Will Scion iA, iM Be The Hits Toyota Needs?

July 2, 2015

Scion needs a sales hit, and it needs it quickly.

Launched 12 years ago, Toyota's youth-oriented division found initial success with the offbeat personality of its boxy xB hatchback and the Scion tC coupe's sporty style. Other models fared less well with Scion's target market. The conventionally styled xA and xD hatchbacks never really caught on, nor did the iQ microcar, and all have been dropped from the lineup.

Then there's the FR-S sports car, developed alongside the nearly identical Subaru BRZ, which has seen a steady drop in sales following an initial frenzy when it hit dealerships in 2012.

Things had gotten so bad by 2013, long after the brand's sales apex in 2006, that Toyota told its dealers they could walk away from Scion franchises without any penalty.

The struggling carmaker hopes to revive its fortunes by attracting a new generation of under-30s with a pair of all-new models for the U.S. market: the iA sedan and iM hatchback. They'll reach Scion showrooms on the same day—September 1—and, even more curiously, they'll share a marketing campaign.

MORE: Read our 2016 Scion iA and Scion iM reviews

Now, this approach might seem conventional if the iA and iM were closely related variants built on the same platform, but these cars weren't even developed by the same manufacturer. Beneath a halfhearted veneer of Scion badging and design cues, the iA is a Mazda 2. Think of the iM, meanwhile, as a reboot of the Toyota Matrix—under its fashionable hatchback bodywork lurks the mechanicals of a workaday Corolla.

The difference between the two cars was especially evident during back-to-back drives during a recent press event in Malibu.

On paper, the iA looks like the weaker performance entry. Its diminutive 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine produces a scant 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. And, indeed, no one would accuse of it being quick off the line with either of its transmissions: a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic with sport mode. But it weighs an equally scant 2,400 pounds, and the iA feels lively once underway.

Most buyers will choose the automatic transmission, which does a good job and delivers superior estimated EPA ratings of 33/42/37 mpg. Those who opt for the manual will, however, find a slick-shifting gearbox that's truly enjoyable to operate and still returns an estimated 31/41/35 mpg.

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