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.

The four-speed automatic's shifts are smooth and, generally, without delay. Leg the throttle hard and the automatic will fully wring out the engine before shifting up. That makes the most of the modest power available, flinging the D up to highway speed quicker than you expect, if less quickly than you might wish.

Steering: Electric power assist is tuned just right, as it is on the xB. Firm on the highway, so a sneeze doesn't wind you up in the ditch; light and quick in the parking lot to avoid arm-wrestling matches with the steering wheel while docking in slim spots.

Nice job handling a challenge seldom so well-met by rivals as they learn their way through electric steering's foibles

Noise: Too much. Road and tire racket are pronounced on coarse concrete and rough asphalt.

Interior: Front seats are comfortable. Back seats are OK. Generally roomy for the small exterior size.

Controls feel pleasant — smooth and high-quality — to rotate, push, pull. Single instrument pod is in the conventional spot forward of the steering wheel, not atop the center of the dashboard.

Safety belt for the middle rear rider — yes, there's almost room enough for one — hangs from the ceiling, an awkward placement that discourages its use. Better if the belts are mounted directly to the seats. But that requires robust seats that can cost too much and add enough weight to hamper performance in a small car.

Unlike the xB, the xD doesn't transcend its weaknesses and become a machine you love to wheel around.

It is pretty much the sum of its parts; one of those cars that simply is what it appears to be. The xA that preceded it had more charm.

2008 Scion xD

What is it? Replacement for the brand's base model, previously called xA. Based on the Toyota Yaris, xD is a four-door, front-wheel-drive, subcompact, hatchback sedan. Manufactured at Toyota's Takaoka. plant in Toyota City, Japan, which also manufactures others models including the Yaris hatchback and Corolla models for the Japan market.

How soon? Went into production in June. Due in U.S. showrooms early August.

How much? Manual transmission model is $15,170 including $620 destination charge. Automatic transmission model is $15,970.

Only factory option besides transmission is stability control, $650.

How many? Toyota forecasts 2,800 a month once production is at full speed. Many other automakers are too worried about missing their numbers to make public forecasts.

What's the drivetrain? 1.8-liter, four-cylinder rated 128 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 125 pounds-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm; five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.

How big? Small; 154.7 inches long, 67.9 inches wide, 60 inches tall on a 96.9-inch wheelbase.

Passenger space is listed as 84.5 cubic feet. Cargo space, in cubic feet: 10.5 behind the rear seat, 35.7 when rear seat is folded.

Weight is listed as 2,625 pounds for manual transmission, 2,665 pounds for automatic.

Rated to carry 980 pounds (manual) or 940 pounds (automatic) of people and cargo. Towing is not recommended.

Turning circle diameter is listed as 37.1 feet, curb-to-curb.

How thirsty? Rated 27 miles per gallon in town, 33 on the highway, 30 in combined driving (manual) or 26/32/28 (automatic), using 2008 federal standards.

Tank holds 11.1 gallons. Regular (87-octane) gasoline is recommended.

Overall:A bumpy little car with a funky look and marginally engaging personality.