The all-new 2016 Scion iM is a compact hatchback in a very competitive segment. It's comfortable and delivers plenty of features for the price, but its performance and interior space fall below the segment best.
What Is It?
The 2016 Scion iM is a compact, four-door hatchback that competes with the Ford Focus, Kia Forte 5, Mazda 3 and VW Golf. The iM is based on the Toyota Corolla and comes with a similar 137-horsepower, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. This is good when it comes to likely reliability, but it doesn't produce enough power to be competitive.
The iM is about 2 inches shorter in height than these rivals, narrower in width by an inch or two and splits the difference in overall length between the Focus and Elantra GT. The Mazda 3 is the biggest in this class, measuring 5 inches longer than the iM with about a 4-inch-longer wheelbase. The Scion has a sportier appearance than most other hatchbacks, with sharp body creases, a raked-back windshield and side skirts that give it an aggressive stance.
Haggle-free pricing starts at $19,995 for the iM with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), or $19,255 if you choose the six-speed manual. These price points represent a sort of sweet spot for the segment, while the features list is actually more generous than usual among similarly priced competitors. Standard features like 17-inch alloy wheels, a rearview camera and iPod/USB auxiliary audio are increasingly the norm, but the iM distinguishes itself from the rest by also adding two years of free scheduled maintenance, keyless ignition and entry, power-folding mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control and a 7-inch touchscreen audio system with Internet streaming radio and apps. Navigation is available as an option, as are various sporty exterior enhancements and suspension alterations.
How Does It Drive?
There's a standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood that delivers 137 hp and 126 pound-feet of torque. That's not a lot, even for the compact-car segment, and the iM constantly reminds you of it. Acceleration is near the bottom of the class, needing 10 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph. Most competitors are at least 1 or 2 seconds quicker, and it's a difference you can feel in the real world. Whether merging onto a highway or pulling away from a traffic light, the engine feels weak and overmatched while emitting thrashy, uncouth noises that make accelerating slowly a more palatable driving choice.
Should you do that, the CVT will provide impeccably smooth "acceleration." Should you opt to drive with a little more gusto, the CVT actually does a pretty good job (many do not) getting what it can from the little engine. An even heavier foot will cause the CVT to simulate gearchanges, making it feel more like a conventional automatic and mitigating the usual droning noises indicative of this alternative transmission type. There's even a Sport mode that did an impressive job of holding revs high on both the uphill and downhill stretches of our standard evaluation route.
Unlike the engine, the iM's handling is a clear improvement upon the Corolla. There's more driver engagement to be found, with a reasonably playful and agile attitude detected both at our test track and in the real world. Yet, while it doesn't dissuade one to drive with some enthusiasm, it doesn't encourage it like some competitors do — especially the Mazda 3.
Is It Comfortable?
The iM's ride quality drew praise. Our editors almost universally returned from driving this latest Scion impressed by the comfort and composure exhibited by its suspension. It generally feels more grown-up and sophisticated than past, unsubstantial-feeling Scions as well as being an improvement upon the Corolla. It really is one of the iM's stand-out attributes.
Front-seat space is also quite good, with just enough driver-seat adjustment for tall drivers. The seats themselves also drew universal praise, with more lateral support than normal for the segment and firm cushions that prevented fatigue after many hours behind the wheel. This is yet another area where the iM outpaces the Corolla.
The same cannot be said of the backseat, which is one of the smallest in the segment along with the Ford Focus. Headroom is acceptable, but legroom is comparatively restrictive. We're not sure we'd call it cramped — it actually would've been quite good not so long ago, but today's rivals are more spacious, with the Mazda 3 providing an additional 3 inches of legroom.
How Nice Is the Interior?
To date, Scions have been known for cabins constructed of hard, black plastic and not an ounce of anything one could deem "premium." That changes with the new iM, which has materials that give up little (if anything) to its competitors. Most of the surfaces you see or frequently touch are soft, while everything else is at least of a quality appearance and texture. We especially appreciated the padded area on the center console where the driver can rest their leg. The standard dual-zone automatic climate controls look as if they were removed from a far more expensive car, boasting a nice glossy feel, solid movement and easy-to-use operation.
The standard 7-inch touchscreen is a tad aftermarket in its appearance (that's because it's made by Pioneer), but like those in other Toyota-group cars, it is refreshingly easy to use and very quick to react to inputs. We also thought the sound system was above average for a $20,000 car.
Forward visibility is excellent, thanks to the narrow roof pillars and a steeply slanted hood that provide an expansive view of the road. On the other hand, rear visibility is reduced by a short hatch window and large rear roof pillars, forcing heavy reliance on the standard rearview camera.
Cargo space is also far from ideal. The trunk is usefully wide, but it's not that deep and there's very little space above the rigid cargo cover, so its usefulness as a hatchback with the seats raised is negligible. Lowering the backseats does make it more versatile than sedan rivals — including the Corolla — but it's not quite as spacious as the Mazda 3 or Volkswagen Golf.
Small-item storage is much better, with eight (!) cupholders spread equally front and rear. The enormous bottle holders in the rear doors are of particular note. The front armrest bin is also quite large, while the existence of a small smartphone bin forward of the shifter is appreciated even if there's not quite enough room to stuff both your phone and its wire.
What About Safety?
In addition to the typical or mandated safety features, the Scion iM comes with side airbags up front, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and a passenger seat cushion airbag that helps keeps the occupant in an ideal position during a frontal collision. A rearview camera is standard, as is a hill-hold function for vehicles with the manual transmission.
In Edmunds brake testing, the iM came to an emergency stop from 60 mph in 122 feet, which is average for the segment. It also performed several stops of a similar distance, demonstrating a resistance to brake fade.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Get?
The EPA estimates fuel economy at 32 mpg in combined driving (28 city/37 highway) with the CVT. With a manual, the iM gets 1 less mpg across the board. Meanwhile, we averaged 33.2 mpg with the CVT on our standardized evaluation route. Either way, these figures are certainly thrifty, but others in the class are even more efficient and more powerful to boot. In other words, don't expect a fuel economy tradeoff for that laggardly acceleration.
What Does the Scion iM Compete Against?
The Edmunds "A"-rated Mazda 3 is a standout in the hatchback class, as is the Volkswagen Golf. Both of these cars are better overall than the Scion iM, offering more refinement, stronger performance and larger cabins. We strongly suggest testing them out before committing to the dotted line. To a lesser degree but still stronger than the Scion are the Ford Focus and Kia Forte 5 hatchbacks.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
The Scion iM offers lots of value to singles or young couples in search of a daily commuter car that can handle the odd weekend road trip. It's comfortable, safe and packed with features for a reasonable price, while boasting added value by way of two years of free scheduled maintenance, a no-haggle buying experience and Toyota's sterling reputation for reliability.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
The main rivals listed above are quite simply more well-rounded and appealing, especially in terms of performance, fuel economy and interior space. The Scion iM is an OK choice, but others are stronger overall.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.