Performance Upgrades: Are They Worth It?

dctalkdctalk Member Posts: 6
edited April 2014 in Scion
In the market for a new commuter car and the xB has been marked for serious consideration. Briefly drove one in Baltimore recently where Scion had one of their "road shows." All they had was an automatic and wasn't able to take it out on the highway to really test it. Liked it a lot, though.

I do have some questions for those who own xB's with manual transmissions. I figure that little 4-cylinder needs a stick shift to get any oomph out of it. While I would never buy any car without driving it first, dealers may not have what I'm looking for on the lot, so I want to ask those with ownership experience about this. My questions are:
--Comparisons between the manual and automatic in terms of "get-up-and-go"
--The regular shifter vs. the short-throw shifter--worth the extra dough?
--Same question for the TRD "heavy-duty" clutch--worth it?
--Same question for the TRD strut/shocks kit--worth it, or are they only of value with the lowered springs, which I don't want?
--Same question for the front strut tie bar and rear sway bar--worth it?
In sum, do the TRD performance "upgrades" make that much difference over stock in terms of handling and performance to justify the price? Thanks for any and all input.


  • micwebmicweb Member Posts: 1,617
    Anyone have the TRD (Toyota Racing Design) muffler designed for the Scion xB/xA? The stock muffler on my xA is restrictive, but the after market (Dynomax, Magnaflow, Walker, etc.) ones I have tried so far drone a little too loud for me. The Customer Service rep at TRD claims the tone is lower, but not louder, with the TRD muffler, which is designed for the car and not interchangeable. On the other hand, the TRD muffler costs about as much as all the other mufflers I have tried to date, combined.
  • mpalmermpalmer Member Posts: 20
    I am in the market for a new car, but was planning on purchasing a matrix. However, this little car caught my eye (cargo space and price), so now, it is a consideration.


    About the CAI...Dealer wants around 300 or so for it. Are there any pros or cons to having it? Will it make this car perform closer to a Matrix engine? Will it improve gas mileage?? By how much? Thanks.
  • mpalmermpalmer Member Posts: 20
    I went to the Scion dealership and got approved for an xb. I test drove the Matrix again as well, and found that I liked the styling and the roominess of the xb better. One thing I didn't like about the xb (and the Matrix too for that matter) is the lack of power. Not that I need THAT much, but too me, the automatic was a little sluggish.


    The salesman is trying to tell me that the CAI will give me 15 more horsepower without gaining gas mileage. From reading the posts on this forum, it seems the opposite is true. Any comments on this...


  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Ask if you can drive one equipped that way. Some CAI systems create a lot more noise, and my concern would be that might get tiring on a long drive.


  • micwebmicweb Member Posts: 1,617
    Most sports compact magazine tests of CAI on comparable sized engines indicate a very small increase in horsepower, about 1-2 horsepower, in exhange for which there is considerable noise increase, arguably poorer filtering (the oil soaked gauze cloth vs. a paper element), and a risk of wetting out the exposed filter element in heavy puddles etc. The one caveat to their dyno tests is they are on a dyno with no airflow (air pressure from freeway speeds) which might help the CAI; on the other hand they are comparing to stock airboxes with the same set up.


    The biggest improvement in performance with the Scion, in my personal experience, comes from just breaking in the car; after about 6,000 miles of break in, the engine loosens up and drives well with a lot more power. In my experience, the engine also responds well to mid-grade gasoline, though it will run without obvious problems, like pinging, on regular.


    Finally, try driving another xB. I was recently considering trading my stick shift xA in on an xB or xA automatic, and I took both out for a test drive. The xB was fast and responsive, WITH AN AUTOMATIC, while the xA with an automatic felt sluggish. The xB felt about responsive, in normal driving, as my stick shift xA. Later I realized it was how the automatic transmission was shifting in the two test drifes. The xB's held each gear a little longer to hit higher rpm, and downshifted more readily (one reasonable gear, not the usual "drop it too gears to hear it scream" that most automatics do), while the xA shifted a little earlier on the way up and a little later on the way down. So, based on two test drives within a few days of each other, I'd say the "tuning" on the automatic has a lot to do with the responsiveness of the car. And, yeah, no matter what, you'll have to work the engine harder, give it more throttle and make it stay in lower gears longer, if you want more performance.


