Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Test Drive: 2016 Scion iM 6MT

Image courtesy of Scion
What do I think of James Franco as an actor? Well, he is certainly eclectic. The man is not a terrible actor, as long as he applies himself to whatever role he is in. I think his off screen antics are what make people question his ability and talent as an actor. Nonetheless, his IMDB page still shows him getting plenty of work. About two weeks ago, while watching TV, a Scion ad for their new iA sedan and iM hatchback appeared and it stared none other than, James Franco. Normally, when an actor resorts to shooting these sorts of TV commercials, they are either at the end of the career and desperate to get work, or are just bored. It is hard to tell what the case is with Mr. Franco, but needless to say, it was this TV commercial that oddly piqued my interest in the Scion iM.



Fast forward about two weeks later, I found myself at my local Scion dealer, looking to test drive the six-speed manual equipped iM hatchback. Of the two new Scion vehicles, the iM had more power and, to me at least, looks better than the iA. From certainly angles, it actually looks pretty cool, and gives off the vibe that it could potentially be a pretty quick vehicle. The cool looking exterior did leave me wondering which Toyota the iM is built off of, since pretty much all of Toyota's current offerings are about as exciting as a pair of plain white socks. A brief wikipedia search led me to the Toyota Auris, which is essentially just a hatchback version of the Toyota Corolla that we do not get here in the US. In the brief description of the iM, the wikipedia article states that the Scion iM is essentially a five-door Auris hatchback with a body kit, lowered suspension, and some pretty neat looking 17 in wheels.. Those three changes are what make the iM look way better than any Corolla could ever dream of.

The interior of the car is good...surprisingly good. If the car came with leather seats, I probably could have been fooled into thinking this was a car for Scion's sister company, Lexus. In fact, there are certain touches in the iM, such as the leather stitched parts of the dash and the "not as flimsy" plastic, that make me believe this interior is actually superior to the last Lexus my brother and I drove, the IS250. Of course, this is truly one of those instances where seeing (and feeling) is believing, as my pictures of the interior probably do not do this car justice. I am also very glad Scion decided to go with an easier to learn, touchscreen infotainment system rather than Lexus' weird stationary mouse deal. While the infotainment system is not built in-house (it's actually a unit from Pioneer), it is far easier to use and navigate than pretty much any in-house programmed and designed touchscreen infotainment system I have ever used. Maybe this is what car manufacturers need to start doing: sourcing their infotainment systems to companies that build car audio systems for a living.

I do wish the iM drove as well as it looks. Just by looking at the car, it seemed like it had so much potential. It is not that the car drives horribly, but it is not all that exciting either. Simply put, if you want some cool looking A to B transportation, the iM does not disappoint. For an enthusiast like me though, it is lacking. The first thing that needs to be fixed is the engine. The 1.8 liter, dual overhead cam inline-four in the iM makes 137 horsepower and 126 lb./ft. of torque. For starters, Honda's 1.8 liter, single overhead cam inline-four makes more power and torque (143 horsepower/ 129 lb./ft.), which is sad because the Honda engine is actually older than the Toyota engine. Frankly, I would have been more than willing to sacrifice the fuel economy for Toyota to use the older 2ZZ-GE, 1.8 liter engine found in the now defunct Celica GT-S. Second, 137 horsepower lugging around nearly 3000 pounds of car is not good. As a result, acceleration is sluggish. During my test drive, I was silently cursing at the car to go faster. It is not Prius bad, but it is pretty close.

While I am glad this car comes with a six-speed manual, it is not actually a very good manual. The throws are long, the gates feel vague, the clutch pedal is ridiculously light, and clutch engagement feels very vague as well. If there is one positive thing I can say about the transmission, it is that once you do get the lever into the gate, it does provide a good "thunk," and does not feel plasticky like some of the other manual transmissions I have had the displeasure of experiencing. It does make me wonder if the transmission was built in-house, or if it was sourced out to Aisin (which Toyota apparently owns a large share of). Seeing as how the excellent transmission in the FR-S/BRZ twins was built by Aisin, it leads me to believe that the one in the iM was not built by Aisin. My last gripe with the transmission has less to do with the transmission itself, but more with pedal placement. The brake and gas pedals are placed further apart than I expected, making it difficult to heel-toe downshift. This problem, combined with the shifter's long throws means I was "granny" shifting when I needed to downshift.

Steering, handling, and braking can be considered the brighter points of the driving experience in the iM. The steering has a nice weight to it, but like a large majority of cars with electric steering these days, offers pretty much zero feedback through the steering wheel. The brakes in this car certainly are not bad. They do a good job of bringing the near 3000 pound hatchback to a halt fairly reasonably, with a firm and progressive feeling pedal. Handling seems to be this car's brightest point, being one of the few bargain cars on the market today that still has a double wishbone suspension set up (though just for the rear apparently). Even though the car is lowered from the factory, Scion managed to strike a good balance between comfort and handling. At no point did the car exhibit any excessive body roll, nor did I feel nervous or uneasy attempting to take a corner quicker than the average person. I have to admit that the car's sluggish acceleration probably had something to do with the ease of handling. Some better tires would definitely make this car handle even better, but MPGs are more important than G-Forces for most manufacturers these days. Driving the car over some of the more uneven and pothole filled roads near the dealer, I was very surprised at how well the car soaked up the bumps and rattles normally associated with driving on terrible roads.

My expectations going into this test drive we not exactly high, but I can say that the iM did exceed my expectations. Scion's new "no frills" pricing structure also makes this car quite the bargain. At around $19k (for the manual equipped car), you get a vehicle that has quite a few bells and whistles that all come standard on the vehicle, such as the touchscreen infotainment system, and automatic dual zone climate control. There are no additional trim levels, and the only two options available are choice of transmission (the other transmission is a CVT), and navigation. Basically, what is listed on the window sticker is what you get, and that certainly is not a bad thing. If a comfortable, A to B cruiser with great handling potential is what you are looking for, this could very well be your next car. For me, the engine and transmission alone make this car a "no buy" situation. It is a darn shame because I do like the way the car looks and handles. Maybe if a TRD version comes out in the future, I may go look at it again...or if I got really bored I could find a used one a drop a Honda K20 engine into it.

Oh, and by the time most of you read this, Scion will have put out a new iM commercial featuring Jaleel White driving around with a wax Steve Urkel (Jaleel's character from the 90s sitcom Family Matters) in the passenger seat. It is quite amusing, though a bit creepy too since the wax figure looks a bit unsettling.

*A special thanks to DCH Toyota in Torrance for allowing me to spend time with their bright green Scion iM!