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2016 Scion iM: About as fun to drive as a Corolla We hit the road in Scion's new 5-door import to find if it has the performance to back up its sporty look.

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2016 Scion iM

2016 Scion iM

MSRP

The Good

The Bad

The Bottom Line

The Euro-market Toyota Auris reaches the States behind a Scion badge with the debut of the 2016 Scion iM five-door hatchback.

We got our first glimpses of Toyota/Scion's plans for the iM when it bowed in conceptual form just a few months ago at the 2014 Los Angeles auto show. The hatchback's style was toned down a bit for the production debut at the 2015 New York auto show and tweaked a bit for the North American market. A normal automaker would take this opportunity to bring the styling in line with the rest of the brand, but Scion's models all look so different from one another that there's no real shared design language.

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This example is equipped with a set of TRD lowering springs and antisway bars. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The 2016 iM will be offered with Toyota's 1.8-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine under its hood which outputs 137 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque. That's the same engine that you'll find under the hood of the Toyota Corolla -- an older mill that still uses port injection. An interesting surprise is that the hatchback will feature a continuously variable transmission (CVTi-S) with seven-step shifting and a Sport mode. That Sport mode will adjust the behavior of the transmission and makes use of Scion's G AI-Shift technology -- shorthand for software that factors in lateral G-forces to keep the CVTi-S from unnecessarily shifting midcorner, which should help maintain torque for exit. Sport mode also tweaks the feel of the electric power steering and adds a bit of pop to the throttle response.

With the CVTi-S, the iM should be good for an estimated 28 city mpg, 37 highway, and 32 combined. For those who'd rather row their own ratios, Scion is offering an optional six-speed manual gearbox with hill start assist. With the manual, the estimated economy dips to 27 city, 36 highway, and 31 combined mpg.

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The 1.8-liter engine isn't very powerful, but it is smooth and quiet. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Recently, I found myself behind the wheel of a 2016 iM that had been outfitted with an array of Toyota Racing Development upgrade bits. Bolt-on upgrades included a set of lowering springs, a beefier antiroll bar, a TRD oil cap, and a "TRD intake." I use quotes there because, when lifting the hood, I was disappointed to learn that the "TRD intake" is basically an air filter upgrade that made use of the stock airbox. All iM models feature a sport body kit and front fascia to further differentiate from the European model.

I wasn't expecting any miracles of driving dynamics from what is essentially the second coming of the Toyota Matrix, but the iM is based on the tC's platform, which means that it's got good bones. The five-door rides on a four-wheel independent suspension with double wishbone rear setup with tuning that is unique to the North American market. Its standard 17-inch alloy wheels are shod with 225-width tires -- which means that the iM is potentially rolling on a fatter contact patch than the Scion FR-S.

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The iM diverges from its European roots with unique 17-inch wheels and a US-specific suspension setup. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

On the road, the iM proved to be a competent little hatchback but not necessarily a fun one. It's about as fun to drive as a Toyota Corolla and that's OK, I guess. The ride was nice and controlled, even with the stiffer TRD suspension bits in place, without much noticeable harshness, floatiness, or road noise. The 1.8-liter engine provided adequate power, smooth acceleration, and hummed along happily and nearly inaudibly at 65mph. At the end of my short time behind the wheel, the trip computer stated 28 mpg; not bad at all. The iM feels like a solid car.

But at no point did it feel as fun as Scion had stressed it would be. For example, my iM was equipped with the six-speed manual gearbox. Manuals are usually more fun, but the iM's really wasn't. The available ratios favor efficiency over acceleration (which isn't a bad thing). The shifter's gates could also use some improved definition. On more than one occasion, I found myself slotting into fifth when reaching for third gear. And the shifter's throw was a lot longer than I'd like. I'm 5-foot-9, and reaching fifth gear required a full arm extension. Such a long throw just feels sort of truckish.

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Manual transmission are usually more fun, but the iM's shifter added nothing to the experience. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The iM doesn't really back up its sporty hatchback image with enough performance chops to benefit from the increased engagement of rowing your own ratios. It's handling and acceleration capabilities seems to favor a more laid-back driving style, which is why I suspect that the CVTi-S -- which is more efficient and won't give you tennis elbow -- is probably the better of the two gearboxes. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to confirm this suspicion with wheel time.

A shorter throw shifter and a swap to the Scion tC's more potent 179 horsepower, 2.5-liter would work wonders for improving the iM's performance cred. Make that happen, Scion.

On the road with Scion's 2016 iA and iM (photos)

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According to Scion, the iM borrows a few tricks from the Lexus bag to keep the cabin quiet and to give the standard 7-inch Pioneer Display Audio system a good stage upon which to do its thing. Standard audio sources include HD Radio, Aha Internet radio streaming, USB, and Bluetooth all fed through a six-speaker audio system. Audio quality was about as OK as the driving dynamics, but I did notice that the cabin was quite quiet when cruising.

My example was equipped with Scion's optional BeSpoke navigation upgrade, which can also be found on the options list of the Scion FR-S and tC models. I'm not a huge fan of this system with its confusing organization and chunky graphics. For my money, I'd skip this option and install an aftermarket receiver. Aftermarket is also the only way you'll get Android Auto or Apple CarPlay; Scion has stated no plans to include these desirable technologies in the near future.

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The BeSpoke navigation upgrade is a questionable one. You could do better with an aftermarket setup. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Standard driver-aid tech is limited to a standard rear camera with no other options available. Take a gander at the dashboard and you may notice that the iM will also be the first Scion model to feature a color 4.2-inch TFT info display in the instrument cluster.

The 2016 Scion iM will reach Scion dealerships on September 1 alongside the new 2016 Scion iA sedan. With the manual transmission, it'll cost $18,460 before adding a $795 destination charge. When equipped with the CVTi-S, the price rises to $19,200 before destination.

Obviously, Scion's going to offer a laundry list of a la carte styling, sound and TRD performance add-ons, and and dealer-installed upgrades to make each iM individual, including a range of pet-friendly accessories.