Scion has made a name for itself by making funky, youth-oriented cars and hatchbacks sold at reasonable prices. That recipe hasn’t changed with the new 2016 Scion iM, but the ingredients have most definitely gone premium. I recently found myself at the national press launch of both the iM and its brother, the iA sedan, where I got to spend plenty of time tossing each car through the Malibu canyons along the California coast. One thing became glaringly apparent: it’s all about the content.

Sure, Scion has always sold its vehicles in “mono-spec” trims, with each model offering the same content besides color and transmission choices, but the new iM ups the ante with features and equipment coming standard that are normally optional extras – even on some entry-level luxury nameplates.

The iM boasts an impressive number of airbags and other safety features, Bluetooth within is standard 7-inch infotainment display, an engine that gets 37 mpg on the highway, and 17-inch wheels that look like they belong on a Lexus. And that’s just the surface.

Beyond content, the iM rides on some impressive underpinnings that make it as fun to drive as it is practical. Independent suspension at all four corners with stiff sway bars keeps things level and tight without killing the ride, and relatively wide 225-series tires hold the road with surprising tenacity. And don’t forget, the iM comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission.

Of course price is a huge factor for Scion and its customer base. Well for $18,460, the iM’s base price backs up the inexpensive Scion promise. For those who don’t want to row their own, a CVT is optional, with its base price starting at $19,200. Not bad for a hatchback than can haul five people or the entire contents of a college dorm room while not getting less than 30 mpg.

Continue reading for the full driven review

  • 2016 Scion iM: First Drive
  • Year:
    2016
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    six-speed manual
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    137 @ 6100
  • MPG(Cty):
    27
  • MPG(Hwy):
    36
  • Torque @ RPM:
    126 @ 4000
  • Displacement:
    1.8 L
  • 0-60 time:
    8.5 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    120 mph (Est.)
  • Layout:
    front engine, FWD
  • Price:
    18460
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

2016 Scion iM: First Drive Exterior Test drive
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2016 Scion iM: First Drive Exterior Test drive
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2016 Scion iM: First Drive Exterior Test drive
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By now you probably know the iM is Scion’s version of the Toyota Corolla hatchback, or as its called in most parts of the world, the 2015 Toyota Auris. Not much has changed with the addition of the Scion badge, but that works in the iM’s favor.

Not much has changed with the addition of the Scion badge, but that works in the iM’s favor.

The Scion does get a slightly revised lower front fascia that’s more aggressive than the Auris’, along with a mild body kit that includes rocker panel and rear-bumper aero bits. They might not generate downforce, but the parts do a good job of lending a sporty flair.

Those two-toned, 17-inch alloy wheels come standard. No tacky wheel covers here. In person, the dark inlays of the wheels do a nice job of complementing the glossy black sections of the bumper and the matt-black roof pillars, while the machined faces glimmer in the sun. The decent amount of sidewall should keep the wheels safe from curb rash as well.

The premium content theme continues with body-colored door handles, roof-mounted shark fin antenna, LED daytime running lights, full LED taillights, and a wide selection of colors to choose from. They include Blizzard Pearl, Classic Silver Metallic, Black Sand Pearl, Barcelona Red Metallic, Spring Green Metallic, and Electric Storm Blue. Both Spring Green and Electric Storm Blue look fantastic in person and match the personality of the car.

Interior

2016 Scion iM: First Drive Interior Test drive
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2016 Scion iM: First Drive Interior Test drive
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2016 Scion iM: First Drive Interior Test drive
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The fun continues inside, where Scion raised the bar for its fit and finish. Much of the interior components take after the Toyota Corolla sedan, though Scion spins its own twist on a few parts. First off, the dashboard is interesting to look at. The swoops and cuts in its soft-touch materials give it character. Its piano black center stack gives it an upscale feel without adding cost, while leather trimmings along the lower passenger side add a touch of class. The leather is even embroidered with French stitching.

The steering wheel gets the same treatment, with accent stitching on its black leather cover. The accent color continues along the tight-weave cloth seats, shifter boot, and center armrest. The seat material feels durable to the touch and the standard black color should do a good job of hiding stains.

Much of the interior components take after the Toyota Corolla sedan, though Scion spins its own twist on a few parts.

Other areas of the cabin are covered with inviting materials. The door panels are a combination of hard plastics down low and softer-touch plastics up high. The headliner is of good quality, as is the carpeting throughout the car.

For the driver, controls are well within reach and in logical places. The steering wheel has controls for the radio, driver information screen, and cruise control in familiar places and within easy reach. The infotainment screen is also within easy reach. It runs a modified version of Toyota’s Entune software on a head unit from Pioneer. It’s the same as you’d find in an FR-S or BRZ. It works well enough, but isn’t as intuitive as other Entune systems on standard Toyota interfaces. Nevertheless, the learning curve should be nonexistent for the iM’s target audience.

Conversely, the iM’s HVAC controls are simple, yet look high-tech. Toggle switches control both driver and passenger zones, along with fan speed and air direction. Push-buttons operate the automatic feature; front and rear defrosts; recirculation, and zone sync features. The system is easy to operate and gives plenty of adjustability for the front occupants.

Sadly, rear seat passengers make do without their own HVAC vents. They do, however, enjoy a good amount of room in all directions. The iM’s tall roof offers generous headroom, and legroom is respectable. A folding center armrest with two cup holders adds to the comfort. A cup holder in each rear door panel brings the total cup holder count to eight.

