Don't look for the new-generation Scion xB on television during its launch this spring.

The boxy, early-for-2008 xB is debuting as a bigger, more powerful small car in a quirky, online "square universe" (Want2BSquare.com) that celebrates all things that are shaped like a box.

It's just another way that Scion, started four years ago as the youth brand for Toyota, continues to seek out the youngest drivers in America. And so far, so good as Scion now has drivers with a median age of 30, according to company officials, who note this demographic is the youngest in the car business.

The xB, one of the two original cars that dates to Scion's beginning, gets its first big change as a 2008 model with a larger, more powerful engine, new standard features, larger size, new styling, bigger wheels and tires and more safety equipment.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $16,230 for a base, 2008 xB with 158-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, manual transmission and standard air conditioning. This is up from a starting price of less than $15,000 for the previous generation xB.

Competitors include five-door hatchbacks like the 2007 Volkswagen Rabbit, which starts at $15,630 for a 150-horsepower, five-cylinder engine, manual transmission and standard air conditioning, and the 2007 Mazda3 hatchback that starts at $18,275 with 156-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, manual transmission and air conditioning.

Scion officials admit the xB _ instantly distinguishable from other cars with its nearly 5-foot-4-inch tall, squared-off passenger compartment _ has become an icon of the brand.

It's also roomier inside than might be expected.

The 2008 xB, which rides on a new front-wheel drive platform, has 40 inches of headroom for the driver and front passenger, which is just a third of an inch shy of what's found in a Cadillac Escalade sport utility vehicle.

Headroom in the second-row seats is more than that in an Escalade, and legroom in front and second rows is only an inch or less than what's in the Escalade.

For 2008, the xB grew 2.8 inches wider, helping boost shoulder room inside by a noticeable 7.2 inches in the front seat and nearly 5 inches in the back seat.

Still, cargo space behind the front-row seats, with second-row seats folded down, rivals that in many sport utility vehicles _ 69.9 cubic feet.

Consider it all a study in space efficiency, especially because the five-passenger hatchback tries to be thrifty with fuel, with a 2008 government fuel economy rating of 22 miles a gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway.

It's true these numbers are lower than those for the previous generation xB, which weighed some 500 pounds less and was powered by a smaller, 1.5-liter, four cylinder developing just 103 horsepower. They're also lower because they're calculated using a new and more stringent 2008 government fuel economy formula.

But Scion officials said they fitted the new xB with the 2.4-liter, dual overhead cam four cylinder already in another Scion, the tC coupe, and added 55 horses because that's what xB owners want.

To be sure, the 2008 xB feels peppier than its predecessor, especially on hilly roads. The new powerplant, with peak torque of 162 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm, moves the car along with more verve, even if the xB still doesn't qualify as a sporty ride.

I still heard the buzzy four cylinder when it was hard pressed, such as in passing maneuvers. There was road noise, too, from the tires, and wind noise at highway speeds as this blockish vehicle pushed through the air.

But Scion officials said the xB interior is quieter than before because of added sound insulation.

The automatic transmission, expected to be in about 70 percent of xBs, has only four speeds, while the Mazda3 hatchback has a more modern five-speed automatic.

But in a first for a Toyota in America, the new xB's automatic is a sequential shifter that lets drivers manually upshift and downshift without a clutch pedal. The shift lever also is repositioned to the lower part of the center of the dashboard, and buyers can choose a lower-cost five-speed manual, if they want. Cruise control is standard now, too.

The xB rides a bit smoother now that its wheelbase is longer, so the car isn't as prone to the chop-chop kind of ride over concrete pavement that it had before. But the rear axle beam suspension can manage some road impacts clumsily.

Drivers sit up a bit from the pavement but still can't see around larger vehicles, and the xB's metal pillars around the windshield block visibility during left-hand turns.

Inside, air conditioning is improved for better cool-down, seats are more supportive, though they still feel like simple foam padding to me, and there are new circular gauges arranged in a horizontal line at the top of the dashboard in an eye-catching pattern.

Safety gets a big upgrade for the first time, with the addition of side-mounted air bags for front-seat passengers and curtain air bags for front and rear seats.

2008 SCION xB BY THE NUMBERS
BASE PRICE: $15,650 with manual transmission; $16,600 with automatic.
AS TESTED: $17,052.
TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger, compact van.
ENGINE: 2.4-liter, dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine with VVT-i.
MILEAGE: 22 mpg (city), 28 mpg (highway).
TOP SPEED: NA.
LENGTH: 167.3 inches.
WHEELBASE: 102.4 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 3,020 pounds.
BUILT AT: Japan.
OPTIONS: Light-emitting diode interior under dashboard and cupholder illumination $299; sport pedals $79; Razo shift knob $74.
DESTINATION CHARGE: $580.