It seems like only a few years ago when Scion joined the automotive community and touted its edgy, inexpensive cars. They were geared toward active young buyers, then called Generation Y, and who had limited funds.
But it’s been 12 years since Scion debuted in the United States, and the brand produced by Toyota is still marketing its vehicles to active young buyers, now called millennials.
Scion says its cars are ideal for those constantly on the move and with less than $20,000 to spend on a new car.
Beginning with a national debut on September 1, Scion will focus on two new 2016 offerings.
The Scion iA is a sporty entry level sedan; the Scion iM is a five-door hatchback. Both models, available with manual and continuously variable transmissions, (CVT), were presented during a recent regional media launch in San Francisco.
With driving partner Chris Davies from Slashgear, I drove the manual transmission iA during the second half (about 40 miles) on an often winding, back road route to Santa Cruz. Likewise, on the second half of the coastal return trek to San Francisco, I drove the iM.
Scion is among only a few carmakers with an unusual approach. It offers its cars in one trim, “mono-spec.” The budget brand has also tried to find its niche market against a good share of well-heeled carmakers in the entry level market by offering a lengthy list of all-inclusive features.
Standard features on the iM include: power folding mirrors, cruise control, dual-zone automatic A/C, a Pioneer audio system with a 7-inch touch screen; a backup camera, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power windows and locks, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED taillights, and eight airbags. The price: for $18,460 with the six-speed manual, $19,200 with the CVT. The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder Scion iM has 137 horsepower and EPA gas mileage estimates of 27 in city driving, 36 mpg on the freeway and a combined 31 mpg.
The Scion iA is the rebadged Mazda2. It’s also a four-cylinder with 106 horsepower and gas mileage averages of 33 city, 42 highway and 37 combined. Among the lowest-priced vehicles in the sub-compact segment, the Scion iA price point, minus destination, is $15,700 for the six-speed manual and $16,800 for the six-speed automatic.
Like its sibling, the Scion iA has a substantial standard features list: 16-inch alloy wheels, turn-signal repeaters in the side mirrors, a low-speed forward-collision warning system, cruise control, air conditioning, keyless entry, push-button ignition, a backup camera, and Mazda’s 7-inch infotainment system screen.
The test routes for the new Scion models proved ideal. On the round-trip journey, my review companion and I had several similar opinions.
The iM is a more refined offering. The interior materials are a higher grade and the 31 more horsepower came in handy during ascents and while passing vehicles, particularly on the winding two-lane frontage roads.
As sub-compacts, the Scion iA and iM have substantial interior space for the segment. As 6-foot, 195-pound front seat passenger, I was comfortable and had plenty of headroom and legroom. As the driver, I had no blind-spot issues. But the manual shifting on both models could be smoother.
The navigation system works intuitively. The iA screen is permanently affixed as an extension on the upper dash. It looks like it should be retractable, but it’s not. The navigation system on the iM is mounted flush on the console and looks like it’s an aftermarket option. It’s not.
The ride quality of the new Scion models is surprisingly. Both newbies offer a steady, if periodically underpowered, feel with a hint of sportiness. The exterior is edgy with sharp angles and an array of standard and bright color options like spring green metallic and electric storm blue.
One area of concern is the oddly shaped front grille on the iA. It looks like a pouting fish.
The 2016 Scion iA and iM may not find a niche in a marketplace stuffed with respectable and mass-selling choices from most manufacturers. But if value, substantial standard features and respectable gas mileage averages are important, they’re worthy choices.
I’m not a millennial on the move, but I’d spent the additional $2,500 for the Scion iM to get wherever I’m going with a more pleasant experience.
Article Last Updated: September 8, 2021.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.