Eight is also the number of standard airbags in the iM. They include both driver and front passenger airbags, front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, first- and second-row side curtain airbags, and a driver’s knee airbag. Other safety features are wrapped up in Toyota’s Start Safety System. They include Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-lock brakes, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, and Brake Assist with Smart Stop Technology.

Of course, I can’t leave out the benefits of the iM’s rear hatch area. The second row folds 60/40-style and offers an impressive amount of cargo room. Under the rear floor is even more storage space stuffed around the temporary spare tire. With the seats in place, there is 20.8 cubic feet of room.

Powertrain

2016 Scion iM: First Drive Drivetrain Test drive
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The iM’s attachments to it Corolla cousins stretches into its engine bay. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder is lifted from the Corolla Eco. But don’t think the eco part means it’s down on power. Ironically, this four-pot offers slightly more horsepower than the standard 1.8-liter, thanks to its nifty valvetrain setup Toyota calls Valvematic.

I’m glad Scion is offering a manual box in these days of automatic everything, but it would be nice to have a bit more feedback though the clutch and a more direct shifter.

At 6,100 rpm, the engine spits out 137 horsepower, while 126 pound-feet of torque comes on at 4,000 rpm. Those numbers don’t sound impressive, but it feels like the horsepower is closer to 175. That’s thanks to a curb weight of only 2,943 pounds with the manual transmission.

On that topic, the six-speed offers drivers the chance to row their own while doing the three-pedal dance. However, shifts are on the longish side and offer mushy gear engagements. The clutch isn’t any more tactile as its engagement is vague and high in the pedal travel. I’m glad Scion is offering a manual box in these days of automatic everything, but it would be nice to have a bit more feedback though the clutch, and a more direct shifter.

Those used to the PRND lifestyle can opt for the CVT. Like the engine, this is the same CVT found in the Corolla. Toyota says it worked hard to eliminate any rubber banding in the transmission. Coined the CVTi-S, the transmission does have a more direct feel than other CVTs, though not nearly as connected as a traditional automatic. The CVTi-S offers both a sport mode and “manual shifting” capabilities, with seven stepped ratios that can help keep the engine in the power band.

The CVT’s tradeoff is improved fuel economy over the manual. The EPA rates the CVT-equipped iM at 28 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, and 32 mpg combined. Those who want three pedals will get an EPA-estimated 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 31 mpg combined. Both estimations aren’t bad for a vehicle that’s got the capabilities of a small crossover.

Driving Impressions

2016 Scion iM: First Drive Exterior Test drive
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Blasting around twisty canyon roads reveals a lot about a car’s characteristics. The iM proved it can stick to the pavement far past the comfort level of the average driver. Much of the credit belongs to the wide-ish tires and the independent suspension at all four corners. The MacPherson struts up from and the coil springs out back do a good job of soaking up mid-corner bumps. Potholes and expansion joints are well managed, too, though NVH levels remind you of the Scion’s non-luxury intent.

The iM is by no means a replacement for the FR-S, but it holds its own to respectable limits.

A tall greenhouse gives great views of the road aided by a somewhat tall seating position. Steering also feels good, though not nearly as communicative as the iM’s brother, the iA. On-center feel is good with a noticeable absence of a vague dead space. Loaded up in a corner, the steering remains light and controllable. The iM is by no means a replacement for the FR-S, but it holds its own to respectable limits.

Power is also respectable for a non-sports car. The iM falls in the category of a “slow car that’s fun to drive fast.” Third gear was needed to maintain speed while climbing the steep hills in the Malibu canyons while traveling between 50 to 60 mph, but the engine pulls hard in every gear on flat ground.

In all, the iM is a fun hatchback to toss round. No one will mistake it for a hot-hatch, but it works well for its intended purpose.

Price

2016 Scion iM: First Drive Exterior Test drive
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Until now, Scion had kept pricing under wraps besides saying the iM would start under $20,000. Well, Scion kept its promise, with a base starting price of $18,460 for the manual and $19,200 for the CVT. Like all Scions before, the iM comes in “mono-spec” trim, meaning every iM will have all the same features. Customers are left to only choose exterior color and transmission, with the automaker estimating a 10-percent take rate on the manual.

Scion does, however, offer a ton of dealer-installed options like TRD air intakes and suspension components, along with several pet-friendly options like door protectors and such. Scion also touts its “no haggle” pricing. The price you see is the price dealers will charge. The automaker is also working hard to make purchasing a car online much simpler. Scion officials say we can expect to see the iM rolling onto dealer lots by September 2015.

Conclusion

2016 Scion iM: First Drive Exterior Test drive
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The Scion iM offers a surprising amount of standard content and features for such an entry-level car. Its long list of technology features is sure to appeal to young Millennials while the reasonable price and impressive array of safety equipment will make their parents happy. For the slightly older Millennial crowd who pay their own bills, the Scion combines all those features plus the allure of online shopping into the purchasing process.

I came away impressed after my day of canyon carving and boulevard cruising. The iM not only drives well, but also brings plenty of premium features to the table while skipping the premium price. Scion is predicting it will sell some 25,000 units each year, and I see no reason why it can’t. The iM isn’t perfect, but it does a darn good job at being a jack-of-all-trades.

  • Leave it
    • Gets noisy on rough pavement
    • Infotainment system isn’t the best
    • Wishing it dumped the CVT for a conventional automatic
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