With glossy piano-black interior trim, contrast-stitched seats and an ivory suede-like band sewn along the lower edge of the dashboard on the passenger side, you might think for a moment that you’re inside a luxury vehicle, not a very-compact hatchback you can drive out the dealer’s door for less than $20,000.
The vehicle is the all-new 2016 Scion iM. But before we go any further with this report, we don’t understand how Toyota’s millennial brand comes up with the names for its vehicles, except that, with the exception of the FR-S, they all have two-letter names with the first letter set in lowercase, as in xB, tC, iQ and now iM.
That’s iM, not I’m or even an homage to will.i.am. You might at least have figured this model would be called the Au, or even aU, since it’s based on the Toyota hatchback sold in other automotive markets as the Auris, which is the Latin word for gold and the word from which golf derives its Au designation on chemistry’s periodic table.
Anyway, the iM is a very-compact hatchback with four regular doors and a hatch behind the cargo hold, which is roomier than it might appear as you view the car’s exterior. Nor does the interior feel cramped.
We selected the iM with a six-speed manual for our drive from Phoenix to Las Vegas to cover the SEMA Show, and the local Scion press pool was kind enough to let us swap that car for the iM automatic the following week so we could experience the cars back-to-back.
The automatic is actually what Toyota/Scion terms a “CVTi-S with 7-step shifting.” CVT is short for continuously variable transmission, i is short for intelligent and S means “sport-tuned for driving pleasure.” Seven-step shifting means there are seven “shift” points with a gearbox that has cones and belts instead of the typical gear set.
However, we found driving pleasure only when we pressed the Sport mode switch, which seemed to be good not only for another 600 or so rpm from the engine but also held off on up or down shifts, much as you would were you driving a car with 6-speed manual. Forget to use the Sport mode and even the slightest uphill on-ramp was a painful experience.
As it was, with only 137 horsepower and a meager 126 pound-feet of torque available from the 1.8-liter engine — and you have to rev the engine to 6 grand for max horsepower and to 4,000 for peak torque — we had to downshift just to get to the top of some of the long uphill climbs on the way to and from Vegas.
Power is not this car’s long suit, though fuel efficiency is one of them. We averaged 37.6 shifting for ourselves and 37.8 with the CVT. Our CVT fuel economy was better at the start of the week when we were seeing how long we could avoid the Sport button. As it turned out, it wasn’t for very long.
The iM’s real long suit is the interior, at least according to Scion, which says it is “roomy, refined, versatile and high-tech equipped.”
We found the seats comfortable, the steering column adjustable and the headlamps automatic, and passengers like the dual-zone climate controls. The backup camera system is stunningly clear and helpful.
We were surprised not to find satellite radio or factory-installed GPS. Those are forgivable in a car priced less than $20K, but we also were surprised to find only a single power outlet and a single USB port, which seems unforgivable in a car targeted as millennial buyers with all their portable electronic devices. Hey, I’m well beyond being a 20-something but my passenger and I fought over which of us got to use the USB port to recharge cell phones on the drive to and from Vegas.
The car was comfortable on the long drive across the high desert. Navigation is optional, as are an aero body kit, alternate wheels and, before too long, performance accessories from Toyota Racing Development including an air intake system, sway bars, lowering springs, etc.
In the meantime, it seems to us that the iM real long suit is its pricing. Even with optional carpeting in the cargo area, carpeted floor mats, wheel locks and rear bumper protector, and even with shipping and handling costs, the iM manual’s as-tested price was just $19,594 and the CVT, carrying the same options, stickered for $20,334.
2016 Scion iM
Vehicle type: 5-passenger, 5-door hatchback, front-wheel drive
Base price: $18,460 (manual) $19,200 (CVT), Price as tested: $19,594 (manual) and $20,344 (CVT)
Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder, 137-horsepower @ 6,100 rpm, 126 pound-feet of torque @ 4,000 rpm Transmission: 6-speed manual or 7-step CVT
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches Overall length/width: 170.5 inches / 69.3 inches
Curb weight: 2,943 pounds (manual), 3,031 (CVT)
EPA mileage estimates: manual — 27 city / 36 highway / 31 combined; CVT — 28 / 37/ 32
Assembled in: Aichi, Japan