Last week I reviewed the new Scion iM, and found it to be fine. Just fine. Looking at the current Scion lineup, with the exception of the part-Subaru FR-S, that’s really all you can say about the whole brand. It’s fine. Which is terrible. And, worse, the reason it’s like this is because we’re all cowards.
Coward is an ugly word, and if I’m going to be accusing us all of being one, I better explain myself. I should probably define the ‘we’ there a bit better as well. When I say we’re all cowards, I guess what I really mean is all of us American car buyers to a degree, but more so the people at Toyota who are responsible for deciding what the Scion lineup is going to be.
See, when I was thinking about Scion while writing that iM review, I found myself getting more and more disgusted and frustrated. Scion started out as a branch of Toyota that was more willing to take risks, a brand targeted at young people, with interesting, cheap cars lent themselves to customization and were markedly different from what the Toyota mothership was selling.
And, at first, I thought they might actually do it, with cars like the risky but successful first-generation xB and the risky but less-successful iQ. But soon they seem to have lost their nerve, redesigning anything interesting out of the second-generation xB and populating the rest of their lineup with normal, cheap Toyotas with slightly showier plastic air dams.
So, when I look at the current lineup, it’s hard to get excited about Scion as a brand. They have a Mazda2 with a much more pissed-off screamy face, a modern Toyota Matrix, the last few 2nd-gen xBs, a coupé everyone forgets about, and the FR-S. There’s no compelling reason for any of these cars to not be Toyotas, because they’re not really doing anything a Toyota wouldn’t.
So, right now, Scion has no point. I think the reason it’s like this is because of the coward thing – they’re too afraid to really try anything risky and interesting anymore, and somehow the American car-buying populace has decided they’re all too scared to try anything risky anymore.
But I don’t believe this has to be the case. Sure, most parking lots are full of the same white/gray/black forgettable cars, but I don’t believe we’re all like that. I think there’s room for a genuinely interesting niche car company, and Toyota is easily big enough to grow a pair of some sort of gonads and take the risk to try.
Scion was already a start in that direction, even if Toyota got a huge bout of confectionary-rectum and quit trying. If Toyota wants to make Scion mean something again, all they have to do is listen to me right now. They’re already building the cars that can make this work, they just need a little bit of guts.
So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to look at Toyota’s global offerings, and find cars that are genuinely novel, interesting, useful, and generally affordable. I’m going to re-do Scion’s lineup, and if Toyota is smart, they’ll start the federalizing process for these cars post-haste.
Here’s my new proposed line-up:
First, we’ll keep the FR-S. That’s the only one that’s staying. Everything else gets dropped. Since the current xB has stopped production, I’ve limited myself to a four-car lineup, like Scion presumably would have once they sell the rest of the xBs. I think there would be room for something below the xS at some point, though.
Well, actually, I made one addition. Patrick, our beloved and feared editor-in-chief pretty much demanded I have a crossover or something in here, because “that’s all anyone buys anymore.”
So, fine. I’ll meet you halfway, with the Scion T-LC.
Here’s the replacements in more detail:
This is a federalized Toyota Spade, which is itself a version of the Toyota Porte. This would slot in to fill the gap left by the xB, really the only genuine hit Scion has had in the US.
Where anyone looking at the iM could find at least four as-good-or-better options, nobody’s going to find anything that really competes with the xS in the US. Like the original xB, it’s a novel, useful design.
Just look at it there – a huge sliding door on the passenger’s side, a front passenger seat that folds into a little table/ottoman that can slide out of the way under the dash, leaving a ton of room inside – it’s brilliant.
It’s not a tiny Kei-car, it has a 1.5L engine that gets 52 MPG (well, in Japan’s test cycle) and I think it looks pretty cool. This is the first modern Toyota I’ve seen that I think could be a worthy replacement to the original xB.
Scion xL (possibly called xL Party Van)
All the interest in even the possibility of a new VW Microbus should make it clear that there’s a strong niche for a fun, interesting small van in the US, even without the considerable VW nostalgia factor. Toyota makes all kinds of interesting vans for the Japanese (and other) markets, and I think a tweaked Alphard is just the ticket.
Now, I also like the Alphard’s brother, the Vellfire, but they’re basically the same van, and it’s mostly the Vellfire’s name I like. I really like the Alphard’s big, just slightly absurd grille, but, honestly, either van would work.
The goal here would be to target the minivan not to families (who may buy it anyway) but to that coveted young buyer, and pitch it as a sort of mobile party/fun/debauchery room. You’d want a lot of good options for the interior, with flexible layout and lots of electronic options. Ads could reference the old ‘70s-era van craze.
This one may be a pretty big risk for a small niche, but if done properly, I bet buyers could be found. It’s the evergreen Toyota Crown Sedan, based on the Toyota Comfort, which was introduced in 1995 and has hardly changed since.
The Crown looks like an ‘80s-era sedan, and has the classic three-box sedan proportions that a child might draw if asked to draw a car. It’s normally used as a cab in Japan, but the Scion version would play up the old-school looks, the comfort, and have a fully array of near-kitchy chrome trim. It even has fender-mounted indicator tell-tales! Wing mirrors should be an option, too, if at all possible, along with the driver-actuated automatic rear doors from the taxi spec.
The result would be like having a miniature limo or subscale Lincoln Continental. Maybe vinyl tops would be an option. The whole point would be not to take itself too seriously, but be a slightly-over-the-top take on a luxury car of the past, while still being a reliable, relatively economical, usable new car.
To slake Patrick’s crossover-lust, I’ll do him one better and bring back the old Toyota Land Cruiser, which is still sold in Australia and a number of other markets. Sure, it’s more of a real, old-school SUV than some dorky CUV, but I think that’s okay. Modern SUVs you can get anywhere. New Scion is all about being the only place to find the vehicles you really want.
I’m sure there’s room in there for airbags and whatever, and I know there’s enough interest in classic Land Cruisers that this could easily become new Scion’s volume seller at the right price.
I think those three cars, plus the FR-S and the T-LC would make for a far, far better Scion than what we currently have. I do have two possible, much less likely outlier cars I’d love to see, also:
The Pixis Mega, which I originally wanted as the xB replacement, but realized federalizing a Kei-class car probably couldn’t really happen. That’s a shame, because I adore the Pixis Mega and would drive one in a metric heartbeat. Also considered and rejected due to my barest grasp of reality:
... the amazing Toyota Century, for Scion’s ultra high-end offering. A V12 Scion luxury sedan is an appealing idea, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
So here it is– the new Scion lineup, freed from the cold, clammy grasp of cowardice. Will it be successful? I’m hopeful, but it clearly is a risk. Still, it would at least make people actually give a brace of BMs about Scion, which they really haven’t done for a while, and, come on, Toyota’s big and rich enough to gamble a little.
What’s the point of being one of the biggest car companies on Earth if you can’t have one goddamn division where you don’t play it so safe? The American market has got to have a bigger sense of adventure than it’s always given credit for, and the first carmaker to have the wherewithal or derring-do or moxie or balls/ovaries or whatever is going to reap considerable rewards.
Come on, Toyota. We’ll stop being cowards if you will.
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