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2016 Scion iA and iM Preview by Carey Russ +VIDEO

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2016 Scion iM and iA

Newest models from Toyota...can't go wrong with a Mazda!


     • SEE ALSO: Scion Buyers Guide

Big changes are happening at Scion. Since its debut in California a dozen years ago as Toyota's youth-oriented entry-level division, Scion has become nationwide, and has also moved into Canada. The original xA hatchback and xB hatch-box are long gone. The subcompact iQ is history, and the second-generation xB is soon to join it.

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2016 Scion iA

If that sounds like trouble, not at all. The second-generation tC continues for people who want a stylish, efficient, and reasonably-priced front-wheel drive sports coupe, with the FR-S above it for those who want more go and rear-wheel drive. They are about to be joined by a new small sedan, the iA, and a five-door hatchback, the iM.

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2016 Scion iM

The new Scions are not replacements for previous models as much as they are a broadening of Scion's offerings. The iM is a more conventional-looking hatch than either generation of the xB, and, as it's a sedan, the iA isn't really a "replacement" for the iQ or xD or xA micro-hatches.

One thing not changing is the way Scions are sold. All are "mono-spec", meaning one trim level, choices limited to colors, transmission, either manual or automatic, and dealer-installed accessories. No-haggle, no-hassle pricing is still the Scion way.

The newest Scions make their public debut on September 1, 2015. To learn about them, and drive pre-production examples, I recently attended the press introduction in San Francisco, CA. As is typical for such programs, an early-morning briefing was followed by a day of driving, in this case on highways and back roads south down the Peninsula to Santa Cruz, and then back up Highway 1.

iM: The face is familiar… rather like a Toyota Corolla. Which is what it is sold as in Australia and New Zealand. In Europe, it's the Toyota Auris. At 170.5 inches in length on a 102.4-inch wheelbase, the Takaoka, Japan-built iM is smaller than both the (American-spec) Corolla sedan and the Scion tC. Surprisingly, it has the same wheelbase as the outgoing xB, and is a couple of inches longer. It's about eight inches lower, and that makes it look smaller. Power is from a 1.8-liter twincam four-cylinder engine, which uses Valvematic variable valve lift and cam-phasing technology to produce 137 horsepower (@ 6100 rpm) and126 lb-ft of torque (@ 4000 rpm). That gets to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual gearbox or optional electronically-controlled CVT with seven simulated speeds in manual mode. Suspension is fully-independent, with MacPherson struts in front and double wishbones in the rear. Brakes are four-wheel discs.

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2016 Scion iM

As a five-door (four doors plus hatch) hatchback, the iM is designed for maximum versatility and usefulness. Which is appropriate, as buyers are expected to be young, or at least young in heart (and wallet). MSRP with stick is $18,460. With the CVT, $19,200. Add a $795 delivery charge, and more for any extras -- it's still going to be reasonable. And it's well-equipped, with heated power folding outside mirrors with LED turn signal indicators, LED running lights and taillamps, auto-off headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, a sporty-looking aero kit, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-trimmed steering wheel adjustable for both tilt and reach, cruise control, a backup camera, a 60/40 folding rear seatback, and a height-adjustable driver's seat. A six-speaker Pioneer audio system is standard, with USB and iPod connectivity. There are streaming audio apps (via Bluetooth phone) but no CD player or satellite radio.

iA: Haven't I seen that shoulder line before? Why yes… it looks rather like a Mazda with a different grille. Only because that's what it is. Joint ventures are nothing new in the auto industry, or at Scion. See the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ for details. Behind the Scion iA's grille is a new Mazda2 sedan, and since Mazda is not bringing that car into the US market, this is the only way to get it. Benefits go both ways, with Toyota/Scion not needing massive development costs and being exposed to Mazda engineering in both engine and chassis, and Mazda selling cars that it otherwise would not sell in this market. One important result is price: at $15,700 with a six-speed manual or $16,800 with a six-speed automatic (plus $795 delivery), it's inexpensive.