    BTW, I don't know if its true, but a friend told me today that how you drive the car initially is how the computer will learn your driving style. I do know the electronically controlled transmission in the Scion is supposed to be adaptive, learning when you are driving hard and when you are taking it easy and adjusting the upshift and downshift points on the fly. You could always try disconnecting the battery to reset all the computer modes and "retraining" your car, but I suspect the difference in the two Scions I test drove has more to do with variations between factory units than the way it was driven (don't all test rides get driven relatively hard?).


    Another bit of personal experience. I recently had a PT Cruiser with auto and the non-turbo 2.5, and a Neon with auto and the stock 2.0 engine. Both have the same Chrysler 4 speed automatic. On the PT, the automatic upshifted early, unless I gave it a LOT of throttle, and if I gave it enough throttle to downshift, it would often drop two gears, leading to a lot of racket and an almost immediate upshift to the next gear up, the one it should have been in in the first place.


    The Neon, on the other hand, is a peach, it throws easy downshifts, just one gear, with just a hint of more than normal throttle, and it stays in lower gear during acceleration longer with just a hint of more than normal throttle.


    Apparently the first year out on the 4 speed on the Neon, people griped how sluggish the car was, so the retuned the automatic - no gear changes, just told the computer to respond to throttle inputs differently. I suspect the sluggish PT was the result of its older demographic (older drivers) and the desire to preseve quiet in the cabin and fuel economy (fuel economy on the PT stinks).


    Anyway, try another xB, and try different throttle styles. I find that if I give the throttle a more aggressive start, I can trick the car into delaying the upshift, but if I want to save gas, I can back off the throttle slightly after I hit a certain rpm and the tranny will still delay the upshift (if you back off the throttle too much, it shifts immediately). In otherwords, tip in the throttle aggresively to alert the computer you want a delayed upshift, then back off slightly. Driving thse adaptive automatics requires learning how to use the throttle not only to govern the throttle body, but also to govern the shift points on the auto.


    Good luck - I found the xB I test drove to be plenty zippy, and by the time I traded in my xA at 12,500 miles, it had gotten quite fast, with the stock muffler and stock intake - not even a K&N airfilter!
  • aathertonaatherton Member Posts: 617
    The manual is geared lower. It accelerates faster, but does more RPM per MPH and gets worse mileage. At 80 MPH the manual is doing 4000 RPM vs the auto at 3500 RPM. The manual mileage is 1-2 MPG less per the EPA. However, the biggest factor in MPG is the driver, and while my city average is 35, some get less than 30.

    The automatic is one of the best around, shifting well and learning shift points from the driver's habits.

    The manual has a light clutch and shifting, very good for city driving. The clutch and synchros are a joy to use, but do not hold up to hard, abusive driving. Such people report gear clashing and clutch slipping as soon as 5,000 miles.

    The stock shifter is fine unless you want a tighter feel and shorter throw, in order to shift faster. Faster shifting will soon cause problems. I had planned to buy a TRD shifter before the car arrived, but after getting the car, I soon decided the stock shifter was just fine. I upshift deliberately and do not apply power until the clutch is released. I don't downshift unless I want to use the lower gear to maintain or increase speed.

    The stock clutch is fine unless you do burnouts and power upshifts, which will soon cause it to slip. The TRD clutch has stronger springs, but I think the lining is the same. Some people favor competition clutches of Stage 2 strength. My clutch is fine and I expect it to last a long time, but if I was to need another, I would use the TRD.

    The most important thing to do about the suspension is to replace the hard KYB rear shocks with softer SensaTracs, made by Tenneco and sold by NAPA and Monroe. You can do this for $75 in 20 minutes with the car on the ground, and it will make the rear feel the same as the front. I think the TRD items are merely a little softer than OEM, especially the rears.

    The front strut bar is useless except possibly theoretically in competition driving over very twisty or bumpy roads. It is supposed to keep the strut towers from flexing and affecting camber which affects steering. Older limber sport cars used these bars, but the xB strut towers are very close the firewall bulkhead and look very rigid. In any case, I feel no difference with my strut bar, and it does interfere with servicing the air filter and brake fluid, so I will remove and sell it 15K miles.

