2016 Scion iM first drive: Sharp design in an economical hatchback

The front end design of the 2016 Scion iM incorporates sharp highlight lines and large air intakes. Copyright Ron Moorhead

The front end design of the 2016 Scion iM incorporates sharp highlight lines and large air intakes.
Copyright Ron Moorhead

Toyota developed the Scion brand to attract and nurture younger buyers into the Toyota family. It was hoped that these hipper, more contemporary automobiles would reel the younger generations into dealerships and they would stay moving up through the Toyota brands as they matured. It seemed to work during the initial stages, yet even though the Scion models where hip and cool they seemed to have a shorter than expected attraction span, or at least it seemed the excitement didn’t last as long as Toyota folks had hoped.

Moving to bring some needed excitement to the brand, Scion is introducing some new blood to its model lineup. The long awaited iM combines styling and value with dynamic driving experience to entice younger buyers back into the Scion fold. The iM features a hatch design with a chiseled front end incorporating large outboard air intake ducts that give the iM a bit of a fighter aircraft influence. The sharp steeply sloping hood nearly leaves no room for a front grille, which extenuates the sporty and aggressive look. Anchoring the front design are LED daytime running lights.

Fold the 40/60 split rear seats increases storage with room for all your cargo.

Fold the 40/60 split rear seats increases storage with room for all your cargo.

That steeply raked hood flows back into an equally steep windscreen that lends a more aerodynamic appearance as it moves rearward to the abrupt drop of the rear hatch. This wide and accommodating hatch opens to reveal quite a large storage area that becomes more cavernous by folding down the 60/40 split rear seat backs.

Granted the iM may not get you noticed in urban environs, as the design is not ground breaking. Yet the styling is sharp with a resemblance of the Japanese design cues. However, we think the folks who are attracted to the iM and will be the ones who buy this hatch are more about value and “what I get for my money,” then “look at me, aren’t I cool,” type. They want a reasonably fun car without paying for it with a body part.

Making the shopping experience less fatiguing, the iM offers little in the way of options, little more than exterior color and transmission choice. Those are basically the major selections in Scion’s “Mono-spec” philosophy. Yes, there are a few ad-on accessories, but Scion says they are geared more toward personalization rather than options. Toyota safety features are not optional. The iM comes fitted with eight airbags and active headrests as well as Toyota’s STAR safety equipment.

Even with 137 horsepower equiped with 6-speed amnual transmission and the iM feels quite zippy. Copyright Ron Moorhead

Even with 137 horsepower equiped with 6-speed amnual transmission and the iM feels quite zippy.
Copyright Ron Moorhead

If you are a numbers person, looking at the performance numbers may not get you juices flowing but couple the 6-speed manual transmission with the 1.8-liter I-4 engine and you will pull some fun driving out of the iM. Granted this isn’t going to overtake the big horse power beasts on the road, but then they don’t get 36 miles to the gallon of gasoline either.

The iM’s gasoline engine produces 137 horsepower and felt pretty sporty as we shifted through the gears of the 6-speed manual. Perhaps appearing less sporty, but perhaps appropriate, is the CVTi-S Continuously Variable Transmission that offers no shifting for those who just want to concentrate of the world around them and not on shifting gears. Live in the hills or head to San Francisco much? The Scion iM has standard Hill Start Assist, preventing roll-back when starting off on an incline.

To help make the CVTi-S sportier, Scion engineers added a Sport Mode, which does more than just change shifting points to seven stepped gear-like shifts. Sport Mode also alters the electronic power steering programming as well as accelerator responsiveness. By detecting lateral G force during cornering the system maintains engine speed and restricts shift changes.

2016 Scion iM interior

The iM multi-demension dash lends a bit of Lexus-like luxury.
Copyright Ron Moorhead

We have been after the makers of small economy cars to wrap the steering wheels of these econo-rides with leather. Two reasons for this; Leather wrapped steering wheels give the driver a better grip on the wheel, definitely a safety item. Perhaps the most important is when the driver feels that leather wheel in their hands it instills a more luxurious sense to the experience and physically makes that owner feel better about their vehicle. Turn the experience into a better one and you get a happy customer.

The iM starts out at just over $18,000 and you might not expect to have a great deal of interior niceties. The Scion iM just might surprise you with standard sporty bolstered front seats, a multi-layered dash and dual-zone climate control. A Scion first is a TFT multi-information display set in the center of the instrument panel providing multiple vehicle information.

As one might expect Scion has priced the iM below twenty grand with the manual transmission equipped model starting at $18,460 and the CVTi-S model at $19,200 both prices are plus a destination charge of $795.

Having a sporty personality isn’t what one might expect from an economical automobile but the iM instills a little fun to the drive with the use of high strength steel and four-wheel independent suspension and if you want a bit more stamina in the turns tick off the TRD suspension. Standard 17-inch sport wheels and 225/45R17 tires add to the handling capabilities.

We must admit that both our co-driver and we had a bit of fun tossing the iM through the corners of a deserted back country road during our drive.

Interest in the Scion brand may have hit a bit of a slow down as interest waned. However, the addition of the iM to their stable may just make the turn for Scion that parent Toyota was looking for.