and easy ingress and egress.

But the xD may be more likely get stuck in the penalty box of the U.S. new-vehicle market.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com