    The rear sway bar does work and can be felt in daily driving. I got the TRD because it was said to be the least rigid. A very rigid bar will affect the ride of the rear suspension. The sway bar makes the xB corner flatter and also feel better doing it. Without a sway bar the car "oversteers" in a violent turn - the back end wants to swing out and maybe come around. With the sway bar the steering is neutral.

    I don't favor the loud mufflers. The stock muffler has a nice purr or growl, especially audible with the windows down, yet does not drone at cruising speed. People with loud mufflers eventually want to add lead sheeting to the rear hatch and floor.

    The single easiest performance upgrade is to use high octane gas. The high compression engine can use it. The 2005 xB was rated at 108 HP on premium gas, while the 2006 xB is rated at 103 HP on regular. Scion was told to rate the power based on the regular gas that was recommended in the Owners Manual. There is absolutely no ned to use premium unless you want that little extra power. I do.
  • dctalkdctalk Member Posts: 6
    Thank you. This is exactly the sort of insight I was looking for and would help anyone who is looking to make a decision on these type of options.
  • aathertonaatherton Member Posts: 617
    You asked about performance. Car & Driver tested the manual xB at 9.6 seconds 0-60 mph. This is decent, and the car is peppy to drive. The engine loves to rev, and the VVT allows it to pull hard from under 2000 rpm in 4th gear and still sing at 6000 rpm. But driving peppy means using heavy throttle and lots of RPMs, and that will push the MPG down into the high 20's.
    Likewise, the manual is good at high speed, having the RPMs and power to hold speed on Interstate hills at 80, where the auto cannot. But at 80 mph, the manual transmission's high RPMs and the car's boxy shape, plus constant aggressive jockyeing, will combine to again push the MPGs down into the high 20's.
    On the other hand, at a steady 60 in the Interstate, I get 43 mpg.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    If it's any help, I've driven both xB and xA with front strut bars and it's true the difference is subtle...what you'll notice is faster "turn in" on corners taken at high speed.

    The rear sway bar is a definite good thing.

    The sport muffler is one of preference. It won't give you "power" but if you like hearing the engine a bit more (like for downshifting feedback, etc.), it's fun to have it.

    I also installed a keyless entry from Best Buy for only $129 vs. dealer ripoff price (without alarm).

    I don't recommend the short shifter unless you are really doing some spirited driving...the stock shifter is easy to use and shifts softly in heavy traffic. I can just lay my elbow on the arm rest and shift.

    The manual transmission cars are geared lower but definitely help performance 0-60. I found the automatic xB to be a little too anxiety producing in certain situations.

    BETTER TIRES -- this is one thing I plan to do with my xA at some point. The OEM tires on xAs and xBx are too soft in the sidewall.

    SYNTHETIC OIL --- with synthetic oil, premium gas and a manual transmission, my xA really scoots from the stoplight. There is no sense of "not enough power".
  • newownerxbnewownerxb Member Posts: 5
    Monroe Sensatracs #5987 for an Echo are $82 and some change right now at Sears. They are offering free installation, so of course, I jumped on it and special ordered the shocks. Should be here in 2-4 days. I believe that the free install ends this weekend or August 12th. After reading all the posts on how these shocks change the ride I couldn't resist and bought them. My car only has 126 miles on it. Thanks for all the info.
  • aathertonaatherton Member Posts: 617
    The CAI makes a little more hp with quite a bit more noise. Many people have hydrolocked their engines by driving through deep puddles with CAIs that have low and unprotected intakes.

    The xB makes 5 more HP on premium. The 2005 was rated at 108 hp on premium, and the 2006 was rated at 103 hp on regular. The difference is due to the knock sensor retarding the ignition at high load on regular gas.

    The transmission will learn to shift where your habits dictate, but the engine ECU has nothing to learn. It responds to immediate data to manage the engine. If you disconnect its power, the ony thing it forgets (clears) are trouble codes.

    At 400 miles I installed:
    1. SensaTrac rear shocks. Fantastic improvement. A daily benefit.
    2. Rear sway bar. Could feel the flatter cornering and more neutral steering in hard turns. A daily benefit.
    3. Strut bar. Could immediately feel NO difference at all. It may have a purpose in racing. At 5,000 miles I am going to remove and sell it this weekend because it makes these more difficult:
    - air filter replacement (every 15,000 miles)
    - brake fluid changing (every two years).
    - cruise control installation (I bought a Rostra unit to install).
  • iluvmysephia1iluvmysephia1 Alamogordo, NMMember Posts: 7,677
    front and rear sway bars right from the get-go for purchasers. Is this true or false, then?

