The all-new Scion iM checks a lot of boxes for a low price, but driving fun isn’t one of them.
That may come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen the iM, a five-door hatchback whose aggressive bodywork recalls the compact-tuner body-type zeitgeist of the 1990s and 2000s. Still, though the styling writes checks the driving experience can’t cash, the iM is otherwise a lot of car for its sub-$20,000 price. That, plus Scion’s reputation for value and reliability, could attract a lot of shoppers who care little for acceleration or handling.
Typical of most Scions (such as the FR-S), the iM is a single-spec car with a lot of standard features, few factory options and a number of optional dealer accessories. It shares its front-wheel-drive underpinnings with the tC sports coupe and comes with a manual or automatic transmission. We tested both.
The Scion iM stays true in profile to a concept version that hit the auto-show circuit in 2014, though it trades the concept’s gilled bumpers for conventional skirts. It’s aggressive, to be sure, with some interesting three-dimensional interplay in the lower front bumper. But it doesn’t break any new ground for Scion, or for compact cars in general. The side and rear skirts look like add-ons; the nose platypuses into a generic downward wedge. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels are standard — impressive at this price — but the entire package looks cliché, a warmed-over take on the last-generation Toyota Matrix. (Makes sense, given Scion is a Toyota brand.)
I’m not sold, but Cars.com editors have mixed opinions overall. Styling is subjective; if you like it, read on.
The Scion iM’s sole powertrain — a 1.8-liter four-cylinder shared with the Toyota Corolla — provides modest overall power, but the optional continuously variable automatic transmission puts on a mighty effort to simulate a conventional stepped-gear transmission. CVTs’ gearless setup gives rise to a nonlinear “rubber band” sensation between the gas pedal and actual acceleration, and the iM feels as nonlinear as the rest of them under normal use. With more gas, though, it produces a gratifying stepped feel, including a decent (if contrived) kickdown sensation on the highway. It’s a slow, noisy climb to 70 mph, but it feels like a traditional automatic, and that counts for something.
Still, fun-to-drive rival hatchbacks like the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf are quicker. They’re also more fun to throw around. The Scion iM wallows into corners; the steering is a soupy mix of relaxed motions and vague feedback, and the tires lose traction quickly. The nose tracks curves well enough, but the iM feels both lethargic and ponderous throughout the process.
The available six-speed manual does little to rescue the Corolla-like driving experience. With sloppy throws and an awkwardly long clutch takeup, it’s an uninspired unit — and it hurts the iM’s EPA-estimated fuel economy (the manual is rated 31 mpg combined versus the CVT’s competitive 32 mpg). Skip it in favor of the more technological CVT (Which Toyota calls the CVTi-S).
Ride quality is soft but generic. For all the fuss Scion makes over the iM’s independent double-wishbone rear suspension — a theoretical advantage over the semi-independent rear ends common in this class — the iM doesn’t deliver the supposed advantage of better ride control. It’s a reasonably comfortable hatchback, given the P225/45R17 tires don’t have a lot of sidewall to absorb bumps, but it can get clumsy at times.
For a $20,000 car, cabin quality is competitive with other compacts. There’s generous padding where it counts, including the upper doors and a padded section where the driver’s knee touches the center tunnel. The dashboard has a ribbon of faux-leather stitching that evokes the real stuff far better than the molded stitching along too many Toyota dashboards. The upscale piano-black climate switches are light years beyond the clumsy plastic knobs in the Scion tC and Toyota Yaris. Cheap-looking silvery plastic, something Toyota used to cram everywhere, is sparse.
Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard (a rarity at this price range), as are a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated power-folding mirrors, automatic headlights and the usual power conveniences you’d expect in a compact car. Typical of Scion, the iM forgoes any significant factory options, including a lot of the luxury features you can get elsewhere in this class: If you want heated or power-adjustable seats, leather upholstery, keyless access or even a moonroof, look elsewhere.
Backseat headroom is good, but the three-position bench is otherwise snug — a result of limited legroom, a low seating position and short bottom cushions. Cabin materials are more basic in back, but that’s a drop-off most compacts exhibit.
Cargo space behind the rear seats is 20.8 cubic feet. That’s a little short of comparable compact hatchbacks. The seats fold down in a 60/40 split for plenty more room, enough to easily fit some golf clubs and bags of groceries.
Typical of Scion, the iM’s stereo fits into a dashboard cutout. That makes it easier to swap for an aftermarket unit, but it looks as inelegant as any stereo from the 1990s or 2000s. The head unit, a 7-inch Pioneer touch-screen that you can upgrade with multi-information navigation for another $900, is a usability mess. The on-screen buttons are small, and the physical controls next to them are even smaller. The volume knob is miniscule, and the tuning knob is missing entirely.
The stereo does, however, have a lot of features. HD radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and auxiliary ports, and Aha internet radio integration are all standard.
The Scion iM hadn’t been crash-tested as of publication. Standard features include eight airbags and a backup camera, but the iM lacks forward collision, lane departure or blind spot warning systems. Click here to see a full list of standard safety features, or here to see our Car Seat Check, which revealed some major space limitations while trying to fit a rear-facing infant seat.
Including destination, the Scion iM base starts at $19,255 with a manual transmission or $19,995 with an automatic. That reflects a fairly complete package of standard convenience features with only a handful of available dealer-installed accessories. Given the generous features, plus Scion’s two-year free maintenance, the iM has enough value to deserve attention from anyone shopping a modestly equipped variant of the Hyundai Elantra GT, Ford Focus, Mazda3 or Kia Soul.
I’m not sure that makes the Scion iM the most appealing Scion, however. Scion recently introduced another car, the iA subcompact sedan, that’s based on the next-generation Mazda2. It has quicker reflexes, comparable seat-of-the-pants acceleration, better gas mileage and more safety features than the iM — and it starts around $16,500. If you’re looking at an iM, be sure to check out the iA while you’re at it. At the end of the day, the biggest reason not to buy an Scion iM might come from inside Scion’s own showroom.