Maybe because I test drive so many trucks and crossovers these days, but a week behind the wheel of a sporty hatchback is refreshing. It reminds you that driving, at its simplest levels, can be fun.
Scion, the low-cost arm of Toyota, has figured this out. Let’s hope others follow suit.
This week’s automotive refreshment was Scion’s iM, a four-door hatch built on the European Auris platform, similar to a Corolla. Old timers, like me, may think of this as a new Celica, but it’s actually more sound and entertaining to drive.
First, the iM, which is a step up and completely different from the recently tested iA sedan, only comes in one trim, base. It starts at $18,460 with a $795 delivery fee. That gives you front-drive, a fairly peppy 137-horse 1.8-liter I4 with CVVT (Continuously Variable Valve Timing), and a slick shifting manual 6-speed. Torque is 126 ft.-lbs. and gas mileage is EPA rated at 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. I got 30.9 mpg in about 60% city driving.
I know you’re thinking all that sounds less than supercar exciting, and you’re right. But for less than $20 grand this is sporty and practical, not your dad’s Corolla! Get it?
First, I like the lines, especially the iM’s nose. Another car critic said the look is 1990s sporty, but consider that some magazine car critics still think the current Volkswagen Golf looks modern and trendy. Sporty is in the eye of the beholder to be sure, but the sharp nose here and LED running lights give iM pizazz.
And 137 horsepower is what Camrys used to have, so putting that into a 2,943-lb. car, along with a smooth-shifting 6-speed manual gearbox allows you to chirp the tires on occasion. It certainly gives you some zip away from stoplights. Shift throws are long and the clutch pedal has a lot of travel too, but gear engagement is slick and easy.
Handling is responsive and with the car’s light weight, it’s easy to throw into turns and clip off their apexes, if that’s what foams your latte. Mainly it’s fun to maneuver in traffic as you have the upper hand on maneuverability compared to all those trucks and crossovers.
Ride is good too. My general rule of thumb is to aim for vehicles with wheelbases of at least 106 inches if you want a well cushioned ride. But the iM’s 102.4-inch wheelbase, plus MacPherson struts up front and double-wishbone system in back mellow out most roads sufficiently. This rides on 17-inch tires too and grip was excellent on wet streets.
Like nearly all cars the iM has stability and traction control, plus Hill Start Assist that keeps the car from rolling backward on an incline as you depress the clutch and shift into first gear. Excellent!
The package is completed by a quiet interior that is comfortable and attractive. Most cars of this price point pass more than a fair amount of road noise on to their occupants, but the iM’s sound deadening gives the car a completeness not all entry-level cars possess.
This silver hatchback had a charcoal gray dash with black cloth inserts in the doors to match the seats. These are well shaped for support and include a speckle pattern and gray stitching to create a youthful look. Target audience here is 20-something first-time buyers.
A black piano gloss finish trims the center stack and there’s a slim white leather-look trim strip below the dash and leather wrap on the tilt/telescope steering wheel. There also are radio, phone and trip computer buttons on the hub along with a cruise control stalk to the right.
Dash gauges are simple and easy to read and while I liked the iA’s radio and climate controls better, these are fine. Aimed at younger buyers, this model uses a small touchscreen with equally small channel selection buttons on screen. But the Pioneer system with 6 speakers sounds fine and was easy to operate.
The iM does include dual climate controls, a rarity at this price, plus a rearview camera.
Seats are well contoured and easy to adjust, with a pump handle for the driver’s seat’s height adjustment. All seats are manually adjusted. The rear seats split and fold flat easily and there’s a lot of cargo room under the hatch even before those seats are folded.
Other than the tiny radio buttons, my only complaint is large A pillars, which are becoming the norm in most cars, trucks and crossovers. Those make ¾-side views a bit iffy at intersections.
The test car added carpeted floor and cargo mats ($185), wheel locks ($65) and rubber rear bumper protector ($89) to put the test car at $19,594, a high value figure for the sound sporty hatchback Scion delivers.
You can upgrade the base iM just a bit. It’s also available with an automatic transmission, which lists for $19,995. The tranny is a CVT, but like the iA sedan I recently tested, it comes with a Sport mode toggle to give it more low-end power to help acceleration.
Other cars to consider in this category include the Mazda3, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra or even the boxy Golf. But drive and price this first and you may not have to shop around much.
STATS: 2016 Scion iM
Misses: Big A pillars and tiny touchscreen radio buttons.
Made in: Tsutsumi, Japan
Engine: 1.8-liter, I4, 137 hp
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 2,943 lbs.
Length: 170.5 in.
Wheelbase: 102.4 in.
Cargo: 20.8 cu.ft.
MPG: 27/36 (EPA)
MPG: 30.9 (tested)
Base Price: $18,460
Dealer’s Price: $18,332 (includes delivery)
Carpeted floor mats/cargo mat, $185
Wheel locks, $65
Rear bumper protector, $89
Test vehicle: $19,594
Sources: Scion, www.autos.yahoo.com
Photos: Mark Savage