But not cheap, in the pejorative sense. Extensive use of high-strength steel in the unibody structure means a rigid platform for the MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension, which features properly-matched spring and damper rates for a supple, comfortable ride and very good handling. Power is from a 1.5-liter twincam four-cylinder engine, not unusual in the entry-subcompact class. Look deeper -- it uses direct fuel injection and features a high 12:1 compression ratio for efficient power on a minimal amount of unleaded regular gasoline. Specs are 106 hp at 6000 rpm and 103 lb-ft at 4000 rpm. Which may not sound all that great, but there is only around 2400 pounds of iA for it to move. All 2016 Scion iA will be built in in Mazda's Mexican facility.

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2016 Scion iA

Like the iM, the iA comes equipped at a level much higher than expected. 16-inch alloy wheels, piano black bumpers and chrome trim, remote keyless entry and pushbutton start/stop, air conditioning, a backup camera, full instrumentation, cruise control, a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, sport bucket front seats, driver's cushion height-adjustable, a 60/40 folding rear seatback, 7-inch display audio screen and six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, Aha, Pandora, and Stitcher apps and USB and jack input are all standard. As is a low-speed pre-collision safety system and all of the expected airbags safety belts, LATCH anchors, tire-pressure monitoring system and even a first-aid kit.

Briefing over, conveniently after the worst of morning traffic, it was time to drive. The route was south on the 280 freeway to Highway 35, then left at the top of the hill and south on Skyline Blvd to a driver change at Skylonda. I was the navigator, in an iA with stick. Having done that route innumerable times over many years in cars and on motorcycles, getting lost was not going to happen. And I had an excellent chance to critique ride quality and the interior experience. Interior appointment is far from the bottom-feeder basic that is too common in the low-budget class. With soft-touch materials, stitching, faux carbon fiber trim and the screen protruding from the top of the dash, controlled by a knob on the center console, it looks -- and feels -- more German at twice the price than Japanese-brand low-budget. I did notice that the driver was careful when passing, as massive horsepower was not present.

From the driver's seat, I like! Moderate control effort, good shifting, yeah, not a lot of power but you know the old saying -- it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than it is to drive a fast car slow. And healthier for your driving record and bank account. Good steering, brakes (even with rear drums), and suspension, as expected from Mazda. 35 south to 9, down 9 to Felton, all lovely twisty mountain roads with indifferently-maintained pavement. Didn't bother the iA at all. Then over to 17 and into Santa Cruz traffic to lunch. The iA was going to be hard to beat. I did notice the fuel consumption -- 32 mpg for this trip. Not bad at all as we were not trying for maximum mileage and much was done in 3rd through 5th gear.

iM: There was one example with the TRD suspension kit. We got out early and there it was. Opportunity knocks, so answer. Lowered suspension, stiffer springs and shocks and stabilizer bars. Just the thing for for weekend fun in the autocross parking lot. Route back was even simpler than down, north on 1 to 280 to downtown San Francisco. With a time out for road construction just north of Santa Cruz and a driver swap further up the road. Again, interior design and appoint far above what is expected in the class and not a hint of cheap plastics. Toyota sure learned that lesson…

If you're a performance fanatic, you'll love the TRD suspension. If you live where "deferred maintenance" is the order of the day for the highway department, maybe not. The iM is noticeably quicker than the iA, no surprise, and has all the myriad advantages of a four-door hatchback. Since it's likely to be its owner's only car, perfect. I spent that part of my life with a hand-me-down VW Bug, two doors and no hatch. Kids these days don't know how good they have it (he says in a properly geezerly voice)… The iM is a fun car to drive, has a good amount of useful interior space for its small size, and we got around 26 mpg on the trip back, 4th and 5th gear mostly except for a bit of freeway. Results should be better, especially with a properly broken-in engine. The Bug? 20 city, 30 highway, and 0-60 in, um, what's the hurry? No nostalgia here, thank you very much. If its lower height, compared to the xB, means technically less interior space, when was the last time you filled the back of a hatchback or even SUV all the way to the top? The small hatch class has plenty of competition, but I expect the Scion iM to make a mark there.