By on December 17, 2015


I call Scions “the acronyms from hell” because even I have trouble keeping up with all of them.

iQ, iA, iM, tC, xB, xD. Did I forget one? The xA and…wait! I forgot the FR-S, but that’s only because I rarely see those go through the auction block. Everything else, save the two new iA and iM models, seems to make a perennial pilgrimage to the wholesale heaven of unwanted used cars for one unfortunate reason.

Scion, historically, can’t help but hit ’em where the customers ain’t.

In the past two weeks, I managed to snag Scion’s two newest cars. In true TTAC debate mode, I have come to at least three conclusions.

  • The new iA is a fantastic car. Every enthusiast who is planning on spending less than $20,000 should go out and test the stick shift version of it.
  • The new iM is the modern day equivalent of a Toyota Corolla hatchback. It’s a mildly entertaining car for the guy or girl next door.
  • Scion still needs real names for their cars.

For now, let me introduce you to the one Scion that deserves to endure.


The Look
Before you critique this car based on pictures seen on a cell phone, I want you to do me a small favor: replace the Scion emblem in your mind with one from Mazda, because in body and in spirit the iA is the not-bound-for-North-America Mazda2.

There. That’s better. If you look at it from a Mazda lens, the iA manages to be contemporary and sporty — if a tad bit conservative. That’s not a bad thing in today’s world where most compacts seem to be embracing the insectoid school of design.


The only real element that seems out of place on the iA is the lower part of the front fascia, which is more a matter of personal prejudice. I’m still a victim of classic sporty designs of the early ’90s, such as the first-gen Miata and 300ZX that weren’t festooned with today’s multitude of clips, dips and divots. Long story short, I generally don’t like modern car designs, but millions of other folks do.

So instead of going down the list of opinionated quips about the iA’s exterior, I decided to offer a more marketable alternative; an objective measure of taste that is, well, a bit more advantageous for my bottom line as a car dealer.

I call it the “$999 Down Test”.


Like all car dealers, I’m an enterprising son-of-a-bitch. Since I can’t sell cars with strippers and hookers like they did in the old Used Cars movie, I decided to do the next best thing: I parked a brand new car that doesn’t belong to me right next to a 2008 Audi A4 that seems to always attract those who don’t have the green for the $1,000 down payment.

(Yes, I really want to sell that damn Audi!)


The iA managed to crowdsource six interested customers during the weekend. Pretty damn good. Obviously, I couldn’t sell it, but I did give everyone a free can of pop and a ride around the block here in northwest Georgia. I also provided a copy of the window sticker that showed a no-haggle MSRP of $16,500. Whenever I popped the money question before handing it out, everybody assumed the iA was worth several thousands dollars more than the MSRP, and most estimates were in the $20,000-25,000 range. Even I thought it was a $20,000 car when I first sat in it.


Alas, it rained the following weekend when I had the iM. With this model, what you see is really what you get: a prior-generation Prius-like body that mated with a bird of prey. As strange as that sounds, a lot of people like that combination. Bulbous has become the new sporty thanks to an increased demand for crossovers. However, with this curious mating of design also comes a lot more utility and family usefulness than the iA. To put it in pure market segment terms, the iM is trying really hard to do direct battle with the low-spec versions of the Honda HR-V.


One surprising element of this decision is Toyota’s apparent push to keep the iM’s body low to the ground. The iM seems sporty to those who are not shopping for an outright sports car, but it takes a common shortcut by adding near-Pontiac levels of ground effects to give off a more racy pedigree. I realize this is a highly unpopular idea for TTAC readers, but in the real market where perception trumps real-world functionality, this design trick allows for more space on the inside by adding a bit of edginess to the Scion’s bulbous design.

When you own a dealership, you constantly think about who will be attracted to what type of car. In terms of who will buy this compact, I can see the iM having a strong focus towards young couples and single parents who are aiming to have one or two kids in the coming years. The form of the iM supports this family function very well. Maybe these consumers will want a hatchback that is right between the sporty Mazda3 and the more middle-of-the road Honda HR-V. Back in 2014, the Toyota Matrix could have easily evolved into this type of softer Scion. The iM hits this middling target of not-too-sporty and not-too-bland if that’s what you your neighbor is looking for in their next ride.


The Sit & Drive
If there was ever a case of bipolar disorder within a brand, it would be these two Scions.

The iM’s interior is a mating of a Corolla’s dashboard design with the space and length of the EU-only Toyota Auris. The car feels big and very, very laid back on the inside. Adjust the seat and steering wheel? Doesn’t matter. I always felt what could only be called “casual observance” when I was driving around town. You’re there, but always a couple of feet back from where there is.