    I mean, for the average Seattle Sonic fan driving a 2006 Scion xA in 5-speeds, EP-10 wheels and stock everywhere else, are extra-tought rear sway bars really a significant help at all?

    2021 Kia Soul LX 6-speed stick

  • aathertonaatherton Member Posts: 617
    There are basically two kinds of bars.
    1. Front and rear strut bars that rigidly lock the tops of the strut towers together.
    2. Front and rear sway bars that flexibly connect right and left wheels to resist leaning.

    Most people buy the front strut bar and the rear sway bar. They install easily, do not interfere with the interior of the car, and provide almost all the benefit. The front strut bar, however, does interfere with installation of cruise control, and servicing the brake fluid, air filter and power steering fluid.

    The only time you feel the effect of these bars is immediately after installation or removal. After a day or so, you get used to any difference and don't notice it.

    I felt the better cornering and neutral steering of the sway bar on the first hard fast corner. I felt nothing from the strut bar. After 5000 miles I removed the strut bar for better cruise control and service access, and again felt no difference.

    The front strut bar assumes that the tops of the strut towers will move or flap, thereby changing the castor setting of the alignment with each flap. And it is also assumed that you will be able to feel the fluctuations in castor. Strut bars were often added to racing sedans on the old days, whose bodies were not computer designed for stiffness, but I don't know if these assumptions are valid for the xB.

    If you like to take corners fast, you will appreciate a rear sway bar.
    If you drive hard and fast over twisty roads full of bumps, perhaps the front strut bar will make a difference you can feel. I never did.
  • iluvmysephia1iluvmysephia1 Alamogordo, NMMember Posts: 7,677
    thanks for that explanation on struts and sway bars.

    It sounds like I won't need a front strut bar or a rear sway bar as I don't take twisties hard and fast nor do I feel the need to power slide around corners. I think you're right, get them if you feel you need them from the start but don't bother starting out without them and then getting them because one can just adjust to what they have. Adjust and not need a handling "feel" that's any different from what Scion engineers install from day one at the factory.

    That is what I was thinking but now I know for sure that I'm getting my xA with no added options whatsoever. The only thing I'd like would be the EP-10's and Scion would have to discount them to about $300 for me to take them over some Pep Boys cheapies that I can find in nearby Sierra Vista, AZ. Sierra Vista is the town nearest to me that has all of the big chains located in it. The little town I live in has a Goodyear store but I shudder to think what they'd charge for low-end rims. Humm...maybe I should check just to be sure. Pep Boys has some for around $200 that would work for the 2006 Scion xA.

    aatherton-do you have a Scion xB? Ya happy with it so far?

    2021 Kia Soul LX 6-speed stick

  • aathertonaatherton Member Posts: 617
    I forgot to mention, the single most important and popular improvement you can make to an xA or xB is to change the rear shocks to softer SensaTracs by Monroe or NAPA. Use the ones listed for the Echo. Only $75 for the pair, they install with the car sitting on all four wheels in the driveway, with ordinary tools, and it takes 30 minutes.

    "... do you have a Scion xB? Ya happy with it so far?"

    I have 5000 very happy miles since March. In almost 50 years of owning many kinds of vehicles, I have never owned a car that combined so much driving fun, practicality and economy: / /
  • iluvmysephia1iluvmysephia1 Alamogordo, NMMember Posts: 7,677
    SensaTracs by Monroe or NAPA. 30 minutes to swap out? Are you sure? :surprise:

    No, good advice to soften the bumpy ride a tad. Probably the thing I hear the most on the negative side about the xA is the hardness/harshness over larger bumps. Those larger bumps are on our roads to stay so taking steps to soften them seems pretty smart. Enjoy your xB, xA or tC, whoever has one or wants one! :)

    2021 Kia Soul LX 6-speed stick

  • aathertonaatherton Member Posts: 617
    I guess the question is whether I meant it when I said 30 minutes. Yes, 30 minutes is being generous. There are only a total of 4 nuts to remove and replace.
    Each shock has a nut at the top and bottom that holds it to the car. Just undo the top nut, then the bottom nut, pull bolt out of the bottom of the shock, and pull the shock down out of the fender.
    Push the new shock up through the hole in the top of the fender, attach the bolt and nut to its bottom, then attach the nut to its top.
    The procedure is illustrated here with the claim that it takes 15-20 minutes:
  • xbscionxbxbscionxb Member Posts: 1
    I put the typhoon on last weekend (9/23/2006). Seems a tad peppier, but also a bit of drop off in MPG. I am removing it today and going back to the stock airbox. It'll never be fast so you may as well maximize economy!
  • aathertonaatherton Member Posts: 617
    "... Seems a tad peppier, but also a bit of drop off in MPG..."

