Born in Japan and raised in Europe, the 2016 Scion iM is primed to make its North American debut. Ready or not, this multicultural hatchback is on its way, but are company executives off their rocker thinking it’s a legitimate rival to established nameplates?
Engine: 1.8-liter four cylinder; 137 hp, 126 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual, CVT automaic
Fuel Economy: Up to 28 MPG city, 37 highway and 32 combined
Price: Starts at $19,255 including $795 in delivery fees
Old (World) Meets New
Essentially a rebranded version of the Toyota Auris, which went on sale in the old world earlier this year, Scion’s iM targets buyers younger than 35 like Kim Jong-Un’s artillery zeroing in on Seoul. Per usual, the capital T’s youth-focused brand aims to attract this coveted demographic with a unique buying process and customization options.
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Arguably hip, young individuals are the folks this practical hatch is made for, be they aspiring ragtime musicians, freelance baristas or even recent college grads with degrees in interpretive pottery. According to Scion, the iM offers these cool customers sporty styling and dynamic handling wed to exceptional value, a blend of attributes competitors like the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf or Mazda3 may not offer.
Perhaps the iM’s greatest strength is the content you get for the price you pay; it offers more bang for your buck than a steamer trunk of shotgun shells purchased at the Salvation Army on blue-tag day. And thanks to Scion’s mono-spec philosophy there’s only one version of the car available. Any enhancements of customizations are handled at dealers.
Offering more for less, this car comes standard with dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an audio system with a seven-inch color display; Bluetooth, voice recognition and USB connectivity are baked right in like tart cherries inside a fruit cake. Additionally, there are eight airbags and just as many cup holders, plus heated side-view mirrors that power fold at the push of a button.
Dressing things up on the exterior, you get a unique body kit and 17-inch alloy wheels at no extra cost.
As for functionality, the iM offers just shy of 21 cubic feet of cargo space with the 60/40-split rear seat in the passenger-carrying position, and a metric s***ton more with those backrests folded flat. In short, this little Scion has plenty of room for a drum kit, full-size espresso maker or even a mobile kiln for backyard firings.
Further burnishing the iM’s value reputation, features like LED tail-lights, the sport body kit and dual-zone climate control are either not available or come bundled with expensive options packages in its key rivals.
Driving this point home, the car starts at $19,255 including $795 in delivery fees. Out the door, models equipped with an automatic transmission are just $740 pricier. Getting all of the abovementioned goodies at no extra charge means you’ll probably have enough money left over to start a microbrewery or even take up beekeeping at your local cooperative urban farm.
But if you’d rather splurge, there are a number of dealer-installed extras on the menu. You can get things like a navigation system, special body graphics and even a handful of TRD performance parts including a special air intake and lowering springs.
Bringing a Spoon to a Gunfight
All Scion iMs are motivated by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, serving up 137 horses and 126 lb-ft of torque. That’s roughly equivalent to 10 hipsters riding fixies at full tilt, seven if they’re pedaling to get mustache wax or something plaid, their hearts spurred on by the flames of desire.
You may not have a choice of engine but you can pick which transmission you want. A six-speed manual is standard but for folks that can’t handle three pedals a CVT is also offered. And if you opt for the gearless automatic it comes with something Toyota calls G AI-shift logic, which measures lateral loads while driving through corners and holds the transmission in a lower ratio for faster acceleration out of turns.
No doubt about it, the iM is down on power compared to its rivals. However, the tradeoff for this is greater fuel efficiency. When equipped with the manual this car is rated at 27 miles per gallon city and 36 highway. Combined it averages 31 MPG. The automatic is slightly more efficient, returning 28/37/32 on the same EPA loops. Either way the iM is quite thrifty, but you’ve got to believe Toyota wanted to see a “4” in the tens spot with those highway ratings. We sure did.
Three-pedal versions of this Scion are a bit tricky to drive smoothly. The clutch is super light and its engagement point quite vague. Throw in an embarrassing paucity of low-RPM torque and you have a combination that can challenge even veteran motorists. Fortunately, hill-start assist is standard so you don’t roll backwards on inclines. Additionally, the iM’s shifter is less than satisfying, with long throws and quite a bit of sloppiness as it moves from gate to gate.
Underway there’s some noticeable vibration right around 4,000 RPM; this harshness easily breaches the car’s NVH defenses where it can annoy the driver and occupants. Fortunately things smooth out at faster or slower engine speeds so feel free to adjust accordingly. This issue could be attributable to the prototype model we evaluated.
Given it’s lack of grunt you really need to keep this engine on the boil because there’s precious little thrust on tap, something that makes driving the iM during rush hour an issue as you can’t react very quickly to openings in traffic. Also, the engine becomes quite winded when climbing even modest grades. The hills surrounding Los Angeles, where we evaluated the car, proved to be quite daunting. Not surprisingly, altitude does it no favors either.
Regrettably, changing directions is not one of the iM’s strong suits. While negotiating corners the tiller is light and rather lifeless in your hands. Also, the car’s chassis doesn’t seem to have much interest in delinquent behavior. Pitching it into a tight turn is met with annoyance rather than exuberance. Overall the iM feels a little bit soft and somewhat disconnected. If you expect this car to drive like a Mazda3 or even a Ford Focus don’t get your hopes up; it’s fine for what it is but it’s not a class-leading experience.
Interior Time Out
Fortunately it’s not all doom and gloom. The iM’s interior is surprisingly premium, with elegantly textured soft materials and rich-looking hard plastics. Toyota spent a big chunk of change in here and it shows. Cushioned door uppers and a swath of contrast-colored vinyl running across the lower dashboard are particularly nice touches.
Ensuring passengers also have a pleasant experience, the back seat is quite spacious, with impressive leg- and head-room for the class. I fit back there reasonably well and I top out at an even six-feet tall. Additionally, the aft floor is nearly flat, meaning a third rider has plenty of foot space.
The 2016 Scion iM is loaded with standard equipment and is priced to sell, offering drivers quite a lot for relatively little. It’s a sound choice for the smartphone-and-Snapchat generation, though other demographics are sure to enjoy this vehicle’s attributes. However, true enthusiasts should look elsewhere.
This new hatchback is slated to go on sale September 1, which is just a couple months away. If you’re one of those trendy, younger-than-35 drivers feel free to grab a kale and quinoa smoothie and camp out at your local Scion store.
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