Is This Scion-ara?

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2016 Scion iM

This is not Scion-ara.

Nor is it good-bye. There is no wake, where the alcohol flows and readily as tears. This is not a funeral or memorial where memories are cast upon the congregated. Nor is this the last dance before it goes.

In truth, the Scion badge will go away come this August. The iM hatchback will remain inside North American showrooms. For 2017, Toyota announced that it will be integrated into the Corolla lineup, alongside the revised sedan models. No other details were given about how much of a transition will be made upon the Japanese-built hatchbacks.

It doesn't matter at this point about what the Scion iM will become when Toyota's logo is re-affixed upon their Auris/Levin hatch. What matters is how this semi-orphan has completely won me over months after its first wooing at the regional media drive in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The wait to bring one in for a week's experience was excruciating. If you recall, the last time I drove the iM was late July, in the warmth of Southwest Michigan where I was charmed by the iM. From Holland, I swung the CVT-equipped iM through some rural roads, through the campus of Grand Valley State University and along the Grand River west of downtown Grand Rapids to discover how much fun this compact hatchback truly was.

Why the wait? Not sure, but it was truly worth it. In fact, its timing was impeccable, as my friends at MNScion enjoyed a sunny Sunday for the club's first cruise and meet of 2016. Along with two of my admin friends, Justin and Miguel, we decided it was a way to celebrate the brand's final moments by bringing the iM along for the year's opener as a way of saying…ehem…Scion-ara.

2016 Scion iM

Again, this is not Scion-ara…or adios…or au revoir.

For those of you who never heard of the Scion iM, you are probably missing one of the most underrated cars sold in this country. To explain, the iM is a Corolla that is sold in various places around the world where hatchbacks are preferred over sedans. The Auris sells decently across Europe, where locally-made brands take precedence over anything else. It is up against some stuff competition over there – the Ford Focus, Opel/Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf and Kia C'eed comes to mind.

In North America, the Corolla is only sold in a sedan. Across the showroom is the Scion iM, where it has to contend with the likes of the Focus, Golf. Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra GT, Kia Forte hatch, and Subaru Impreza. Compact hatchbacks have been steadily rising in popularity, especially with urban dwellers and customers with active lifestyles. This is why Chevrolet has announced the arrival of the Cruze hatchback for 2017.

Yet, sales for the iM has not been keeping pace with the rest of the class. The reasons reflect the impetus for eliminating the Scion brand – badge identification, niche (or the lack of) marketing, no-haggle pricing and so forth. The numbers are simply too small for the iM to get the same attention as its more popular competitors.

It is a shame, really. This is really a good car.

2016 Scion iM

It is a good car, because it shares much of its more popular relative – the Corolla. You step inside, and the instrument panel looks very familiar. The steering wheel could be from the Corolla S. Underneath the hood shows the same engine from the LE Eco – the Valvematic 1.8 liter four-cylinder mill. In all, the iM is indeed a Corolla hatchback…right?

There are plenty of details that hide this precise fact. For one, the front clip is far from a Corolla than one would think. The body kit the iM employs is more aggressive than the Corolla S. The iM has three less horsepower than the Corolla LE Eco – 137 Horsepower vs. 140. The roofline and rear end shares no visible DNA from its sedan brother.

If we must continue to compare the Corolla sedan with its Scion-badged kin, then there are a few points to make on either side of the spectrum. In terms of rear seat room, the iM offers more headroom. Yet, it appears that the sedan offers more leg room. This was the part that won me over when this current generation of Corolla was introduced for 2014.

Secondly, I do wish that Toyota would have offered more for its Pioneer-driven audio system that what is offered currently.

On the flip side, the iM simply drives heaps better than the Corolla. Ride quality is superb and matches up with the Corolla S quite well. However, the iM simply handles much better. It takes corners without bowing, leaning or rolling. Granted the steering could be a bit more sharper and more responsive, I still enjoy having a sporty little number that induces maximum amount of fun.

2016 Scion iM

There is one feature that should be addressed – the Continuously Variable Transmission. As much as most enthusiasts simply cannot stand these transmissions, the one in the iM is pretty responsive and can work through the ratios without hanging up at the top of the rev range for long periods of time. There is an almost automatic transmission feel – something I could work with.

In terms of pricing, Scion offers the iM as a monospec model with the CVT at the no-haggle sticker price of $20,334. You can add on a few things: Navigation and some TRD bits, to be exact. Or, you can choose a manual transmission, for those who wish to row their own gears and play with the third pedal. No matter how you spec it out, you are guaranteed having the most fun in a Corolla since the early 1990s and the last coupe models.

All of this tells part of the story of the Scion iM. When you evaluate a vehicle, you are only looking at the facts, the nuts and bolts. Then, you react to it. But, what happens when you make a connection with it? What kind connection will you make that will last beyond the time you part with it? That kind of intangible that opens up the possibilities of this car.

What I love about the iM is the fact that it is seen as a canvas for an individualized experience. At last November's SEMA show, Scion brought out two customized iMs to show what is possible when you can create something cool out of this hatchback. If it were me, I can see the iM as a little amateur track novice runner. It would take a change in suspension parts, a swap of tires and wheels, a roll cage, rear seat delete and two Recaros up front. If I want to go completely bonkers, then perhaps I should do a full engine/transmission swap that would include a dual-clutch transmission that works well with a track-ready Toyota engine that would mount well in the iM.

2016 Scion iM

Yet, I actually like the iM at stock specification. But, I could do a bit more to it if I owned one. Perhaps I could do an infotainment system swap with a new double-DIN head unit, different summer or all-season tires than the current spec of Bridgestone Ecopias and an extra set of winter tires mounted on an additional set of stock alloy wheels would be the minimum I would do to an iM.

Once it becomes the 2017 Toyota Corolla iM, I do hope that they would add more spec and maybe 1-2 trim levels for extra measure. However, I actually like it as it is – save for the infotainment system. Minor details, I know…

As a car, I thoroughly enjoy the Scion iM. It is the kind of car that wants to play. Give it a stretch of country road, it will entertain you. Give it a series of curves, and it will show you how athletic it can be. Give it urban traffic, and it will relax you. These are traits most compact cars really do not exhibit well.

There was a moment during the drive with MNScion when I thought back at my first iM experience back in Southwestern Michigan. Maybe because some of the route we were on west of The Cities were almost similar to the one I took from Holland back to Grand Rapids. Yet, we did not go through a college campus or end up at one of the best hotels in town. Still, the same characteristics exhibited back in July of last year were indeed evident this time around.

You know, I always liked the underdog. Perhaps calling the Scion iM an underdog is a bit premature considering its future as of this September. However, this is one underdog – rather a contemporary compact hatchback – that I will indeed champion.

So, this is definitely not good-bye. It is story that will be continued. The badge may be supplanted, but the spirit will remain underneath its skin.

This is not Scion-ara.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor Sales USA

All photos by Randy Stern

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