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.

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