Test Drives – Scion iA and iM

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Scion iA (right) has, unfortunately, the Lexus and Toyota exaggerated front snout that is a Mad Magazine caricature of production grilles.

Scion, the youth brand of Toyota, will start selling a new iA sedan and an iM  4-door hatchback this September at 1000 dealers. In a long overdue response to Korean automaker marketing techniques – over-equip, then underprice – the Scion iA and iM are loaded with technology with few options.

Better still, the subcompact iA and compact iM cars range in price from $16,500 to $20,000. In a way, these significant entries in their segments are notable for what they are not, rather than what they are. These are not stripped down base models with full safety equipment, including a low-speed pre-collision system and a 7-inch multimedia system with voice recognition. Finally, these are not slack econobox performers – their ride, acceleration, handling, braking are remarkable for the price.

The all-new 2016 Scion iA Sports Sedan is the product of a joint venture with Mazda, which will build the car at its Salamanca plant in Mexico along with the Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris. Scion added a front clip to a Mazda body that is not currently sold in the U.S. This is Scion’s first sedan ever. It is a B-segment car competing – extremely well – with Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic, and Hyundai Accent models.

Scion iA has – unfortunately – the Lexus and, increasingly, the misguided Toyota exaggerated front-end SNOUT that appears to be a Mad Magazine caricature of current production grilles. Behind the angular, ugly front lies a discordant curvy 4-door shape. Underneath the iA has a reasonably tuned suspension, if you can tune a Macpherson strut front end with a stabilizer bar and a twist beam axle aft.

The sole engine is a 1.5-liter DOHC rated at 106 horsepower with a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmissions and standard 16-inch alloy wheels The 1.5 is rated by the EPA an estimated 33 city/ 42 highway/ 37 combined mpg for the automatic version and 31 city/ 41 highway/ 35 combined for the manual.

Driving the iA reveals a firm ride with good body control in roll and yaw. Zero-to-60 mph is about 10 seconds. The lighted tachometer is difficult to read. There are engine noise and tire noise, and the electronic steering is Novocain numb. Overall, at the price, this is a good effort.

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 Scion iM – good performance – great price.

The better effort appears on the iM 4-door hatchback, with an MSRP of $18,460 plus $795 delivery for the 6-speed manual transmission and $19,200 plus $795 delivery for the simulate 7-speed CVTi-S model. The iM is also a ‘mono-spec’ model with few options. It is at least $2000 to as much as $6000 under competitive offerings – Mazda3, Ford Focus SE, VW Golf S and Hyundai Elantra GT – and in some cases has equipment those compact cars can’t offer at any price.

Scion iM is derived from the tC sports coupe platform with a double-wishbone rear suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/45R17 tires. The handling is taut but with compliant ride quality. The Electronic Power Steering is numb but it provides less assistance at highway speeds. The 137 horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine uses continuously variable valve timing – both lift and phasing – technology for a good torque curve, making zero-to-60 mph in an acceptable 9 seconds.

The powertrain is EPA rated at an estimated 28 city/37 hwy/32 combined for the CVTi-S model and 27 city/36 hwy/31 combined for the six-speed manual. The optional automatic is a better choice with the 1.8-liter engine since the manual is a sloppy cable shifter – Caveat here – I was driving prototype that may or may not be representative of the production cars – so don’t rule out the manual until you drive it.

The CVTi-S in the Scion iM has both a Sport Mode as well as manual shifting capability with seven stepped shift points. Using the console shifter, the driver can make fast, sequential shifts through the transmission’s seven predefined steps, accompanied by an artificially provided but realistic sense of positive shift engagement.

In Sport mode, the CVTi-S alters shift points and provides a livelier feel through the electric power steering programming and accelerator responsiveness. G AI-SHIFT logic detects lateral G force during cornering and maintains engine speed by restricting unnecessary shift changes.

AutoInformed.comThe 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display within the instrument cluster displays M mode activity, including the “gear” position, and other vehicle information. The Scion iM will also offer a line of TRD (Toyota Racing Development) performance accessories, including an air intake system, sway bar, lowering springs and more.

The Scion iM keeps the value marketing game moving forward. All cars in this C-car segment  come with air conditioning; the Scion iM steps up a class with dual-zone automatic A/C control. On cold mornings, the color-keyed heated power-folding exterior mirrors – yes, standard power-folding mirrors – clear up fog or frost. Auto on/off headlamps are another convenience inherited from a higher segment.

Bottom line – great value, good performance in small cars from an auto industry giant.

About Kenneth Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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