NewsLocal News / March 11, 2016

Scion Saves The Best For Last

Scion Saves The Best For Last

Toyota recently announced its Scion brand will be discontinued with cars being merged back into parent showrooms.  It's an important point -- the cars were not the problem.  From the xB "box" to FR-S sports car, Scions have been excellent value-packed cars for people who want something different.  Two new cars, iA and iM, prove Scion saved the best for last.

iA:  A Mazda By Any Other Name

If when you get past the gaping grille, the car looks like a smaller Mazda3, your eyes do not deceive you.  The iA is built for Scion by Mazda in Mexico -- essentially a Mazda2.  That's a very good thing.

You might also recognize the iA's interior because the dash is shared with the Mazda CX-3 crossover.  The top is hard plastic, and can squeak in cold weather, but the lower portion is padded leatherette with blue stitching.  Seats feel and look sporty, shod in shiny blue-and-black cloth.  Infotainment is controlled via console joywheel and dash screen.  Bluetooth calling/audio, USBs, and push button starting are included.

Look close to see details like the carbon fiber effect on the sides of the air vents, piano black finish, and knurled aluminum turns.  There's a slick carbon look on the doors and console sides too.  The streamlined instrument pod top covers a large center speedometer, with geographic blue pattern backing, flanked by LCD screens for trip and fuel info.  Add leather to the steering wheel and it all could have come from Audi.

You can get one engine in the iA - a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that delivers 106 horsepower and 33/42-MPG city/hwy.  Base models come with a manual transmission, but a six-speed automatic with sport mode is available.  I'd choose either, but revving out the little engine with a manual would be better than lettting Sport mode scream.

The engine doesn't produce much power, but in a car this size, it doesn't have to.  And, Mazda knows how to tune a chassis and steering for drivers.  Speed sensitive steering has good on-center feel -- better than many much more expensive models.  It also turns on a dime with 16-inch alloys; and despite a torsion beam rear suspension, can be tossed through corners.  Like Mazdas past, it is a perfectly good commuter car that rewards drivers with a little fun along the way.

I suspect the iA won't be re-badged as a Toyota.  What's the point with the Yaris already in showrooms?  I just hope Mazda (or Toyota) keeps offering the iA.  You'd be hard-pressed to buy a more stylish and better-driving car for the money.  A base price of $16,495 -- $17,595 as tested - proves inexpensive does not have to mean cheap.

iM:  Future Toyota Matrix

The Toyota Matrix five-door mini-crossover was essentially a Corolla wagon.  And, that's the sense, and in-fact reality, one gets with the Scion iM.  It's based on the European Corolla.  This kind of car is sadly missed in the Toyota line-up and one that will be welcomed again.

It's an aggressive-looking five-door with a pointed nose, hawk-eye headlamps, accentuated ground affects, sporty 17-inch alloys, and chiseled-in LED taillamps.  It's a practical car, made cool enough for a 20-something embrace.  I would have gone bats over it when in high school and college.

Much of the interior theme is shared with Corolla, but decidedly more upscale and refined.  It feels better crafted.  Dash and door panels are padded, there's elegant stitched contrasting color material on the dash bottom edge, and the center console is stitched and padded on the driver's side.  A wide dash expanse reminds me of another time.

But, it's chocked with a Pioneer audio system, dual-zone auto climate control, and back-up camera.  Firm cloth seats comfortably hug your sides.  Connect your iThings with USBs and Bluetooth.  Pull down on the notched gear selector, grip the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel, and go!  It's going to be a nice ride.

For iM duty, Toyota's 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine puts out 137 horsepower through a continuously-variable automatic transmission.  The transmission is usually pretty smooth, delievering the right power and the right time, but kick the throttle and you'll swear you woke an angry steel tornado.  On the plus side, it helps deliver 28/37-MPG city/hwy.  I'd prefer a manual or six-speed automatic to work with the agile four-wheel independent suspension and quick steering for a fun weekend crop dusting.  Rough pavement barely bothers it.

Like the smaller iA, Scion's iM is a lot of car for the money.  It's stylish, innately practical, comfortable, and surprisingly fun to drive -- whether you're 16 or 60.  Sounds just like the Matrix.  A base price of $19,995 -- $20,334 as-tested -- is a really good deal too.  Competitors include the Ford Focus 5-Door and upcoming hatchback versions of the Chevy Cruze and Honda Civic.

Storm Forward!

Watch Casey's video review of the Scion iA; follow him on YouTube and Twitter:  @AutoCasey.

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