First Drive: 2016 Scion iM

Remember the Toyota Matrix? After a healthy, 10 year run, the popular compact hatchback went out of production, and there’s been a missing tooth in Toyota’s big smile ever since. During these last two years since the Matrix drove off into the sunset, Scion has been quietly working on the iM, and we recently had the opportunity to drive one to see if it filled the gap.

With a shape resembling the Matrix, the iM offers everything a hatchback should, and then some. We’ve never seen (and likely never will), controls for power folding mirrors in a <$20k compact; it’s unheard of.

Why? Because the iM is built upon a European Toyota; a good thing for the American market. The suspension and steering were finely tuned for Euro driving dynamics, which became readily obvious in our first 30 seconds behind the wheel.

A six-speed manual or CVT are both available, the former being our preference for more spirited driving, the latter a traditional choice for easier commuting and optimal fuel economy.

Under the hood is a 1.8L four-cylinder producing 137 horsepower; the ideal pairing given iM’s 3,000-lb weight.

The EPA estimates 28 city/37 hwy/32 combined for the CVTi-S model and the manual comes in at just 1 mpg less in each of the three scenarios.

Peppy acceleration, complemented by reassuring brakes, made it evident that calibration engineers worked hard to create a more refined driving experience: a recurring theme found throughout iM. The iM feels polished.

We loved the well-bolstered seats for nimble handling, and the peace and quiet created by intelligent use of sound-deadening materials, resulting in less road and wind noise.

Glossy black interior surfaces, a padded dashboard, a creative blend of materials, and ergonomically located soft touchpoints create the feeling of being in a far more expensive vehicle.

And there’s storage space everywhere.

The back seat is roomy with space for a six-foot passenger to sit behind a six-foot driver. The boxy cargo area is as practical as it gets. The 60/40-split rear seat backs fold flat for additional carrying capacity.

Scion touts their mono-spec value proposition; we hope this intelligent approach become contagious. Mono-spec packaging means one trim level with essentially no options; it’s as simple as picking a color and transmission preference. If you like to customize, many accessories are available.

One trim level means that what you see in photos, is what you get: LED daytime running and tail lights, 17″ alloy wheels, 7″ Pioneer audio display, HD radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, backup camera, dual-zone auto climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and power-folding and heated mirrors.

Eight airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag, are there when needed. The only surprise was the unavailability of a collision warning or avoidance system, which is included on the smaller Scion iA. We expect the iM to earn high marks from the IIHS, as did the iA.

Priced at $19,255 for the manual transmission and $19,995 for the CVTi-S model, the iM is a perfectly priced package in the compact segment.

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