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2016 Scion iM First Drive

A new frontier By ,

Calgary, AB -- The Scion execs on-hand at the launch of the 2016 iM compact in Cowtown were sure to mention the premium features the vehicle offered. In the next breath, however, they talked about the young, tech-savvy types they were targeting. Trouble is, young, tech-savvy types don’t buy that many cars, and when they do, well, the various MINI models have a strong hold on the segment.
The iM, however, represents a bit of a paradigm shift over at Scion. Gone is the xB in all its somewhat cool, somewhat odd boxiness; gone is the three-and-a-half seater iQ supermini, and here comes the iM: a modern-looking, yet somewhat more traditional take on compact motoring.

Size matters
At 4,330 millimetres long, 1,760mm wide and with a 2,600mm wheelbase, the iM is entering a segment that Scion hasn’t really inhabited before, but one that is primed for the brand’s image. Compact hatchbacks like the Mazda3 (a main competitor) or Hyundai Elantra GT are all the rage in Canada, as they provide a sporty image without hitting owners’ gas budgets too hard.

Of course with the Matrix, parent company Toyota was here before. Scion sees the iM tickling the buying bone of those who were interested in the now-departed model. While it may not look it, the iM is only slightly smaller inside than the Matrizx (by about 74 litres), which is a good start. It doesn’t stop there, though.

Following Mazda’s lead with the latest gen of the 3, Scion focused heavily on the iM’s interior.

A contrasting leather strip that bisects the dash in front of the passenger, leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob, vents that look like Mercedes items (but actually work better), a pretty neat-o centre stack replete with toggle switches, a 7” infotainment display, and piano-black finish make for a well-appointed interior. While a lot is handled by the touch screen, you still get a knob for your volume and traditional buttons for your source, scan and phone controls. A 4.2” in-gauge TFT display for your trip computer, meanwhile, is a Scion first. 

In proper Scion tradition, the iM is a “mono-spec” car, meaning there are no trim packages, per se; the only real option is the $825 continuously variable automatic transmission. Everything else -- from navigation systems to lowering kits -- falls into the dealer-based “accessory” category. So, that means the 17” two-tone wheels are standard, as is the infotainment screen, as are power-folding mirrors, dual-zone auto climate control, and the body kit. No heated seats at this juncture, though.

Ahh, the body kit: It provides an aggressive front splitter, molded side sills and extruding rear bumper. In profile and from the rear three-quarter perspective, it looks all right, even rather good. Trouble is, from the front three-quarter perspective, the wheels don’t fill the wheel-wells enough, and the front splitter looks to be trying too hard. Nothing wrong with the Civic Si-like front grille and headlights, though, which are punctuated by fantastic LED DRLs; in fact, it looks better here than it does over at Honda.

iM going for a ride
Power from the 1.8L 4-cylinder is rated at 137 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque, down on both the Elantra GT and Mazda3. Of course, being aimed at city-dwellers, big horsepower counts may not be at the top of buyer’s lists; that spot’s likely reserved for fuel economy, comfort, or good sightlines. The iM has all these, so that’s good.

The trouble is, you feel the power dearth on the highway, and especially when using the CVT (some colleagues felt the CVT was better, but most agreed that either way they would have liked some more accelerative force). The CVT can also be set to a manumatic mode, with “steps” built into the mapping so you actually feel like you’re switching gears, even though you’re not. You’ll have to do it via the shift lever, though: no paddles here.

At one point during our test, a pass of an RV that I thought would take five seconds ended up taking more like 10; which, needless to say, is a little nerve-wracking. You have to plan your passing manoeuvres, that’s for sure.

However, the rest of the dynamics package is good. Turn-in is crisp, and the Scion iM stays flat through the corners. It’s fantastic, and better still, the ride is hardly compromised with the well-tuned suspension (MacPherson struts up front, multi-link at the rear) swallowing bumps and keeping body movement in-check, all at the same time. 

What does play into the pseudo-luxury vibe, however, is the noise reduction. Unless you’re really hoofing it, the car runs exceptionally quiet, which is nice. The 3, for example, is quite loud by comparison. The low noise levels also let you enjoy the six-speaker Pioneer audio system, which provides fantastic sound quality that I know I wasn’t expecting from a compact hatch like this. 

Yes and no
The 2016 Scion iM is an interesting study, in that it’s a new type of car from a brand you just assumed always had an entry in the segment, but really hadn’t. So, this is new territory for the brand, though it can draw on lessons learned from both the Matrix and Lexus CT.

They’ve got the roominess down right, that’s for sure, and the interior accoutrements are top-notch. However, I can’t help but think a little more power may suit it well. Of course, the car works well in-town, which is probably where it’s going to do most of its work. The chance to make use of that spacious interior on longer road trips would be all that more enticing with just a little more power, though.

The 2016 Scion iM arrives in dealerships September 1st, starting at $21,165 MSRP.

 

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Photos:D.Heyman
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