With Scion's little xD, you know what you got

Urban, Scion says. The little xD four-door hatchback is for your urban crowd.

By which Scion, a Toyota brand, means it's suitable for the tight confines of places such as this New York borough.

No problems there. Slipped easily through tight traffic. Ducked into a barely there slot at the curb, attracting not an iota of attention from a pair of urban gents involved in a high-decibel dispute, or maybe it was just a discussion that had been urbanized into resembling a verbal brawl.

Some, shall we say, less-carefully maintained streets sent shudders through the little car. On the other hand, xD was agile enough to dart around most such slam-bammers, when traffic allowed.

On the rural parkways, xD showed its new, bigger engine to good advantage, taking the worry out of hurry.

Urb or burb, the new car seems pretty good transport for those who don't need big, nor want brawny, nor care much about brisk. A car for those who favor the peculiar, personal and provocative. Those who appreciate the array of standard safety features, including head-curtain and side-impact airbags, as well as amenities such as trip computer, multiple MP3/iPod plugs and rear seats that not only slide to expand leg or cargo space but also recline for comfort.

The xD slots into a busy year for Toyota's youth-oriented Scion brand, which is replacing two of the three models in its lineup.

The bigger xB (Test Drive, June 15), a flawed but addicting box-buggy that went on sale in May, got such an overhaul in size, power, features and feel that only the name remains the same. The xD takes a different, almost opposite, path: Changing the name but not the formula.

A replacement for the xA, the D uses the Toyota Yaris small-car chassis, and has no ambitions about bulking up. As a result, it seems truer to the original Scion premise: a hip interpretation of hardware Toyota already has in production, keeping cost down, quality up.

The xD went into production at Toyota City in Japan in June, scheduled to be in U.S. showrooms in August.

It is a 2008 model, replacing the 2006 xA. There was no '07 xA.

Here are impressions from an afternoon's motoring in and around New York City in two pre-production xD sedans, one with manual transmission, the other with automatic.

Power: Improved, courtesy of a switch to a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder vs. the xA's 1.5-liter four-banger. Much appreciated. The car is now freeway-adequate and causes little anxiety as it merges, hustles through traffic, even passes.

Suspension: One of the car's worst features, but probably not a deal-breaker, depending on where you drive.

Tosses the car too much on some bumps. Allows more body lean in tight corners than you might like. And you don't get a particularly soft ride.

Transmissions: The manual works well, providing crisp, short, easy-touch, accurate shifting. That's a tough combo when the gearbox linkage has to twist through a 90-degree angle between the fore-aft alignment of the gear shift and the side-to-side layout typical of a front-drive car with the transmission hung on the end of the engine.

The clutch has a light touch, as well — awfully handy during a jam-up on the George Washington bridge. Move four inches, stop, shift to neutral, idle; shove into gear, move an inch, stop, neutral, idle; jump a whole foot, stop, etc. For that you pay a $6 toll.

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