4 Things I Learned Driving the 2016 Scion iM

The 2016 Scion iM is new this year and fills an important gap in the Toyota/Scion lineup.

When I went to the global premiere of the iM, Scion used a laser light show with a dubstep soundtrack and interpretive dance to try to drive the point across that it wants young people and hipsters to drive this car. But will a young person/hipster actually want one? Let’s look at the facts (and see what an accused hipster thinks).

1. It’s great for city driving.

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Little cars like this are great for urban driving because they’re nimble, have a tight turning circle and are easy to maneuver in tight spots. Zipping around parking garages and alleyways, dodging parked cars and cyclists, and finding street parking was a snap with the iM’s light steering and compact dimensions. Visibility is pretty good, and even though it would be easy to park without a reverse camera, the addition of the camera is always welcomed. There’s also a pretty good amount of rear cargo space: 21 cubic feet behind the rear bench and even more with the 60/40 seats folded flat.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Scion iM Full Review and Video

The trouble begins when you venture out into the highway, where the light steering works against you. I found myself over-correcting my steering at highway speeds, and getting up to highway speeds in the first place is a task that requires some patience. With a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 137 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque, that’s to be expected. The little engine offers so little low-end torque that getting going or passing someone is a bit embarrassing. With its anemic acceleration, disconnected steering (there is a big dead zone in the middle of the steering) and general squishiness, this definitely isn’t meant to be a sporty car. The upside is excellent fuel economy: Combined, the manual Scion iM should get about 31 mpg and the CVT should return 32 mpg.


2. It drives like a budget car, but it comes with a surprising amount of features for the price.

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The light car has tiny tires and a budget suspension setup, which means that driving over bumps in the road and train tracks will be a jarring experience. Quite a bit of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) makes it into the cabin, but this isn’t that uncharacteristic of other budget cars in this segment.

Inside, the layout is pretty basic, but that means it’s easy to use. It also comes with a surprising amount of features for the price: dual zone climate control, a back-up camera, hill start assist, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power windows, Bluetooth, 17-inch alloy wheels, voice recognition, heated/folding side mirrors, a seven-inch color touchscreen, tilt/telescopic steering, auto headlights, keyless entry, and USB ports.

Sure, the car has its problems, but once you remember that it’s a basic budget car, the problems don’t seem that bad, especially when you account for how well equipped it is.


3. It has an awful six-speed manual transmission.

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I taught my boyfriend how to drive stick (gasp, learning from a girl?) with the Scion iM, because I figure that if he could learn to drive stick on a manual transmission that’s this bad, he could drive anything. (I was testing a manual Jaguar F-Type before this car and I sure as hell wasn’t going to teach him on that. Plus I was selfish and didn’t want to share.) I obviously typically prefer manual transmissions, but in this case, I have to suggest just ditching it and going for the CVT. The clutch is numb and doesn’t bite until the last possible moment, and the gear shifter is vague and sloppy as well. The boyfriend found it difficult to learn on because the clutch has nearly zero discernible bite point. This particular manual offers no advantage over the CVT automatic and doesn’t give me any joy.


4. Its design is actually kind of cool.

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I actually like the Scion iM’s low-slung, cartoonish, funky design and think it’s one of the car’s strongest features. It’s one of the best-looking cars in its segment. From the back, the iM looks like a cartoon spaceship, but from a hipster point of view, it might look like it’s trying too hard, which is a hipster sin. The first commandment of hipsterism is “thou shalt not look like you’re trying too hard.” Despite this, the iM’s design is different and helps it stand out in a very bubbly segment. I like when a car can stand out.


The Verdict: 2016 Scion iM

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When I’m excited to get back into my personal car from 2008, it says a lot about the car I’m testing. The sad reality is that this car feels nearly as dated as my personal ride that’s almost eight years old and the anemic driving experience does no justice to its fun-looking exterior. In this segment, you can get something that feels more modern and has better driving dynamics and more value with the Honda Fit or Hyundai Accent (which both have fantastic manual transmissions). Interestingly, Scion says the iM competes with the VW Golf, Hyundai Elantra and Mazda3 hatches, but I feel like there’s such a chasm in quality that the iM can’t really be compared to those segment leaders.

