The 2016 Scion iM is a totally new compact five-door hatchback, the latest contender in a field that includes the Ford Focus, Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf.
Its drivetrain is shared with the Toyota Corolla, a 1.8-liter engine making 137-hp and 126 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is available, but most models will be equipped with a 7-step continuously variable transmission with manual control and sport mode.
Scion iM comes well equipped and is clearly sporty, with 17-inch wheels and 225-width tires, wide for a subcompact. It handles better than a Corolla, with front MacPherson struts, rear double wishbones, healthy stabilizer bars, and four-wheel disc brakes.
It’s fuel efficient, EPA rated at 30/37 mpg City/Highway with the CVT.
Rearview camera, electronic stability control, hill start assist, and driver knee airbag are standard. Hill Start Assist keeps the car from rolling backward for two seconds. It’s important with a manual transmission, but redundant and not needed with a CVT. The Scion iM market includes young families, so it comes with LATCH connectors for child seats in the rear, and a first aid kit.
Scion dealers offer many stand-alone options, from roof racks and pet carriers to lowered springs and a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) air intake system for more horsepower from better breathing.
Scion iM ($18,460) comes with the manual transmission or CVT ($19,200) and is well equipped, with a 4.2-inch color TFT multi-information display, Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary port. Also power-folding heated mirrors, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, keyless entry, and six-speaker Pioneer sound system. Navigation is available.
It’s not easy to pull off making a hatchback look like it’s moving, but the Scion iM succeeds. Its nose thrusts, its tailgate slopes, its wide 17-inch tires give it presence, and black grille says it’s serious.
It cuts a fine form, like the departed Toyota Matrix, much enjoyed in its time.
The front sport seats are well bolstered, but the upholstery looks and feels fairly cheap, shiny in the sun and not rugged. The driver’s seat is height adjustable, while the rear seat is short on headroom. There’s not a lot of cargo room in back when the rear seatbacks are up, but they’re 60/40 and fold flat.
The dashboard is covered in fashionable piano black plastic that smudges with fingers. There’s a lot of upscale soft-touch trim. Swooping lines embrace round vents and a simple instrument layout, with a 7-inch monitor.
The acoustic windshield and silencing in the floor reduce wind and road noise, but it’s still constant.
The Scion iM is not as quick as some of its rivals. The 137-hp 1.8-liter engine is not enough to move its 3000 pounds with much authority.
The CVT with seven steps is better than the 6-speed manual for spirited driving. The throws in the 6-speed manual are long and imprecise, and clutch travel is long. The CVT gets the most out of the meager power. Even if you don’t shift the CVT manually, its sport mode keeps revs up.
The ride can feel unrefined at times, and over the bumps it’s almost jittery.
The handling is sporty, with its struts in front, wishbones in rear, and wide tires. It can be driven with verve, something that can’t be said of many cars this size. But the electric power steering is oddly numb, and doesn’t transmit much road feel so it’s hard to find the limit of tossability.
Compared to the all-new Scion iA sedan, which is precise and eager (built by Mazda for Scion), the all-new Scion iM falls short. You still get a lot of function and style for the money, but the lame power, choppy ride and cheap upholstery are disappointing.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. Sam Moses contributed to this report.