Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion brand plans to introduce two brand-new cars at the same time this fall, the 2016 iA subcompact sedan and iM compact hatchback. So it makes sense that Scion wanted automotive journalists to drive both of them for the first time on the same day in Southern California.
These two cars will represent a third of the six-vehicle Scion lineup when they debut on Sept. 1 and will be half of it soon after, once dealers sell out their remaining stock of discontinued xB and iQ models. That makes these two cars vitally important to the brand’s future success.
Related: What’s Next for Scion?
Much like the FR-S sports car, the iA was developed in conjunction with another manufacturer, in this case Mazda. The iA is based on the next-generation Mazda2, which may or may not be sold in the U.S. down the line.
The iM, on the other hand, is purely a Toyota venture, sharing a chassis with the Scion tC and many styling cues with the current Corolla and the now-defunct Toyota Matrix. It’s hard not to consider the iM a direct descendant of — and a replacement for — the Matrix hatchback.
In keeping with the Scion way, both of these models are mono spec, meaning they come in only one trim level. Buyers can choose their transmission and from a few limited additions (such as navigation or Toyota Racing Development accessories in the case of the iM). They start at $16,495 (iA) and $19,255 (iM), including destination. Read more about the pricing here. You can also see our First Look of the iA and iM for a breakdown of the standard features for each model.
How They Drive
Scion had preproduction versions of both vehicles on hand, with each transmission option available to drive as well.
Our day started in the iA with the six-speed manual. It clearly felt like a Mazda product, and Scion confirmed as much. Mazda supplied the chassis, transmissions and engine, and did all of the suspension and steering tuning as well. Even the key fob was provided by Mazda, with a Scion logo slapped on.
The iA felt much more composed and confident on the road than the larger iM. The steering is well-weighted and accurate, and most importantly gives ample feedback so you can tell exactly what the front tires are doing.
Under the hood, there’s only 106 horsepower coming from the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It’s not a lot of power and as you might expect, the iA has some trouble off the line. However, once you do get going and keep the engine up in the rev range, the iA is a fun little machine. It has that Mazda characteristic of feeling fast while being slow, without having enough power to get you into real trouble.
The Mazda six-speed manual is predictably good, with short, crisp throws and well-defined gates that made it easy to up or downshift. The digital tachometer to the left of the speedometer is small and hard to read though. I found myself squinting to try to figure out where I was in the rpm range, and the tach is located too high in the display, forcing me to kink my head to the side to see the “needle” when it was between 3,000 and 6,000 rpm.
Driving the two manual transmissions back-to-back really highlighted the difference between the two cars. Everything good about the iA’s stick is missing from the iM. The throws are long, and the gates are like ones you’d find at a confusing airport: poorly marked and easy to miss. The clutch also has an unnaturally high catch point that I never got used to during the drive route. If you’re going for the iM, stick with the continuously variable transmission.
Though the iM has a larger 137-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder, it feels equal to the iA when it comes to liveliness on the road thanks to nearly 600 added pounds of weight.
The six-speed automatic in the iA and the CVT in the iM are both adequate. Both models do offer a Sport mode button, which holds onto gears a bit longer and actually removes a throttle delay built into the iM that is ostensibly there for fuel economy, but it just ends up making the car feel more sluggish than it actually is.
Another area of direct comparison was the different infotainment systems. The iA once again shows its Mazda influence with a controller knob and floating 7-inch touch-screen powered by Mazda software. In the iM you’ll also find a 7-inch touch-screen that is center mounted in a large piano-black trim piece. At the risk of sounding like a broken record: The Mazda-supplied system was superior in ease of use, and the knob controller setup is intuitive and well-planned. Our test models came with the available navigation; strangely in the case of the iM you can’t move the map by dragging on the screen. Pressing on the touch-screen while the map is displayed just relocates the map center to that point, which makes looking at the surrounding area cumbersome.
Both backseats are snug, as you’d expect from cars in these classes. The iA has 34.4 inches of rear legroom and 36.8 inches of rear headroom. The iM offers 32.7 inches of rear legroom and 37.5 inches of rear headroom, so it felt similarly tight. I’m just less than 6 feet tall and with the driver’s seat in my normal driving position, my knees were firmly touching the front seat in both models when I sat in the rear. Rear headroom was barely enough for me to sit upright without my head touching the ceiling. The backseat will suffice for quick trips, but for longer drives taller passengers will be unavoidably uncomfortable.
There is a surprising amount of trunk room to be found in the iA: 13.49 cubic feet, which is more than is found in the larger 2015 Corolla sedan (13.0 cubic feet). The iM offers even more utility with 20.8 cubic feet, actually beating the old Matrix by 1 cubic foot. Both offer 60/40-split folding rear seats for added flexibility.
Which One to Buy?
At the end of the event, there was a clear winner. If I were to put one of these in my garage it would be the iA (with the good, old-fashioned manual transmission). It drives better, offers good cargo space for a sedan in this class, and has better seats and infotainment to boot. I thought that I might find it wanting for power, but that wasn’t the case. The iA would also work well as a first car for younger drivers, with the forward collision system a nice addition at a low price to give parents a bit more peace of mind.