Since Scion was first introduced, the brand has marketed itself as one that is intended to appeal to younger buyers who want something fun, sporty, affordable and efficient, but the Japanese budget brand has never had a proper competitor to the most popular vehicles among younger new car buyers. Most notably, Scion hasn’t offered a proper 5-door hatchback in the compact segment to go head to head with the bestselling small cars in the US market.
The early Scion lineup had some fun little compacts like the xA and xB, but neither of those vehicles offer the look and feel of the Ford Focus or the VW hatchbacks. Scion got by for quite some time with these non-conventional models, but with sales slumping, the company has finally gotten themselves a proper compact 5-door hatchback that could prove to be the most popular in their US portfolio. After all, this is the first time that Scion has had a vehicle that could really stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the Ford Focus, the Hyundai Elantra, the Chevy Cruze and the Honda Civic while the hatchback design should appeal to those buyers who want a sporty, roomy and affordable 5-door.
The 2016 Scion iM certainly looks the part of a sport compact, but does it offer the fun to drive factor needed to grab the attention of today’s young new car buyer? I think so.
Driving the Scion iM
The Scion iM is powered by a 1.8L 4-cylinder mill that delivers 137 horsepower and 126lb-ft of torque, with that power being sent to the front wheels by means of either a CVT automatic or a proper 6-speed manual. I had a chance to put miles on an iM with each transmission, along with one fitted with some TRD suspension goodies that improving handling and road feel a bit.
My first seat time was in the 2016 Scion iM with the CVT transmission. Unlike other Continuously Variable Transmissions, which allow the engine to rev in the ideal rpm range as much as possible without any sign of a shift point, Scion recognizes the desire of American drivers to feel a shift. To achieve that, the iM CVT has artificial “shifts” that make this transmission seem a great deal more like a traditional automatic. There is also a manual shift mode that allows you to control these faux shift points and if you want your Scion to pretend to shift in a sportier manner, you can select the Sport shift mode – which really doesn’t make it feel like a harder shifting automatic transmission. This transmission doesn’t come with the annoying, almost panicked revving that you get with other CVTs and because of that, I like it far more than I have other CVT vehicles. Acceleration with the CVT is steady and the manual shift mode adds a bit of fun to the drive.
I then got into the 2016 Scion iM with the 6-speed manual transmission and it only took me a few minutes of driving to know very definitively that I would buy the manual over the CVT. If you can drive a manual transmission and you are considering the new iM, drive one with the manual transmission. It is still a fun little 5-door with the CVT, but the manual transmission just makes the drive so much more engaging. The Scion clutch has plenty of give and the shifter is easy to get from gear to gear, so for someone who isn’t a shifting pro – this car shouldn’t be hard to learn to drive.
Adding the manual transmission allows the Scion iM to get away from the line more quickly and to make the most of the available power. This is an economy car so it isn’t going to tear up the drag racing world, but it gets up and goes with enough urgency to comfortably keep up with quick moving traffic. The 1.8L engine offers solid torque from a stop and through the mid-range, the iM continues to pull well, so as compact hatchbacks go, this new Scion really offers as much driving excitement as the competitive hatchbacks.
Hitting the Turns with the iM
The 2016 Scion iM offers a nice smooth ride around town and on the highway, but it also offers the sporty handling characteristics that are so important in the compact world. In standard form, the iM could hustle through the tight turns of our on-road test drive, but the optional TRD suspension upgrades on my manual transmission model afforded the new Scion impressive handling characteristics – without compromising ride quality. You can definitely feel more of the road in the iM with the TRD bits, but ride quality is barely diminished while road handling is improved a great deal. The TRD suspension components gave the iM a more planted feel in every driving situation while cutting way down on body roll in harder turns.
In addition to the nimble suspension system, the Scion iM has a steering setup that allows you to accurately carve thorough the turns, although you don’t get a whole lot of feedback through the electronic steering system. Then again, steering comfort is far more important to the average compact hatchback buyer than steering feel, so Scion did a nice job of balancing comfort with steering feedback.
Mind you, this isn’t a car that is going to blast through the corners with the Focus ST or the Subaru STI, but the Scion iM comes fully loaded under $20,000 – and in terms of $20,000 cars with this much interior space and the needed fun to drive factor, the Scion iM is hard to beat.
The Scion iM isn’t the most powerful or most efficient compact hatchback sold in America, but there is no denying that this new 5-door is Scion’s first solid entry into a high volume segment in the US. Finally, the “young brand” Scion has a car that fits into the most popular young buyer segment and it does so in a big way – with a car that is efficient, fun to drive, roomy and packed with standard features, all for under $20,000.
I expect that this will be the brand’s bestselling car over the next few years, serving as a nice complement to the sporty Scion FRS, but appealing to those who need a far more capable car that is still fun to drive.