2016 Scion iM

Instrumented Test From the November 2015 issue

It’s a curious turn for To­yota’s so-called “test labo­ra­tory division,” this new model. The iM eschews the overtly Japanese weirdness that established the Scion brand and made the original 2004–2007 xB the most successful of Toyota’s JDM product-line raids. This conventional four-door hatchback with its factory-supplied body kit and metallic-chartreuse paint seems like something Toyota developed during the import-tuner craze and only found parked in a garage in Torrance, California, after the company began planning its move to Texas.

The $19,255 iM joins the stalwart tC, the boffo FR-S, and the new iA (a rebadged Mazda 2 sedan) in filling out Scion’s four-car lineup for 2016. They’re all cheap, small, and hard to sell, a sober referendum on the youthful image Scion was designed to exploit. It’s easy to wonder why they’re not just sold as Toyotas.

Elsewhere on the globe, the iM is a To­yota. It’s the Auris in Europe and Japan, and in some markets it’s a Corolla hatchback. In the U.S., it shares a platform and engine with the Corolla, though the iM uses a control-arm rear suspension that’s more sophisticated than the Corolla’s torsion beam. That’s where the good news ends, because the 1.8-liter four-cylinder they share makes just 137 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque here, three horses less than in the Corolla LE Eco.

It took us 8.6 seconds to reach 60 mph in the iM, more than a second slower than the 160-hp Ford Focus, and the Focus isn’t even the quickest hatchback in its class. The Volkswagen Golf goes from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, its turbocharged 1.8-liter producing 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque and making the iM’s naturally aspirated engine seem as dated as mailing that Fast and the Furious DVD back to Netflix.

The iM comes with a standard six-speed manual, though a CVT is also available. The relatively long and imprecise throws of the shifter and the transmission’s three overdrive ratios make it more of a commuter-grade experience, but at least self-shifting ups the iM’s engagement level. It’s a shame that the steering and brakes are so numb, because the iM’s firm ride and planted body seem to indicate untapped chassis potential. Then again, understeer is what you get when you drive the iM to its low 0.80-g roadholding limit, likely let down by its all-season tires.

A bigger letdown comes inside the iM. A high beltline makes the cockpit feel tight, and the dashboard’s clifflike verticality would be more at home in a crossover. The infotainment system could use a few more buttons. Cargo space trails the Focus’s and the Golf’s, not because they’re that much larger than the iM, but because both competitors are wider and taller. Scion uses coarse fabric on the door trim and elsewhere in the iM, which looks shabby and can’t possibly wear well. And the plastics are plainly retrograde compared with class leaders such as the Mazda 3 and Golf.

Indeed, the iM enters a hatchback pack that is more competitive than at any time since its 1980s heyday. Those heady times brought us such cash-intensive marketing experiments as General Motors’ Geo brand, a dumping ground for the same sorts of cars Scion is trying to sell. For the record, GM finally gave up in 1997 and replaced the Geo badges with Chevy ones.

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