Last March, I took my first trip to Greenville, SC…
By BOB GRITZINGER | Contributing Editor
Toyota’s Scion division hasn’t had any all-new product in quite a while, but the youth-oriented sub-brand gets a huge shot in the showroom arm this month with the addition of two all-new models, the iA and the iM.
iM: No more dull xB boxesLet’s start in reverse alphabetical order with the iM, mostly because it’s the more intriguing of the two models, both in styling and in terms of where it lands in the marketplace. The iM sits squarely in the suddenly hot sporty subcompact hatchback segment where competitors include the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra GT and Mazda 3. Buyers here value versatility and sportiness along with a bit of pizzazz and a healthy dose of high tech. The five-door iM covers those “wants” and then some, offering a racy wrapper, plenty of flip-and-fold flexibility, a competitively powerful powertrain and enough extras for the price. For example, audio, phone and vehicle systems can be managed via a 7-inch touch screen, through controls on the standard leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, or through voice commands.
The iM borrows its front-wheel-drive chassis and powertrain from the European-spec Toyota Auris, running a 1.8-liter inline-4 that produces 137 hp and 126 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s not the most powerful engine in the segment, but it’s capable and responsive thanks to the engine’s variable valve timing, and it posts good fuel economy numbers—28 mpg city/37 highway/32 combined for the CVT-equipped model and 27/36/31 for the 6-speed manual.
Don’t shy away from the CVT in this case: In Sport mode it does a great job of mimicking a 7-speed automatic. Overall, the iM rides quietly and handles bumps and corners well thanks to fully independent suspension and lots of attention to sound-deadening materials up front.
The iM replaces the boxy xB in the Scion showroom, starting at $19,255 for the manual, $19,995 for the CVT (including $795 freight and handling).
iA: A Mazda2 in Scion clothing
Mazda won’t sell a Mazda2 in the U.S. (not yet, at least), but they will let Toyota offer a sedan version with a Scion front face and interior, and a Scion iA badge. But otherwise, it’s all Mazda2, from the powertrain to chassis to sweeping profile lines. Toyota and Scion have a track record for this kind of product sharing—the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S sports cars as the most recent example. Earlier sharing by Toyota brought us the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe pair.
What’s extra-significant about the entry-level iA is that it represents the brand’s first sedan in its 12-year history in the U.S. market—an almost grown-up concept for a youthful demographic that skews heavily to sporty coupes and cheap hatchbacks.
The iA gives Scion a low-priced model, replacing the xD hatchback in lineup; but thanks to its Mazda lineage, this is as sporty of a sedan as you’ll find in the segment.
The front-wheel-drive iA comes with one engine, Mazda’s SkyActiv 1.5-liter, 106-hp, 103-lb-ft inline-4-cylinder, and two 6-speed transmissions, one manual and one automatic. That’s not much power, but the car is fairly lightweight so the overall power-to-weight ratio is good. The result is great fuel economy: 31 mpg city/41 highway/35 combined (manual), 33/42/37 (automatic). Mazda/Scion skimps some in the back end of the chassis, using torsion beam and rear drums brakes, but thanks to the car’s lightness and good MacPherson struts and disc brakes up front, most buyers won’t notice the lesser hardware. The car actually handles quite well, which is not surprising given its Mazda roots.
The iA checks in with a surprising level of standard equipment, priced at $16,495 (manual), $17,595 (automatic), including $795 freight and handling.