Discuss this story on our Scion Forum

  • Bug S Bunny

    Being “forced” to go with the CVT because of the awful manual transmission in the iM is reason in itself to seriously consider other cars.

  • thatguy88

    Just because this is sourced from the European & Japanese markets doesn’t mean it will be better than any of its American counterparts. This car is just a genuine piece of shit; dated, cheap, and pain in the ass to drive or be seen in. Reviews are tearing this car a new one, and they honestly should be.

  • Shiratori1

    Troll…..

  • thatguy88

    Far from it. I know you have your biases towards the Japanese. They make good products. This simply isn’t one of them. It’s a cheaped-out, half-assed, Americanized Corolla with a box on the back. It might as well be a spiritual successor to Matrix (also based on the Corolla), except nothing will ever touch the 1st gen model (especially the XRS). This one’s supposed to have a more sophisticated suspension set-up (independent double wishbone instead of a torsion beam on the sedan), but if that’s the case, why is it so crude in its ride? How come it drives so bad? If “troll” is the best you can come up with, then you’re seriously fucked, dude. Seriously, if Scion’s best products include a collaboration with Subaru and a rebadged Mazda as opposed to anything good (the tC still sucks), then Scion’s just as fucked as you are with this comment.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    Yup, and good article, thanks. Funny bits in there about teaching you bf how to drive stick, and the hipster parts. I think this car is indeed best suited to city life with the CVT and low torque engine. Personally, I don’t mind a bit of vague steering and clutch, but I like my cars relaxed, for now anyways … My next ride will most likely Have a CVT/auto transmission because of the PTSD that I developed from driving a manual in rush hour and all those hill starts in the city, I can still smell a faint burnt clutch aroma sometimes.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    The CVT wouldn’t be a bad choice. Mostly, I think people are still getting used to them and the idea of them, Have you read that article on this site about the 2016 Honda Civic 1.5T being faster in the quarter mile than the 2015 Civic Si? and it’s using a CVT. That’s just one example of many. Some companies make them better than others, but the design and principal behind a CVT makes a lot of sense. Besides, traditional auto transmissions have had what, 50 yrs to smooth things out? Give it time.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    It may not be Toyota’s best release, but it’ll still outlive any new domestic. If it ain’t broke …

  • thatguy88

    True. It’ll be reliable.

    But yeah, that’s about it. Haha.

  • mchan1

    ” The little engine offers so little low-end torque that getting going or passing someone is a bit embarrassing.”

    Similar issue with NVH… almost non-existent!

    That’s expected from lower end cars esp. from Honda and Toyota. Ask me how I know!

    Toyota’s stick shift was not that good, at least in my older Corolla and it was a pain to use with its long travel and clunky shift gates.
    Guess Toyota didn’t improve on it after all these years 😛

    IMHO… with city driving, it’s relatively better to go for an automatic nowadays with all the stop and go traffic. The fuel efficiency difference between a MT and AT is almost a mute point with today’s auto technology. You drive a stick either because you want to save some money or like driving a stick shift with more control over your vehicle or both. But for stop and go driving, an AT is the better choice.

  • mchan1

    CVTs aren’t that bad considering that the auto companies are still refining it like Honda and Nissan.
    Generally, auto enthusiasts may not like them but that’s not who the auto companies are marketing and selling the CVT vehicles to.
    It’s the average driver who wants a relatively fuel efficient vehicle and relatively affordable, the main points of why auto companies are using CVTs.
    The reliability and durability of the CVTs are a different issue. The CVT technology is still evolving and improving. Consider the time it took for the automatic transmission technology to evolve and to improve.