2016 Scion IM Review - Toyota's Tweener Takes a Turn

Aaron Cole
by Aaron Cole
2016 scion im review toyotas tweener takes a turn

To wonder aloud: How long can cool be, you know, cool?

For Scion, “cool” has a half-life of around 12 years and the youth-oriented brand from Toyota has a significant turn to right the ship back toward sales from the its first year in America. Last month, Scion posted a 20-percent dip in sales, discontinued two models — iQ and xD — and spelled out an end for its xB — the only Scion to post anything resembling sales growth.

Is it better to be dead or cool? Didn’t Kurt Cobain write a song about this?

The Scion iM is 50 percent of the answer for what’s next from Scion. The new hatchback based on the overseas Toyota Auris/Corolla will hit dealers alongside the iA on September 1. The five-door hatch goes head-to-head with competitors like the Ford Focus, Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf in a segment that analysts predict will sell more than 500,000 cars this year.

Built in Japan, the iM is a distant cousin to the U.S. market Toyota Corolla in all its splendor, and the iA will be part of Scion’s likely “pragmatic, not necessarily hip” offensive in the coming months.

I can’t wait.

The Tester

2016 Scion iM

Engine: 1.8-liter, direct injection I-4 (137 horsepower @ 6,100 rpm; 126 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm)

Transmission: 6-speed manual (as tested); CVT automatic

EPA Rating: 27 city mpg/36 highway mpg/31 combined mpg (Manual); 28/37/32 mpg (CVT).

Price: $18,460 + $795 destination (manual); $19,200 + $795 destination (CVT)

To be fair, I’ve never driven the Auris overseas, which is jam-packed with a variety of engines ranging from Scion’s preferred here 1.8-liter gasoline-powered mill to a 1.4-liter diesel — even a 1.8-liter turbo-hybrid combo for Japan. For the states we only get one pick, and that’s OK because I’m a bit slow.

So is the iM. While 0-60 mph happens in around 10 seconds in the iM (which, relatively speaking, is average for a hatchback) the engine never really felt rushed to go anywhere. There’s no huge pickup in power anywhere in its band — not at 4,000 rpm at full twist, not at the 6,100-rpm redline. Thus, it’s fair to say: Don’t worry about the manual; it doesn’t have guts over the CVT anyway.

That’s probably due to the iM’s considerable heft. The five-door hatchback weighs 2,943 pounds with a manual transmission, 3,031 pounds with an automatic, and that’s not including what I had for lunch. Downhill, you’re just fine on power. Uphill, you may want to reconsider that pass, young man.

Instead, the iM’s sport feeling comes from two places: its chassis and brakes. MacPherson’s up front and double wishbones in the back keep the iM planted around corners and relatively flat. The iM’s body kit hides its height — it’s 55 inches tall with 5.5 inches of ground clearance — but the car maintains a relatively firm handle on the road. Multiple times through the twisty drive around San Mateo, the iM held its own and kept tidy around corners. The iM won’t be confused with a sports car, but it does eagerly jump into corners — even if it can’t dart.

The iM’s suspension is firmer than I expected, and way more so than I’d ever expect from a Toyota. It’s not too firm for every day driving, but it is dangerously close.

On the other side, the iM’s brakes are supremely confident and quick to arrest the heavy hatch’s momentum. Even through the car’s standard 17-inch wheels, you can see the big 11-inch rotors waiting and that feeling comes through the progressive, but not lazy, pedal. The brakes could stand another 50 to 500 more horsepower from the engine, I think.

Inside, the iM is surprisingly well considered for a car that costs $19,000. The interior dash accent is well-placed and soft surface materials help keep attention away from the doors, which are powerfully dull. Same goes for the seats, which boast contrast stitching to help visually separate the black-on-black motif, but it does fall a little flat. The good news: You can fit five people in the hatch comfortably to cover up all the interior materials.

There’s plenty of room for gear with 60/40-split folding rear seats and 20.8 cubic feet of space in the cargo area with the seats up.

In keeping with Scion’s strategy of “mono spec” pricing, there’s really only two things to consider with the iM — color and transmission. The same Pioneer audio system comes in all models (with or without navigation as a dealer-installed option, for which there is no dedicated button and confused the hell out of a monkey like me), Bluetooth streaming and steering wheel-mounted controls. Can you hear the stereo? Because you should turn it up. Up a little more. The iM lets in a little more road noise than it should.

Other standard features include standard 17-inch wheels, backup camera and that body kit that definitely makes the Scion iM definitely not a Toyota Auris. Definitely not.

And the Scion iM’s biggest asset may be its biggest problem as well. It’s helpful for Scion to have a big parent company like Toyota to draw from its international fleet and help flagging sales in the states. But a big parent company like Toyota has all the markings of an automotive behemoth, specifically a massive dealer network that still runs things decidedly old school.

The iM is a decent hatch in itself, but it probably won’t save Scion. The exciting, cool new automaker doesn’t have a lot of cool ideas when it comes to streamlining the buying experience — which they say can be done in less than an hour, so long as you find a participating dealer with a participating price in a participating market.

Cool can’t last forever, even if Toyotas can.

Photography provided by Alex L. Dykes.

Join the conversation
2 of 100 comments
  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Jul 06, 2015

    God, even the key fob has fake stitching. And the interior has too many materials of varying texture and gloss. Adds to the cheapness. Scion, once again showing us how their customer obviously has no desire to go anywhere with dignity. I'll have a Golf or the very pretty and sexy Mazda3 hatch.

  • Illan Illan on Jul 06, 2015

    Toyota is Pulling some old GM moves lately. hopefully their quality won take a hit.

  • Poltergeist Make sure you order the optional Dungdai fire suppression system.
  • Prabirmehta I charge my EV at home 100% of the time. The EV is used for in-town driving and the gas guzzling SUV is used for out of town trips. This results in a huge cost saving and rare trips to the gas station.
  • Conundrum Three cylinder Ford Escapes, Chevy whatever it is that competes, and now the Rogue. Great, ain't it? Toyota'll be next with a de-tuned GR Corolla/Yaris powerplant. It's your life getting better and better, yes indeed. A piston costs money, you know.The Rogue and Altima used to have the zero graviy foam front seats. Comfy, but the new Rogue dumps that advance. Costs money. And that color-co-ordinated gray interior, my, ain't it luvverly? Ten years after they perfected it in the first Versa to appeal to the terminally depressed, it graduates to the Rogue.There's nothing decent to buy on the market for normal money. Not a damn thing interests me at all.
  • Inside Looking Out It looks good and is popular in SF Bay Area.
  • Inside Looking Out Ford F150 IMHO. It is a true sports car on our freeways.