2016 Scion iM: It Might Surprise You

It’s common knowledge that Scion isn’t meeting Toyota’s expectations (Scion is a brand owned by Toyota, everyone knows that). After the excitement that followed the launched of the FR-S sports car, peace and quiet has returned to their showrooms. The iM has the arduous task of literally saving the brand.

The Scion iM is actually a more stylish, Americanized version of the Toyota Auris that’s sold in Europe. Its dimensions slot it neatly between the Yaris Hatchback and the Corolla, so it’s tough to clearly classify it. Is it a big subcompact or a small compact?

Buttons like pimples
The car’s cockpit, and especially its dashboard, reminds us of the Corolla’s to the point where I thought they were interchangeable. Tastes shouldn’t be discussed, but the styling of this dash really pleased me. The gauges are easy to read and most controls are easy to use. However, the radio deserves more than a single rotary knob for adjusting volume. The other pushbuttons aren’t very legible and so small that we must take our eyes off the road to use them. The Corolla’s radio is much better.

For the rest, fit and finish quality is very good, unlike what Scion has offered us in their first vehicles that arrived in Canada at the end of 2010. Storage points are plentiful, much appreciated by people like me who always leave stuff lying around. Rear and three-quarter outward visibility is surprisingly good – the rearview camera admittedly helps – and the front seats are very comfortable. The two passengers who climb into the back seat are treated almost as well, while headroom and legroom for a 5-foot-6-inch person is adequate. What? Do I hear some people saying that there are three seat belts back there? Okay, let me rephrase that: three kids will be at ease, as long as they’re not all wedged in child seats. Once the rear seatbacks are folded, they form a flat load floor with the trunk. However, the latter’s opening could be bigger.

The Corolla ECO’s engine
If the Auris benefits from a plethora of engines in Europe, including a diesel and a hybrid powertrain, our Scion iM only gets one, and that’s a 1.8-litre four-cylinder mill that develops 137 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 126 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. It’s the same engine that’s found in the Corolla ECO, but with three less horsepower. The base transmission in the iM is a six-speed manual, while an optional continuously variable automatic is offered as well. Our test car was equipped with the manual gearbox.

The performance provided by this tandem are average in the compact-car category, with a 0-to-100 km/h time of 10.8 seconds, and a 80-to-120 km/h passing time of 7.6 seconds. It’s worth mentioning that full-throttle acceleration won’t damage one’s hearing, even if the engine can clearly be heard. The manual transmission includes a soft clutch pedal that typically characterizes Japanese compacts. At least the shifter throws aren’t very long and its operation is precise. On the other hand, I did find that the sixth gear wasn’t tall enough. At 100 km/h, the engine spins at 2,500 rpm (and 3,000 rpm at 120 km/h), which is high for a car that’s supposed to be fuel efficient. During our test week, the iM consumed fuel at a rate of 7.5 L/100 km (and 7.2 as indicated on the trip computer). I have yet to try an iM equipped with the CVT automatic, but a recent drive of the Corolla ECO equipped with that transmission resulted in an average of 5.9 l/100 km. That’s much better.

iM TRD potential
The chassis development of the iM seemed to have been assigned to two different teams, each with a different view of the final product. First of all, the platform is very rigid, and the company could’ve installed a sportier suspension on the car. One just has to push the iM slightly over its limits to detect a certain amount of body roll while cornering. The steering is vague and lacks precision. The brakes do an adequate job, stopping the car in 44.8 metres – an acceptable, if unimpressive, result. The 225/45R17, Bridgestone Ecopia EP 422 tires are of the low rolling-resistance type to enhance fuel economy. Truthfully, they do little to provide the desired efficiency, but they stretch out braking distances and don’t help handling, either. This car would definitely benefit from better tires. Despite all that, the iM boasts better road manners than several of its competitors, and we can even have some fun behind its wheel, as long as we respect its limits (and its driver’s limits, too).

With the iM, Scion has a winning horse in its stable. However, the brand will have to work hard to draw customers back into its showrooms, and there are fewer of those than Toyota showrooms. Scion would benefit from a wider selection of models, too; the tC coupe is getting long in the tooth, while the frenzy surrounding the FR-S seems to have died down. Production of the xB and the xD has ended, although there are still some units on dealership lots. It would be such a shame that a car like the iM would tank because of a banal lack of interest from both Toyota and the buying public. Maybe a stripped-down, less-expensive version of the iM would help its cause…

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