The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that comes directly from the Corolla doesn’t offer much verve at all and the CVT is software managed with economy in mind. It’s not underpowered to the point where most consumers would scratch it off their list, but the iM seems to be stuck in that Y2K time warp of acceleration where 3,000 pound vehicles were mated to powertrains that offered just enough to get the job done — and not much else.


What I did enjoy with the iM was the feeling of open space for the driver. Thanks to Toyota’s decision to enlarge the inside and use a cladding kit underneath to meld the exterior into a sportier shell, the iM offers a level of spaciousness that rivals most midsize sedans and makes the front seats of the interior a pleasing place to spend all those involuntary hours in traffic.

The Pioneer sound system features a 7-inch touchscreen display, six speakers that have an aural quality which rivals the best in this segment, and the right combination of knobs and buttons that are a typical Toyota strong point.


There is no CUE overload, SYNC idiosyncrasies or maze of endless buttons requiring the driver’s attention. The front seats offer enough rump space to make even a 300 pound person comfortable. And the fold flat rear seats allow you to haul a moderately healthy amount (20.8 cubic feet) of anything. However, the rear seat space isn’t quite kind to the taller among us thanks to a lower roofline.

The Scion iM is plenty good for the ‘light rock’ driver who wants a sporty looking hatchback offering 30+ miles per gallon with Toyota reliability for $20,000. It’s a conventional family car trapped inside the body of a young hatchback.


The iA can be summed in three words: taut, tight, terrific. Take a seat and it’s almost like you are back in the mid-1990s in all the right ways. The A-pillar isn’t intrusive. The dashboard design encourages a more upright seating position by avoiding the ballooned out proportions of the modern day, and its six-speed stick shift can be easily grasped by closing your eyes and dropping your right hand.

This type of driving position is what helped make everything from cherished E30 BMWs to Nissan Sentra SE-Rs such a joy to drive in the not-so-distant past. Late ’80s Celicas, elder Bush-era Civics, ’90s Neons; every time I took the iA out for a drive I couldn’t stop thinking about how much fun you used to be able to have with a light compact sedan equipped with a slick manual transmission. The iA manages to embody this old soul in a modern package.

The iA is only 2,400 pounds — 600 pounds lighter than the iM — and yet it also registers a rare Top Safety Pick+ rating by offering everything from a low-speed crash protection system that operates at lower speeds (12 mph or less) to a high-strength-steel chassis with a ‘Good’ stamp of approval from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.


If I’m harping about safety ratings much earlier than usual on this vehicle, it’s for a good reason. Too many of us with families automatically scratch off compacts like the Scion iA and there really is no intelligent reason to do that these days. Other than hauling a bit less than the iM, this iA is a world better. You can have fun with this car and get over 40 miles per gallon if you decide to have a light foot. A family of four can easily fit and you get plenty of storage space thanks to a relatively large trunk opening that, again, harkens back to the way cars used to be.


On the road, the iA offers a balanced ride that may be a better fit for those traversing the smoother roads of the south and west than the rougher potholed terrain of the Great White North. The 106 horsepower, 1.5-liter engine can growl when it needs to, but is surprisingly quiet when it doesn’t.

I did have small personal nits, such as tire noise, a wonky looking dashboard peak on top of the instrument cluster that looked like a deformed laptop, and the oversized 7-inch touchscreen display on top of the dash. But those issues can be mostly overcome with a different set of tires, a clear plastic screen cover that would allow you to suction a smartphone where the screen’s deadspace is and, finally, by not being such a picky bastard when it comes to the little things.


The Bottom Line
Would I recommend the Scion iM? No.

In the land of seven-year loans where cheap gas easily allows for an extra $50 a month for cars that cost a few thousand more, I would be far more apt to recommend a Mazda3, a Honda HR-V or a higher-end Ford Focus hatchback with a stick shift. This Scion iM should just be called a Corolla because that’s essentially what it is. If Toyota just gifted it the Corolla name and called it the ‘Scion Corolla GT-S’ while adding a bit more power and suspension tuning, the marketplace and Toyota would be far better off.


On the other side, the iA is worth every single penny of its $16,500 asking price. Yes, you can opt for more expensive vehicles that try to discount themselves into the iA’s price level — such as the Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus and Kia Forte. But as a driver of all three of these cars, I can’t see how they would outperform the Scion iA when it comes to the fun factor. They wouldn’t come close.

This Scion already comes with the best underpinnings of this class combined with Scion’s single-trim pricing to provide as many standard features as possible at a low price. That, and the elusive fun factor, were the big ingredients that made the original Scion tC and xB successful from the get-go. There is no reason why Scion can’t succeed by aiming squarely at those purer roots. Fun and cheap is still the killer combo.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

51 Comments on “A Tale Of Two Scions: Scion iA vs. Scion iM...”

  • avatar

    I refuse to buy a car with less than 150 horsepower so these are both off my list. Shame, I really like the looks of the iM but it needs more grunt! I’d buy one with the Camry motor.

