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iM Not iMpressed: The Scion iM, reviewed

Amou "Joe" Seto |
December 31, 2015 | 5:48 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

When I visited Japan in 2012, I had a chance to see the Toyota Auris, a hatchback version of the Corolla in person. I could never wonder why Toyota hadn’t bothered to bring the Auris over, as hatchback and sedan versions of the Ford Focus, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra GT already existed.  Toyota has now had a change of heart as they’ve finally decided to bring the Auris over to the states. Before they set the car loose in the American market, they did make a few changes. They put on snazzy 17-inch alloy wheels, a body kit, and stripped the Toyota badges for Scion ones.

"Bold and Brash" or "Belongs in the trash?" (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
"Bold and Brash" or "Belongs in the trash?" (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

When I looked at the pictures and looked over the spec sheet, I imagined in my head that it would drive almost exactly like the Corolla S. Mechanically speaking, they have the same 1.8L DOHC 4-cylinder engine, the same transmissions, the same chassis and the same interiors. The main mechanical difference is that the rear suspension on the iM employs a double wishbone setup whereas the Corolla uses a simple torsion beam. The iM also gets rear disc brakes, something which isn’t available unless you buy an upgraded Corolla S.   

SEE ALSO: 2016 Scion iA, Reviewed

On paper, this car seems like a good idea. Not only is a hatchback version of the tried and proven Corolla, but it also has a lot of features standard such as power folding heated side mirrors, a backup camera, dual zone climate control, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. All these features for just $19,995? Is this be too good to be true?

Starting with the exterior, we’re presented with a body kit that looks like something that would be bought from Andy’s Autosports back in 2005 (I’m especially talking about the side skirts). While the Corolla has a short, blunt front end, there’s a huge amount of car in front of the front wheel which makes the iM look huge. Open up the hood and you’ll see a gap as big as the Grand Canyon between the radiator and the front bumper which may cause expensive repairs in a front end collision, even if it’s minor.

Inside, the interior is nearly a carbon copy of the Corolla’s, even down to the piano black trim which resists fingerprints well but attracts dust from all the way across the universe. All of the controls are easy to reach and relatively easy to use (apart from the BeSpoke Audio). When a friend of mine sat in the front seat, he immediately claimed that he felt that he was sitting on something. The layered seat cushion “offended” him a great deal, although I didn’t feel anything (though he is much taller than me). 

The Scion iM's interior is nearly the same as the Corolla's (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The Scion iM's interior is nearly the same as the Corolla's (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

Though a lot of the features are ones found on higher end cars (most notably the mirrors) most of them are quite gimmicky. What annoys me most of all is that although the iM has some really surprising standard features, they seem to have forgotten some basic things which should have come standard instead. There isn’t any speed-sensitive automatic central locking which was surprising (and annoying) as other features were standard over something so basic such as this. The turn-key ignition also surprised me, as the much cheaper Scion iA features a push-button start standard (the iA also has speed-sensitive automatic central locking standard).

Driving the iM is just like driving the Corolla. You get the same extremely light, vague steering, the neither spongy-nor-stiff brake pedal, and the same aggravating driving position that makes you feel like you’re sitting more toward the middle of the car than you actually are. This makes the car very difficult to just pick up and drive unlike the Ford Focus, which I was able to pick up and drive instantly. This adjustment period was very long, and I found myself inching toward the right side of a lane the whole time I was driving. The rear window is laughably tiny which also reduces rearward visibility. The ride has been noticeably stiffened over the Corolla, but the car still handles like a brick. The imprecise steering means you have to constantly make little tiny corrections while canyon carving and the understeer kills off any fun you might have been expecting to have in the corners. The turn in and turns lock-to-lock are terrible as well, just like in the Corolla.

The biggest issue with this car is the manual gearbox, which can be avoided entirely by selecting the CVT. If you are a die-hard manual fan or wanted to save some money by opting for the manual, you’re out of luck. Unlike the FR-S where you get the manual for the better car, you need the CVT for the iM.

The manual transmission in the iM is the worst I've ever tested (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The manual transmission in the iM is the worst I've ever tested (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

Pressing the clutch pedal feels like you’ve just put your foot through a Walmart wedding cake; it’s mushy, weightless and isn’t as forgiving as a clutch in a Ford Focus. The spacing between the shift gates are not evenly spaced—the lines for gears one and two are very close to the lines for gears 3 and 4, with the lines for gears 5 and 6 being farther away. The shifter is also a few inches forward than what you’d expect it to be, and there were times where I went to grab the shift knob and instead grabbed a handful of nothing. 

The 1.8L Corolla engine powering the iM is already taking on the competition on the back foot, with the Mazda3 producing 155 horsepower and the Ford Focus making 160 horsepower. In fact at 137 horsepower and 123 lb-ft, it’s only slightly more powerful than the much smaller Honda Fit which sports a 1.5L 4-cylinder making 130 horsepower and 114 lb-ft. Keep in mind that the Fit is also much smaller and lighter than the iM as well, which makes the iM’s powerplant even more disappointing.

This lack of grunt was very apparent while testing in the uphill sections of Sherman Oaks and Studio City. Upshift too early and the car suddenly feels like you’re trying to pull a trailer; unless you’re in the right gear at the right time, you just won’t move. There is no leeway for being lazy with gear changes on level ground either, as the engine will lug and struggle if you choose to be lazy and not downshift in traffic. The CVT is the best pairing for this engine as it continuously changes ratios to adapt to the situation, being able to easily pick and choose the best gear ratio for a given situation. The CVT unit in my Corolla S test unit was simply brilliant, and it’s well worth the extra money over the manual. 

The gauge cluster on the iM includes a handy color multi-information display (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The gauge cluster on the iM includes a handy color multi-information display (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)

Adding to the list of woes for the iM is the way the car deals with the traction control. If you turn the traction control off, a notification appears in the Multi-information display and the TCS off light comes on. Just in case you can’t miss the bright orange light on the dashboard, Toyota leaves the notification up on the display. You can dismiss the notification, but it’s about as helpful as blowing on a forest fire, as the notification keeps coming back after you dismiss it. With the traction control disabled, you can’t use the cruise control either.

For those who have recently purchased/driven a new Scion, you may be familiar with the BeSpoke touch screen infotainment system. For 2016, BeSpoke has been updated slightly, now using a new head unit with a bigger screen and losing the CD player. The red hue has been replaced for a turquoise one, but besides these tiny things everything still runs the same way. However, it does seem like what they’ve done is just make the system worse. One thing I did notice is that playing your iPod through the USB doesn’t work

The iM boasts 20.8 cubic feet of cargo space (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
The iM boasts 20.8 cubic feet of cargo space (Amou "Joe" Seto/Neon Tommy)
at all. The first time I tried it it seemed to work okay, until I tried to change the song. The system crashed, rebooted, then played the next song. This happened about 9 times until the system stopped recognizing my iPod completely. The second time, the system was sluggish but worked, then after about 20 minutes booted my iPod from the system completely. After seven more tries which resulted in the system crashing in the middle of a song, I gave up. Here’s a top tip: just use the aux input.

The iM is the long overdue Corolla hatchback that’s been missing from the American market for far too long. Yet in this age of fun-to-drive compacts, it really doesn’t hit the nail on the head. It’s not very fun or easy to drive, isn’t particularly powerful and the some of the features aren’t particularly helpful. If you love the Corolla S but have longed for more trunk space and some more add-ons, this might do the job. However, if you’re not too fond of the Corolla, I’d suggest you look elsewhere. 

Overall Score: B-

Compact Hatchbacks Score: C-*

Compact Score: C

At-a-Glance Specifications:

Price As Tested: $19,833

Engine: 1.8L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with Valvematic (2ZR-FAE)

Horsepower: 137 @ 6,100 RPM

Torque: 126 lb-ft @ 4,000 RPM

Transmission: 6-speed manual (tested) or CVTi-S

Drive: FWD

Axle Ratio: 4.214 (MT); 5.045 (CVT)

Tire Size: 225/45R17

Tire: Bridgestone Ecopia EP422 Plus

Cargo Volume: 20.8 cu. ft

Maximum Payload: N/A

Curb Weight: 2,943 lbs (Manual Trans.)

Weight Distribution F/R: N/A

Our Combined MPG: 29.8

Fuel Capacity: 14 gal.

MPG (EPA Estimated) (City/Highway): 27/36/31 (MT)

*This is the benchmark vehicle for this class.

Reach Staff Reporter Amou (Joe) Seto here. Follow him on Twitter here.



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