Scion iM — The new look of Scion

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The iconic xB box 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. The original Scion vehicles and the original funky fashion statement are gone. And while 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.

And apparently Toyota has felt the same way. Scion's parent company announced it was pulling the plug on the brand. But if you are interested in one of the new models or in the two other offerings — the FR-S sports car and the sporty tC — fear not. All but the tC will be rebadged as Toyota vehicles in August and will continue to be sold in Toyota stores. The once-popular tC will be discontinued.

For this review, we found the iM — the iM apparently stands for nothing more than "iM" — an acceptable compact hatchback, a version of the Toyota Auris sold in other parts of the world. Its styling pleased our discriminating eyes and 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.

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

Overall the iM is a nice looking compact package 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 radio and a USB interface. All a compelling reason to make a purchase.

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 how much it would run to install the SiriusXM radio and they said it simply isn't offered, there aren't enough 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 isn't normally offered with a vehicle in this price range and a feature that will save a buyer money 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 adequate performance under normal driving conditions, 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 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. But you have to engage Sport each time you start up the car because it annoyingly reverts to ECO.

Luggage space behind the seats is 20.8 cubic feet. Scion did not release cargo capacity figures with the rear seats folded. Rear-seat passenger legroom is on the tight side for even average-sized adults.

Our Classic Silver Metallic CVT-equipped test car carried three inexpensive options including carpeted floor mats and a bottom line of $20,344.

Base price: $19,255; as driven, $20,334
Engine: 1.8-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 137 @ 6,100 rpm
Torque: 126 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches
Length: 170.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,031 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 20.8 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: NA
Fuel capacity: 14.0 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 37 highway, 28 city, 32 overall
0-60; 9.5 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Mazda3, VW Golf, Ford Focus

The Good
• Nicely styled inside and out
• Comfortable ride
• Generous list of standard features

The Bad
• Limited cargo space

The Ugly
• Performance below average