  • avatar

    I’m amazed how long it took Scion to come back around to “cheap and cheerful” as a mission/vision.

    They might actually sell some cars to young people that way.

  • avatar

    As a former xB1 owner, I was excited for the arrival of the iM. When they hit the lots, I drove one. It’s an all-around good car. Not great at anything, but pretty good at anything. But the pure pricing puts it pretty close to Mazda3 pricing, and it’s more than I want to spend.

    I wish Scion sold it cheaper with steelies, like they used to in the old days.

    As for the iA… since Mazda decided not to sell the 2 hatch in the US, I wish Scion would. I do not care for sedans. But Toyota has the Yaris, and why should they compete with themselves? Especially since an iA hatch would make the Yaris look more like the horrible piece of poo that it is.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That same 1.5L was in my 2005 Scion xB, and it was used by Toyota back in the 20th century, I think. It’s super reliable and efficient, but a bit noisy and unrefined.

    The iM may be fun with a stick, but it’s still a very small car inside because of its Mazda 2 origins. The back seat is so tiny that I’m not sure some child seats would fit properly with a larger driver up front.

  • avatar

    I want to like both of these cars, really…I do. We currently have a 2011 tC that for (very sudden) unexpected reasons really no longer fills our needs (a 12-hour midnight run to take custody of a 9-year old little girl will do that). I like the idea of the driver’s dynamics of the iA, but can’t get excited about how it looks. The iM appeals to my inner hatch-nerd, but for close to $20k, the underwhelming Corolla-ness of it also puts me off. I’d like a four-door with some personality and practicality without breaking the bank. We’re even considering smaller SUVs and CUVs (used) so we can continue to haul rescue pups, as my 2004 Lancer Sportback Ralliart no longer agrees to cool the hot, humid summer air down here in Bama…

    • 0 avatar

      I saw a Lancer like yours this past weekend, oddly in excellent condition! It looked perfect and was bright yellow.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve not seen another Ralliart variant in years. I did come across a LS a few weeks back. Mine has held up surprisingly well with just north of 165k on it now. If it were a stick, I’d likely never think about giving it up, although I do want to get the A/C working again before summer rolls around.

        While the wife loves her tC, it just isn’t suited for family hauling. And if my A/C isn’t functioning on the Lancer, a more appropriate vehicle is in the offing. Not sure if either of the new Scions would be of interest to the better half. And I’d likely need something a tad bigger to haul dogs later next year if I can’t get the Mitsu sorted out as far as climate control goes!

    • 0 avatar

      The iA really is as good as described. The Mazda 3 is however super similar for slightly more money. The Honda HR-V is also super nice, and starts at $20k for the base car with manual.

      • 0 avatar

        “The Honda HR-V is also super nice”

        How so? It looks like an awful joke from the outside.

        • 0 avatar

          Id rather have the Fit, same thing lower price.

          • 0 avatar

            I think the HR-V would be far more desirable with the 2.0 liter engine from the new Civic. Of course I’d prefer a Fit with that engine.

        • 0 avatar

          I could have caveated that by saying “relatively super nice.” It’s a pretty appealing car for $20k if you’re looking for a small CUV. Very good interior, with similar appeal and functionality as a Fit. It’s a brand new design and obviously benefits from its modernity when comparing to other cars. I found the interior to be nicer than the Fit (and much roomier), and the increase in cost seems reasonable if you’re looking for a CUV. I think the Mazda CX3 is similarly appealing. Kia Soul is nice too, but I wouldn’t pay new car prices on a Korean car (personally). This is all especially true for someone coming from a Scion TC and an old Mitsubishi. Obviously if your point of comparison is a Lexus RX or something, it won’t be super nice.

  • avatar

    The main flaw here was not calling the iM the Matrix, and selling it as a Toyota instead. They would have quite instantly tripled sales, and nobody at Scion would have cared much.

  • avatar

    You know how the Kermit puppet displays anger or frustration by the nose being squeezed and bent downward?

    The iM looks like a Fit doing that.

  • avatar

    I saw an iA in person the other day and the front clip is monsterously irrational and cheap-looking. Why so much gaping maw? Why?

    Also, its so clearly a sad rebadge of a 2 that is pathetic.

    No reason for this car to exist.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with you on some points, namely the appearance. That’s Toyota’s doing, the Mazda2 is quite a bit better.

