2016 Scion iM

PHILADELPHIA — The iconic xB boxy wagon and a no-haggle "pure price" mono-spec trim shopping experience defined the Scion brand when it entered the U.S.  automotive scene in 2003 aimed at younger buyers — a brand within a brand at Toyota stores. It seemed the Japanese company was on to something as Scion enjoyed initial success.

But the market soon changed and the Scion's direction changed, first perceived in 2008 with the introduction of a larger more rounded — and less stylish boarding on ugly — xB and the replacement of the other original  nameplate, the small xA hatch, with a revised and larger xD.

The last remnants of the original Scion are now leaving the playing field as the final xB wagons depart showrooms in the form of a "special" farewell edition.

The original 2004 Scion xB

The original Scion vehicles and the original funky fashion statement are gone. With a new lineup ushered onto the stage in the form of the iM hatchback and the iA sedan, we see no clear direction for Scion other than the continued staging area for young people buying their first cars. But we are fine with that, and the fact that Scion welcomes newcomers to the new-car experience with a no-haggle — supposedly stress-free — one-trim buying experience. There are still decisions to be made because dealers are anxious to install numerous dealer-install customizing features pushing young people's budget to the breaking point.

New to the lineup — that now includes the FR-S sports car and the sporty tC — are the compact hatchback iM, a version of the Toyota Auris sold in other parts of the world, and the small iA sedan, based on the newest version of the Mazda2, which is no longer marketed in the U.S.

We found the iM — the iM apparently stands for nothing more than "iM" — an acceptable compact hatchback with styling that pleased our discriminating eyes. We particularly like the front end, perhaps for no other reason than it has the audacity to avoid the trendy big-mouth front-end look. The iM proves there can be successful modern styling without an open-mouth fish look.

In fact, the narrow elongated raked profile of the new Scion, a pleasing dashboard design that features a conventional gauge cluster, and a base price of $19,255 for the manual transmission version and $19,995 for the automatic are the best features of the iM.

The fact that a young couple can figure on a nice looking compact package for a guaranteed 20 grand (not including taxes and tag, of course) with such standard features as 17-inch alloy wheels, LED running lights, automatic headlights, full power accessories, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a seven-inch touchscreen, and a six-speaker audio system with HD and internet radio and a USB interface is a mighty compelling reason to make a purchase and put a brand-new shiny vehicle in the driveway.

One of the dealer-installed upgrades is a navigation system. Another is a $1,000 TRD suspension kit that lowers the car by 0.8 inch and adds stiffer springs and front and rear anti-roll bars for better handling characteristics. What is strangely not available at the dealership and what would make the iM a "no sale" for us is satellite radio. We asked Scion officials at the Philadelphia introduction how much it would run to install the SiriusXM radio and they said it simply isn't offer, there aren't e
nough takers. We think Scion has seriously missed the boat with that omission.

Another plus — the iM comes with two years of free initial scheduled maintenance, something that simply isn't normally offered with a vehicle in this price range and a feature that will save our young couple even more cash over the first 24 months of ownership.

But before you stop reading this review and rush out to your nearest Scion dealer to pick out a quirky color, we have a few caveats to offer up. The iM, which shares its underpinnings with the compact Toyota Corolla, also shares its engine, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder making 137 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque. It exhibits average performance under normal driving, but when the need to merge quickly arises a pedal-to-the-metal maneuver is the only answer.

Gas mileage is average for the segment and should please young buyers measured at 28 city and 36 highway for the automatic using regular gas.

For comparison, 0-to-60 has been measured in about 9.5 seconds, and such competitors as the Mazda3 (155 hp), Ford Focus (160 hp), Volkswagen Golf (170 hp) and Kia Forte hatch (173 hp) offer more forward momentum.

We thought the CVT did a decent job of giving us a true automatic transmission experience with its seven simulated gears. And a Sport mode offers the perception of more performance by revving the engine higher between the artificial shift points. We also drove a manual-transmission version, but f
ound it hard to get used to with an unusual high take-up point of the clutch pedal. An engineer explained that it would be easier for newcomers to learn the vagaries of shifting for themselves if the clutch did not engage prior to the center point of clutch pedal travel. In that way, they wouldn’t keep stalling it from a dead stop.

If cargo space is crucial, you may want to look elsewhere. Luggage space behind the seats is only 20.8 cubic feet. Scion did not release cargo capacity figures with the rear seats folded. Likewise, rear-seat passenger legroom is on the tight side for even average-sized adults.

The new iM has a compelling price point when considering its large amount of standard equipment. It's no-haggle dealer experience is also attractive to many young people. And its styling inside and out is pleasing. But we advise would-be buyers to shop around a bit before making a final purchase decision. There are numerous other good choices in hatches and sedans.

— Jim Meachen