CALGARY – Scion hasn’t exactly set the car market ablaze since Toyota brought its “fun” brand to Canada five years ago. It has made some connection with the youth market (the 20- and 30-somethings, its intended target), but has certainly not achieved the sales volume the parent company was anticipating.
New initiatives, however, are expected to give Scion the jolt it needs to increase consumers’ awareness of the brand and, hopefully, increase its market share. Its dealer network, for example, has been pumped up to 146 stores nationwide – an increase of 50 dealers – and now about 60% of Toyota stores are carrying the Scion brand.
New core model
New products are also a critical key to success – and the introduction of the all-new 2016 Scion iM hatchback is being touted as the vehicle that will spark the brand’s growth in this country. Cyril Dimitris, director of Scion Canada, expects the iM (“i” for individual, intriguing; “m” for modern, multi-faceted, magnetic) will become the brand’s core model once it goes on sale in September.
“We’ve loaded this exciting new model with many premium features and amenities without adding a premium price tag,” says Dimitris, “so you’re ready for anything from the moment you get behind the wheel – whether it’s a day of running errands around the city or a spontaneous getaway with all your gear.”
The appeal of the iM, with its sleek styling, sporty handling and versatile five-door configuration, is expected to reach beyond the brand’s typical youthful buyers, drawing older consumers who will also appreciate its comfort and convenience.
The iM shares its foundation with the Toyota Corolla as both models use the so-called Auris platform. In fact, the iM is badged as the Toyota Auris in European markets.
Visually, think of the now-discontinued Toyota Matrix, but with a lower, sleeker profile. Other than a lower roofline, the iM’s exterior dimensions are similar. The sleeker profile does decrease headroom, compared to the Matrix, but cargo capacity behind the 60/40-split folding rear bench is actually larger – 588 litres with the seatback raised.
The cabin is rated for five passengers, but it’s best to limit it to four adults if they want to fit comfortably. During our media preview drive to the picturesque town of Okotoks, a bedroom community in the Calgary area, my driving partner and I (who both register on the XL scale) found the iM’s interior comfortable and roomy enough that we weren’t rubbing elbows.
Legroom and headroom were certainly adequate for us and the front sport seats were especially supportive, wrapping snuggly around the torso.
Scion typically minimizes its list of options and the iM takes that trend even further. In fact, there are no options for the iM and the only decisions a buyer has to make are colour (six hues are offered) and transmission – six-speed manual or CVT (continuously variable transmission.)
The iM is only offered in a single, mono-spec configuration, although buyers can personalize their vehicle with choices from a list of dealer-installed accessories.
For example, the centre of the piano-black-trimmed instrument panel is dominated by a seven-inch, full-colour display screen which controls the six-speaker Pioneer audio system. The system does feature Bluetooth connectivity, USB input and streaming capability with the Aha Radio smartphone app, but satellite radio is not offered.
While the “connected generation” may opt to use a cellphone app for navigation guidance, for those looking for a conventional navigation system, you’ll need to have the dealer add it to your iM. The nav system’s module, installed behind the audio head, does connect to the standard display screen, however, and includes a voice recognition feature. (Pricing for the nav system accessory has not been announced.)
Dealers can also upgrade the audio system with the Bongiovi Acoustics DPS enhancing system, as well as installing such features as a cargo net and liner for the cargo area.
Impressive feature list
While just the single trim level is offered, the list of standard features is impressive. It includes automatic dual-zone climate control, power folding and adjustable heated exterior mirrors, power door locks with keyless entry, power windows with driver’s side auto-down function and a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel with built-in audio controls.
Nestled in front of the driver between the speedometer and tachometer is a 4.2-inch colour multi-information display. The seats and door panels are trimmed in a sturdy cloth material with white accent stitching. Personally, I found the material a bit harsh, especially on the armrests, which didn’t rub well on bare elbows.
Scion is promoting the iM’s “fun-to-drive” feel – and after a day behind the wheel, it’s difficult to disagree – with one exception. The car handles extremely well, almost approaching the fun feel of its prime competitor, the Mazda3 hatchback.
The front strut suspension and double-wishbone rear system soak up bumps well and keep the car well planted when the roads get twisty. The electric power steering, too, feels well suited to spirited driving, with a tight turning circle of 11.4 metres. The standard 17-inch alloy wheels are fitted with sporty P255/45R17 tires.
The “but” in its performance is the engine. The 1.8-litre four-cylinder, with Valvematic continuously variable valve timing is rated at137 horsepower. It has adequate power for urban use, but starts to wheeze when the driver requires more kick on the open road.
Cruising at 120 km/h on the highway and spinning at about 3,000 rpm, there’s little left in the tank when you want to make a pass. Likewise, climbing a steep grade requires considerably more throttle and a downshift or two.
After being disappointed with the highway response of an iM with a CVT, I’d hoped switching to an iM with the six-speed manual gearbox would produce performance that would be more peppy. Not so. A couple of gear changes down and it was still an effort for the four-banger to spool up enough juice for a highway pass.
Toyota’s performance gurus – TRD – are preparing some add-on components for the iM, which should be available in the coming year. Hopefully, a power-boosting package such as a supercharger, is in TRD’s development plans. In its current configuration, the lack of power taints the otherwise “fun feel” the car delivers.
There were few nits to pick with either transmission. The clutch take-up with the manual box took a bit of getting used to, but the transmission shifted smoothly and the throws between gears were not an issue. The CVT includes a Sport mode, which alters throttle response and activates seven shift steps, mimicking the gear changes of a conventional automatic transmission. (This shift feature also activates under hard acceleration in non-sport mode.) I definitely preferred the sporty option.
Safe and thrifty
A full suite of safety systems is standard, featuring a class-leading eight airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag and a passenger seat cushion airbag, as well as active front headrests with whiplash protection and Toyota’s STAR active safety system (vehicle stability and traction control, anti-lock brake system with electronic brake force distribution for the four-wheel disc brakes, brake assist and SmartStop Technology.)
A back-up camera is also standard, as is hill start assist.
To help encourage more eco-friendly driving techniques, the iM displays a green “ECO” icon in the driver information screen when one uses a delicate touch on the gas pedal.
Overall, the iM is rated at 8.6 litres/100 km in city driving, 6.6 on the highway for a combined consumption rate of 7.7 litres/100 km. The CVT version is 8.3 city, 6.3 highway and 7.4 combined.
During the media drive, our CVT-equipped iM showed an average of 8.2 combined, while the manual gearbox-equipped iM, which travelled mostly on highways, recorded an average rate of 7.6.
The new iM is certainly an attractive, well-equipped entry in the highly competitive compact hatchback segment. It delivers the versatility and value consumers in this category prefer – and it does it with stylish flair. It’s a worthy flag-bearer as the Scion brand strives to grow its presence in the Canadian marketplace.
Model: 2016 Scion iM
Price: Manual transmission, $21,165; CVTi-S $21,990
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, 137 horsepower at 6,100 rpm, 126 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; CVTi-S (continuously variable transmission with intelligence and seven stepped shift points)
Height: 1,405 mm
Length: 4,330 mm
Width: 1,760 mm
Wheelbase: 2,600 mm
Competitors: Mazda3 Sport, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Kia Forte