When I placed my special-order for one of the very first 2005 Scion xB’s delivered to the Midwest back in 2004, I was exactly the kind of buyer that Toyota was hoping would jump into their Scion brand. Launched a year prior with availability only in California, I first laid eyes on the iconic “box” on a trip to Las Vegas in the Fall of 2003 and was immediately enamored by the vehicle. My wife allowed me to indulge my ongoing KNIGHT RIDER fixation by ordering an xB in Black Sand Pearl, complete with all the red adornments that we could afford – from red racing pedals to red LED light bars under the dash and seats. There would be LED cupholders, along with multi-color LED cycling on the in-dash Pioneer stereo head – one that would power the custom Bazooka Tube in the trunk. 11 years and 160K miles later, that little xB is in a lot of ways like my R2-D2 – sure, there’s better options out there, newer models available, and mine is essentially battered, beaten and somewhat broken in some places – but we’ve had a lot of adventures together, and I’m not ready to part with it just yet… though it’s days are extremely numbered. Being a longtime Scion fan that was there in the beginning, I’ve always had my eye on their latest offerings every year at the Chicago Auto Show (and the special vehicles that they create for the SEMA Show), so it was exciting to be invited to join the Scion Team in Grand Rapids, Michigan to get up to speed on where the brand is at age 12, and to go hands-on with pre-production prototypes for the Scion iM and iA – both of which will go on-sale beginning September 1, 2015.
2016 Scion iM: 5-Door entry into the “Fun Hatch” Segment
First impressions still carry a lot of weight, and seeing the iM and iA sitting side-by-side inside the J.W. Marriott in Grand Rapids, it was the iM that caught my eye right off the bat. The interior just looks modern and right, and the exterior styling is pointy and sharp without being overly flashy A re-worked version of what’s sold as the Toyota Auris overseas, the appeal will likely be for many why I bought my original xB. This hatchback is small and zippy, but there’s room to haul a decent amount of stuff – whether you’ve got musical gear or groceries, or you want to pack for a weekend getaway.
The 1.8-liter engine brings 137 horsepower with buyers having their choice of a 6-speed stick shift or advanced CVTi-S with 7-step shifting. MPG is rated by the EPA an estimated 28 city/37 hwy/32 combined for the CVTi-S model and 27 city/36 hwy/31 combined for the six-speed manual.
One of the things I really love about the Scion brand is their Scion AV lifestyle offshoot, which has a Scion AV Metal component. They’ve worked with bands like SLAYER and have launched tracks from heavy bands like MESHUGGAH. A lot of readers don’t know this, but I co-manage the band PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album, BURIED IN VIOLENCE will soon be released by NAPALM Records and distributed by ADA/Warner in the U.S., with Universal Music Group handling Europe. So what better way to test the 6-speaker Pioneer Audio System than with some fresh mixes?
Overall, the Scion iM is fun to drive, feels good, and is one I wouldn’t really mind as a daily driver here at Rock Father HQ – even though I’ve moved beyond its target market at this point. I’m sure the car seats would be a bit cramped in the back, though.
MSRP: $18,460 for manual transmission and $19,200 for CVTi-S
2016 Scion iA: The Brand’s First-Ever 4-door Sedan
This one is interesting in that it’s infused with “Mazda DNA,” the result of a partnership I wasn’t aware of (announced this past Spring), but immediately figured out based on an interior feature that I didn’t like when I drove the 2015 Mazda3 back in February – the Infotainment screen. What looks like a cheap tablet that’s been awkwardly propped-up on the dash to me (I feel the same about a similar feature in the Mercedes-Benz C-Class) is a feature that most people seem to absolutely love, so it’s starting to gain traction. That gripe aside, the first-ever 4-door sedan to carry the Scion badge is essentially the Mazda2 (not for sale in the U.S.) with a polarizing (I dig it) Scion-designed front-end.
The 1.5-liter engine brings 106 horsepower with buyers having their choice of a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. MPG is rated by the EPA as an estimated 33 city/ 42 highway/ 37 combined MPG for the automatic version and 31 city/ 41 highway/ 35 combined for the manual. There’s push-button start, low-speed pre-collision warning system (which we were jokingly asked not to test), alloy wheels and voice recognition.
While in the “entry-level” category, the Scion iA feels more expensive than it is, with its comfortable interior and solid handling. It could easily be the go-to car for young families (the “Millennial” tag gets thrown around with this one) or those in urban locales where space is a commodity.
Driving this one from Holland, Michigan to Grand Rapids, I had a chance to zip along some country roads and maneuver some city streets with ease. Still, it feels a little… average, for my tastes.
MSRP : $15,700 for manual transmission and $16,800 for 6-speed automatic
Final Thoughts: Talking to other writers on-hand, as well as reps from Toyota, it became clear that my overall opinion placed me firmly in a minority that prefers to iM to the iA – but it really comes down to personal taste for what are both pretty great little cars. The first time in ages that Scion has launched a pair of vehicles at once, these two will be featured together in advertising throughout the Fall, and perhaps into 2016, so prospective buyers will know that there’s two distinct new flavors of Scion on the road.
The appeal of buying a Scion – the same things that really grabbed me back in 2004 – is still there and better-than-ever, with vehicles that are “mono-spec” and pretty feature-loaded at “Pure Price” (the price you see is the price you pay) at base, but still completely customizable with options from within Scion/Toyota and far, far beyond. And now, with Pure Price Plus (which is being fine-tuned), you can not only build your car, but apply for financing and place the order right from home – without ever stepping foot into a dealership (where allowed – some States have laws that get in the way).
Scion has the total package – pairing desirable, affordable vehicles with a great buying experience that cuts out the typical dealer B.S.
I was a fan back at launch, and I’m still a fan now.