Compact hatchback makes daily choirs entertaining
by: COURTESY OF Michael Dobrin PR, Small on the outside, big on the inside, with good power and fuel economy. What's not to like?

Most test cars provided to automotive writers are top-end models loaded up with every possible option from heated-and-cooled leather seats to sophisticated navigation systems.

So it's always takes something of an adjustment to swap a luxury sedan or premium crossover SUV for a simple car like the 2010 Scion xD.

But in this case, the contrast works to the xD's favor - it emphasizes the simplicity, functionality and surprisingly fun-to-drive nature of Scion's compact five-door hatchback.

The xD is the middle car in Scion's current line up, in between the smaller tC coupe and the larger xB. The styling is also somewhere in the middle - boxier than the tC but sleeker than the squared-off xB.

Like all Scions, the base xD is very basic. A wide range of factory options are offered to dress all three of them up. Our xD had came with a number of options, including an Alpine stereo, 16-inch alloy wheels and a rear spoil. Compared to most test cars, however, the xD felt downright spartan.

But guess what? That was just fine. The best thing about the xD is its practicality. The xD is small on the outside, big on the inside and surprisingly zippy. The seating position is high, the controls are easy to read and use, the rear seat is roomy and even slides forward to provide additional cargo space.

Much of the credit for our positive reaction goes to the high-revving 1.8-liter dual overhead cam inline four-cylinder engine that produces 128 horsepower and 125 foot pounds of torque. Mated to the smooth-shifting five-speed manual transmission, it allowed the xD to easily scoot through downtown traffic, climb steep hills and merge into freeway traffic with ease - all while delivering an EPA estimated average 20 miles per gallon.

Because the xD has a short wheel base, the ride was a little jiggly on less than smooth surfaces. But instead of being annoying, the impression was more like driving an eager-to-please puppy, making even the daily commute entertaining.

The xD also comes with a long list of standard safety features, including antilock brakes with brake assist, stability control, front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and front active head restraints. In government crash tests, it received four stars for frontal impacts and a perfect five stars for side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the xD "Acceptable" (the second-highest score) in frontal-offset crashes and "Good" (the highest score) in side-impact crashes.

Taller drivers might find headroom compromised. But the cloth seats with comfortable and fairly supportive. The interior mix of textured plastic and cloth inserts looked durable. Although the push buttons on the stereo was small, steering wheel-mounted audio controls are standard.

Although compact hatchbacks were out of style for most of the past two decades, the 2010 Scion xD now has a lot of competitors, including the Korean-made Chevy Aveo, Honda Fit, Kia Soul, Suzuki SX4 and the upcoming Ford Fiesta. Although some might offer higher mileage or cargo space, the functionality and entertainment factor of the xD make it well worth considering.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 Scion xD

• Manufacturer: Toyota.

• Class: Compact hatchback.

• Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-door, four passenger car.

• Engines: 1.8-liter DOHC inline 4 cylinder (128 hp, 125 ft lbs).

• Transmissions: 5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 27/33 (as tested).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $15,000 ($$19,327 as tested).

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