The game has changed for Scion. The brand is only 12 years old, but I can’t decide if that’s longer or shorter than it seems. Things have been a little moribund for a while, as the fancy xB has aged into obsolescence and Kia and others have been winning the hearts of Scion’s target market. Additionally Scion is now selling to drivers for whom there has always been a Scion brand on the road.
What does all of that have to do with the cars? Well, it means that Scion, long an opponent of catering to expectations, can finally send the xB to the parking lot outside that glowstick rave in the sky. The box is gone, and it’s replaced by a wedge. The iM steps in for 2016 as Scion’s anchor vehicle. A compact 5-door, the iM aims to be the do-all of the family.
Say goodbye to the box, and hello to the wedge. It doesn’t look it at first glance, but the iM is sized like the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, VW Golf, and Mazda3. It looks smaller, thanks to a low roof and wide stance. This little wedge (which, if you’re familiar with foreign-market Toyotas, is based directly on the Auris) is designed for versatility. It’s got a handsome face and a generic-ish tail with angry LED lighting.
The grille is piano-black rather than chrome, contributing to its sporty, aggressive look. The 17-inch wheels are standard also. At a glance, you might mistake it for a Nissan Versa Note with shades of the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix. The iM’s stylish, but it blends nicely into the existing herd—unless it’s painted Spring Green Metallic.
The high-style interior comes as no surprise, considering Scion’s reputation for having an eye for the dramatic. There’s piano-black trim framing the console and center touchscreen, and an asymmetrical white leather trim stripe that runs from the console over the passenger’s knees to break up the black-on-black interior. A 4.2-inch display screen gathers vehicle and app information in front of the driver, in keeping with current fashion, and dual-zone climate control is standard.
The radio is Pioneer-designed, with a 7-inch touch screen that’s new to Scion. Aha, Bluetooth and HD radio are standard. There’s no CD player, either: welcome to the future. The backup camera? Standard equipment too. There’s plenty of room front and rear, though rear-seat passengers may find headroom a bit restricted. But why are there eight cupholders?
The iM is powered by a DOHC 1.8 L 4-cylinder with variable valve timing. This engine produces 137 hp. With the 6-speed manual, the iM returns 27/36 fuel economy; opt for the CVT and it’s 28/37. The CVT is a sporty seven-step unit, with smooth shifting, and it’s set up for sport operation, resulting in a more conventional feel than some of the rubbery-feeling CVTs of the competition. It’s smart enough to detect cornering forces and hold gears when being driven quickly. For a bit more engagement, opt for the stick.
On the road, the iM shows a surprising eagerness to move. The engine’s got a nice torque band, when you stay in it, but at a point it makes more noise than power. This is more sporty than the Hyundai Elantra, but less so than the Mazda3. The iM is responsive and engaging, but not necessarily fun.
The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a double-wishbone rear. It’s based on the tC, so it’s surprisingly sporty, especially with those fat tires (there’s a lot of road noise on the freeway, though). In keeping with Scion’s tradition of personalization, TRD will offer intake kits and lowering springs. Out on the road, the iM has a wide-set stance, and it feels confident. It’s stable at freeway speeds, though a little too loud to be a serious road-tripper. Yes, it feels enough like the tC to be a pleasing drive.
Eleven years after the debut of the original xB, it’s still the car that most laypersons associate with Scion. Will the iM be able to overcome that memory and make its own mark? Well, it’s distinctive (though less polarizing) and the greasy bits are better equipped to please buyers who want more than just an econobox.
Whether Scion can win the hearts of the folks more interested in the mechanical parts than the sheetmetal is another story entirely. The iM’s priced reasonably, considering the high level of standard equipment, starting at $18,460 with the manual transmission and $19,200 for the automatic.