      As for there being so reason for it to exist? I disagree. No reason for Scion to exist? Yes. But Toyota can’t build a competitive small car to save its life, so their getting Mazda to do it for them (and Mazda is). If you look at the current Yaris, its massively cheap (in appearance and material quality), not nice to drive, and not competitive on price. All it does is: 1) Be reliable and get decent fuel economy and 2) Get people in so that they can be upsold to a Carolla.

      Whatever saves us from 10 more years of mediocre small Toyotas, I’m a fan of.

      • 0 avatar

        The Yaris has one of the best interiors in the class in terms of material quality.

        And the prior gen Mazda 2 was no better of a car. Slow, noisy, devoid of features, hard plastic everywhere.

  • avatar

    Take the Grand Am crap off the iM and itd be a decent car, Toyota needs to stop pretending all Scion shoppera are 13.

    The iAs a Mazda so its off my list, it just sounds more dated than anything.

  • avatar

    This is in fact a very good review of the two cars. In Canada, Toyota forgot to put heated front seats in the iM Corolla clone, but in return gave it better front seat comfort and an independent rear suspension instead of the Corolla torsion beam for that infinitesimal bit of better handling. Now you can numbly motor in more than one way during winter, steering and rear end.

    The Scion iA does not exist – it’s sold as the Yaris with a fuller slate of options.

    Akio should let Mazda have a go with the rest of the somnambulent Toyota line, since they signed that co-prosperity wonderfulness partnership six or 8 months ago.

    We’ll see whether Fiat coughs up payment for their fake 124’s on time, or next thing you know, there’ll be a Scion rA sporting a gross snout version of the MX-5 powered by the new DI 1.5l four the rest of the world gets.

  • avatar

    The iA is right in the price range I am looking in, but I would really like the hatch version we don’t get, of course. Agreed that the snout on it is awful, but when you see it in person, it doesn’t look QUITE so bad. Still, a great value for all the stuff that’s included.

  • avatar

    The iM has a nicer instrument cluster then the ATS.

  • avatar

    A very nice review with a good summary of these two cars.

    Count me among the impressed with iA. It drove *much* better than what I expected and the sticker implied. It would be the first car I’d go to if/when I need to replace my NC Miata with a four seater and Mazda doesn’t release the 2 in US by then.

    I do hate the maw that Toyota grafted on, but everything else about the car probably overrides this terribleness.

  • avatar

    I feel like the fun factor (which, yes, pushed me to buy a Mazda2) isn’t really going to sell a lot of iA’s, but I expect it to be a great little car, especially if they upped the refinement like Mazda’s done with the 3 (mine’s a little noisy, but I accepted that going in). If nothing else, Mazda deserves kudos for designing a subcompact sedan that doesn’t look significantly sadder than the hatch version.

    But, the iM seems like something that should work for plenty of people, as a Corolla with a little more flexible cargo space. It won’t sell, but it should.

  • avatar

    I had the chance to test-drive the IA. The looks are not for everyone that’s for sure. Very nice inside as it is a Mazda 100%. The one glaring thing that was a biggie for me was the lack of an arm rest. I just couldn’t find a comfortable position for my right arm. It seemed to have plenty of pep. Oh, another deal breaker at least with my local dealer, is the lack of manual transmissions. He told me point blank, no way, no how will he order a manual one. Not unless I commit with a deposit. So, that kind of soured me and I left. I didn’t bother yes driving the IM…the looks are too fast and furious without being fast and furious.
    Oh, and the price of IA with auto was something like 19,000. I think the auto adds either 1,000 or 1500 to the price, plus destination charge of 695, dealer fee of 599. Dangerously close to 20K.

  • avatar

    I see 16064 plus tag and tax for this exact car.
    I would buy this one to replace a surprise crap-out.
    Abyss, nice.

  • avatar

    I suspect that a four-door non-hatchback car the size of the iA will always look dorky to me.

  • avatar

    MSRP for a Canadian spec Toyota Yaris sedan is 16 995$ and you can buy a base Mazda 3 for 15 550$. If you want cruise and A/C in your 3 you pay 18 350$.

    At this point if I wanted something cheap and Mazda I would go for the base model 3, save 1 445$ and live without A/C. Or I’d wait until Mazda put out some clearance event and hope it almost makes up the 1 355$ price difference.

  • avatar

    I really want to try the iA 6MT. Seems like it would be a blast.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • DungBeetle62: Don’t know whose apple my Dad polished but in the early 80s after a parade of awful Cutlasses...
  • JD-Shifty: lowest gas prices were under Clinton. But that’s none of my business. We’ve seen wild price...
  • Buickman: anyone notice AutoNews has eliminated their comment section?
  • slavuta: You know what is pathetic – you keep spreading lies that Russia created some kind of holodomor. My...
  • ToolGuy: Thinking bigger, the “Open Hood Request” sent from the customer’s phone could be just that...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber