Let’s first get something out of the way: the Scion iM is the new Toyota Matrix. The M is for Matrix, the 5-door body style is for Matrix, and the drivetrain is for Matrix.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, because for mere mortals like you and me, the return of an affordable, reliable, fuel efficient, and kind of cool-looking 5-door, Japanese, compact wagon is as refreshing as an ice cold Corona at a beach party.
We All Appreciate Cargo Space
Cargo space is the reason cars on the road today look like bloated versions of what a car should have looked like a long time ago. SUVs, crossovers, and pick-up trucks are dominating the landscape because people have more stuff to carry, their kids are getting bigger, and so are they.
And while at the top end of the automotive spectrum you’ll find tire-shredding hypercars and Ferrari Enzo-crushing electric cars, there isn’t much left for middle-class gals and blokes to carry their crap around without feeling like they’re driving a $40,000 fridge.
That’s why little compact wagons that come with an available manual transmission, like this Scion, are gems in the automotive world. For a while, before dieselgate happened, the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDi TSi was the only affordable weapon against crossover domination.
So, the Scion iM then. It’s the breath of fresh air we’ve all been waiting for, and couldn’t have arrived at a better time. It respects EPA emissions without cheating, has 588 liters of cargo space when all its seats are in place, comes with an available 6-speed manual transmission, is built on the same platform as the indestructible Toyota Corolla, costs around $23,000, and returns an average fuel consumption rating of 7.2 L/100 km.
So far, so good.
Wait, What’s A Scion?
That’s precisely what Toyota executives have been asking themselves lately and the reason why this car is not called a Toyota Matrix – or a Corolla Wagon for that matter.
You see, Scion is a sad case in the automotive industry at the moment. It’s going through the same depressive identity crisis stages the Saturn brand went through in the nineties with General Motors.
Originally meant to be a sub-brand of Toyota whose mission was to target “younger” buyers through a “young and hip” business model with “affordable” and “fun” products, Scion has instead become a recycling bin for Toyota, Subaru, and Mazda platforms.
The brand’s halo car, the FR-S, albeit an incredibly fun sports car, is powered by a Subaru engine. The new iA is essentially a rebadged Mazda 2 (wtf?), and this, the iM, well it’s basically a Toyota Matrix (or Corolla wagon/Auris) that was sent under the Scion badge to save some jobs.
Yes But, Is The iM Any Good?
Car politics aside, there’s no denying that the iM is an honest to goodness, well-executed marketing package that should sell well. The Matrix was a great car in every respect and a massive sales success, at least here in Canada, so a successor should be an instant hit.
And the ingredients have not really changed with the iM. Like when the Matrix came out in 2003, this little wagon certainly looks distinctive with it’s Gundam-inspired Japanese design, slopping roof line, bodykits, and “blade” wheels. The proportions are just right too, it slots right between the Mazda 3 and the Golf SportWagen in terms of size.
It actually looks cool, young, fun, and desirable. Most important for Toyota, it doesn’t look boring.
Inside, you’re greated to the brand’s now familiar functional interior design language. Very much like the Corolla’s interior, materials have been updgraded compared to past Toyotas with the addition of “piano black” plastics and soft touch materials that give the overall interior a rather upscale feel. Yes, you still find some hard plastics here and there, but overall, for a car of this segment, they’ve done a great job at making the interior feel somewhat premium.
As an affordable people’s car then, the iM does its job tremendously well. Ergonomics are excellent, controls are intuitive, visibility is spot on, and the infotainement system is easy to understand and use. Seating position is also superb, with supportive and comfortable seats that seem to have been tailored for every single freakin possible human shapes and sizes. Not sure about rear headroom though, for some odd reason, probably the slopping roof line, it feels rather cramped back there.
Nevertheless, everything about the iM bathes in massive Toyota common sense, bringing to the driver an instantly familiar feeling the moment he/she enters the car.
Not Boring But Not Fun
On the road, the iM behaves rather well – as long as you don’t ask too much from it. The first thing you notice is how quiet this thing is, to the point where Myle, my photographer, asked me if this was an electric car. Granted, this sensation doesn’t add much to driving excitement, but for a car designed to go about its business without drama or frills, the quiet interior is rather welcoming.
Powered by the same 132 horsepower (128 lb-ft), 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine as the Corolla, but with 65 extra kilograms to carry around (1334 kg curb weight), the iM is not exactly what you would call quick off the line, especially when fitted with the continuously yawnable variable transmission my tester had.
Smashing the throttle only results in an annoying drone coming from the engine compartment with very little actual acceleration going on. Yes, there’s a sport mode, but apart from adding even more engine drone to the cabin, it doesn’t really add anything “sporty” to the car’s performance.
Just don’t floor this thing.
A 6-speed manual is available, and I’d strongly suggest going for that transmission option if you want to exploit this car’s full potential, because although the CVT transmission operates smoothly, it really takes all the life out of the engine.
But power aside, when driven like it should, as in carrying groceries, mountain bikes, friends, kids, or pets, the iM is a rather pleasant car to drive around in. In fact, it’s as smooth as a Lexus.
The suspension is compliant, the chassis is suprisingly well put together, and the moment you throw it into a bend, there’s actually a sense that the car is enjoying it, exhibiting surprisingly low body roll for such a high car. The iM is responsive, and reacts rather quickly to steering input. It’s confident-inspiring, to the point where you’ll end up entering highway offramps at faster speeds than you should without even noticing it.
In that sense, it’s actually fun to drive.
Most important about the little Scion though is the moment you get behind the wheel, like all Toyota products, there’s an immediate feeling that the car is extremely well put together. There are no rattles, no wind or tire noises, and you can actually feel the car’s reliability as you’re driving along.
You just know this car will drive this well 15 years down the line.
And that’s a huge selling point in this segment. Wagon buyers are above all looking for practical, fun to drive cars on which they’ll be able to pack kilometers and carry a whole bunch of cargo with very little required maintenance. And the iM delivers on that promise.
You Don’t Change A Winning Formula
Granted, the Scion iM won’t set your hair on fire with it’s powertrain and chassis dynamics. I do wish it had more power.
Underneath the shiny plastics, funky bodykits and LED headlights is essentially the same basic, default-setting, reliable, no-frills, get-the-job-done formula Toyota’s been shoving down our throats for the past ten years or so.
And you know what?
That’s perfectly fine.
Prices for the iM start at $23,088. Only a few options are available, since it already comes fully loaded with heated mirrors, cruise control, power everything, automatic climate control, a back-up camera, and a seriously kick-ass-sounding Pioneer sound system with Bluetooth and Aha radio connectivity.
The iM may not spark a flame in driver enjoyment like the Mazda 3 or offer as much practicality as the VW Golf SportWagen, but it nevertheless remains a no brainer in this segment. Cheaper than its competition (equipped the same way), and still offering some compelling attributes, such as legendary Toyota reliability and resale value, the iM remains a smart and solid purchase. In my view, it’s the quintessential people’s car.
Review of the 2016 Scion iM by William Clavey
+ Young, modern and exciting design.
+ Legendary Corolla reliability in a practical wagon package.
+ Surprisingly tossable chassis and pleasantly fun to drive.
– Seriously underpowered.
– CVT transmission takes the life out of the powertrain.
– Remains rather boring.
Clavey’s Corner is located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Prices and trim levels discussed in this article reflect the Canadian car market.
Special thanks: Park Avenue Toyota/Scion
Contact the author: [email protected]