2016 Scion iM Drives Off in an Uncertain Direction

Whether you loved them as affordable cars with attitudes or dismissed them gimmicky rides for kids, you could always spot a Scion. You had to respect a make that managed to establish a very identifiable styling language and branding attitude for cars that didn’t cost a fortune.

With Scion’s latest, the 2016 iM, the automaker built another perfectly good car for the money. But, there’s a sense that Scion lost its way somewhere along the line. That immediately identifiable “Scion-ness” is gone in favor of styling that looks like a cross between every other affordable hatchback on the road and some last minute attempt to make that hatchback look somehow different.

Of course, major automakers never do anything last minute. The wheels turn slowly, and cars get designed years out from their actual street dates. The decision to step away from the straight lines and sharp angles of Scion’s previous cars was deliberate and reasoned out by market analysis. We don’t see Scion’s sales figures from the outside, but there were no consistent reports of sever struggles out of Japan. Still, the executives calling the shots opted to go away from vehicles like the xB and to this new, less focused look.

Related: Scion Doubles up on iA and iM Debuts

Scion is one Toyota’s sister companies. Lexus handles the upscale and luxury buyers. Toyota sells to families and urban professionals. Scion aimed its cars at younger buyers first entering the new car marketplace. They’re sticking with that youth-centric plan with their marketing and pricing. But any similarities from the these new Scion cars and their suddenly extinct ancestors ends there.

Starting just under $20,000, the iM comes set with an 1.8 liter four cylinder engine capable of 137 horsepower. An automatic transmission is available for slight upgrade. But there aren’t significant differences in the model line. Scion still applies a “mono-spec” concept with its cars, limiting the number of options. The thinking there is young buyers decide they want a Scion and want to get in and out of the dealership with their purchase complete in under an hour. That way they can get back to their cellphones and their Facebooks and their hula-hoops and everything else kids worry about these days.

The other standard features include Electric Power Steering, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, ventilated front discs, Sport Mode Suspension, and MacPherson struts with stabilizer bar.

From the rear, the iM looks like many other hatchbacks on the market. It would fit in the Toyota line with no trouble at all. However, the front is very busy, finished off with two wide side vents. The end look comes off like a fancy facia stuck on a less ambitious body.

During a recent media event, I had a chance to drive the car from Santa Monica to Malibu. From behind the wheel, the car is perfectly effective. It’s not as precise as the sublime Volkswagen Golf or Mazda 3. It’s not as aggressive as the Hyundai Veloster. But, it’ll surpass the Mazda 2 or Yaris and match up with evenly with the Honda CR-Z.

Still, I wasn’t as able to compare the cars of Scion to other vehicles so easily in the past. We’ll just have to sit back and see if this new, less distinct Scion vibe catches on with that young audience.