    Low-restriction intake allows the engine to draw in more air than before, which must be mixed with more fuel than before, on those occasions when more power is wanted by the right foot.

    Perhaps if everyone drove the way they did before installing a CAI, the mpg would be the same. But most people enjoy the sound, and like to sample the power, and so end up driving with more throttle and rpms then they used to, which reduces the mpg.
  • dwynnedwynne Member Posts: 4,018
    The xB makes 5 more HP on premium. The 2005 was rated at 108 hp on premium, and the 2006 was rated at 103 hp on regular. The difference is due to the knock sensor retarding the ignition at high load on regular gas.

    This is not true, the engine is the same but the 2006 specifications follow the SAE testing procedure where the prior model years did not.

    See the Edmunds page here: here for this statement:

    In other news, the xB's horsepower rating drops from 108 to 103 due to new SAE testing procedures.

    The 4 banger Scions are not the only ones to take a hit, as is discussed in this online story.

    With non SAE testing the engineers could remove all the drive belts (alternator, etc) and test just the motor. SAE calls for the motor to be configured as it is in the car - and the drag of the belts and other testing changes make the SAE net less then Scion claimed previously.

    Most cars receive no benefit from running higher than designed octane in them - in fact they will normally return worse MPGs than if run on the proper fuel. There could be a few cars on the road that can advance the timing and get more power from premium fuel but I would say these are the exception rather than the rule.

  • aathertonaatherton Member Posts: 617
    The xB makes 5 more HP on premium. The 2005 was rated at 108 hp on premium, and the 2006 was rated at 103 hp on regular. The difference is due to the knock sensor retarding the ignition at high load on regular gas.
    This is not true, the engine is the same but the 2006 specifications follow the SAE testing procedure where the prior model years did not.
    Yes, soon after that Aug. 10 post I asked Scion Customer Experience and received these answers by email:
    Response (Vernon) 09/01/2006 03:04 PM
    We appreciate your inquiry. The difference in the xB's horsepower rating from 2005 to 2006 is reflective of revised testing standards for horsepower set forth by the SAE. The engine design, engineering, and fuel used remains unchanged. The difference is due to the fact that previous testing for horsepower from engines did not include the parasitic drag associated with the operation of a power steering pump. The SAE revised their testing standards to test with a power steering pump operating with the engine.
    Response (Vernon) 09/06/2006 04:09 PM
    … The vehicle is engineered and tested using 87 octane fuel. We recommend that fuel for optimum performance, reliability, and fuel economy on the vehicle. The vehicle does make the same power at maximum throttle position on 87 octane as it would on higher octane fuel.
  • aathertonaatherton Member Posts: 617
    There could be a few cars on the road that can advance the timing and get more power from premium fuel but I would say these are the exception rather than the rule.
    There are quite a few vehicles designed with advance curves that make more power on premium fuel and not all of them are "performance cars". One of them is the Toyota Tacoma V6. From the 2006 Tacoma Owners Manual where 2TR-FE is the 2.7L I-4 and 1GR-FE is the 4.0L V-6:

    2TR- FE engine - Select Octane Rating 87 or higher.
    1GR- FE engine - Select Octane Rating 87 or higher. For improved vehicle performance, use premium unleaded gasoline with an Octane Rating of 91 or higher.
  • gclkiptgclkipt Member Posts: 2
    I recently purchased a 2009 XB and wanted the TRD rear anti-sway bar.Suddenly the option was taken off the list when I went to order it. I have heard, but not confirmed, there are/were problems with the hardware that holds the bar in place. Since I still want a rear bar, have you heard anything about this as I can still purchase the bar at a number of other places?

    Regars and thanks,
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