Can The Well-equipped, Affordable Scion iA, iM Break The Brand’s Sales Slump?

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. It sounds like a movie title: “Scion iA and the Affordable Precollision Breaking,” but be ready to be stunned when you hear the price that the nice engineers from Scion, or Mazda, have set for this astonishingly beautiful sedan that won’t just go fast, it will break fast.

While this model usually comes with standard low budget options, the 2016 Scion iA Sedan features automatic breaking system that is due to allure many customers in the following year. Toyota and Mazda are partnering up to produce a Mazda2 for the United States – seeing that Mazda’s Mexico-produced Mazda2 sedan never made it here. Scion thinks that you shouldn’t have to spend your money on a more expensive vehicle just to enjoy some of the safety luxuries only found on other high-end models. Later this summer, the new Scion iA will be going on sale at a starting price of $16,495 including destination, and that applies to the base version with a six-speed manual transmission.

Currently, this type of automatic braking system can be found on the BMW 3-series and 5-Series, most new Volvos, Hyundai Genesis, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Infiniti Q70 andToyota Avalon. 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. The stiff competition that mandatory driver vehicles will receive if Google’s driverless car project goes mainstream within the next 3-5 years has forced the hands of automakers who don’t want to wait until it’s too late to provide some smart car features that just may prevent Google and a few other automakers from disrupting the car industry and costing non-smart car manufacturers billions of dollars.

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. It’s a sedan version of the Mazda2, which is currently not being offered in the U.S., and its pre-collision system isn’t something you wouldn’t expect on a car so affordable. “We looked at that feature, and said we’re in,” quipped Scion group vice president Doug Murtha at a press conference. 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. He added that while it’s a common belief that young buyers “don’t care” about safety, he did discover that young people do care about safety features after all, seeing “value” in the pre-collision braking feature.

This pre-collision system is low-speed, however, meaning that the vehicle will brake if there’s an object in the road that the driver cannot see within his or her vision range. Because, the only other cars on the market that give you automatic breaking are the new BMW 3-series, or 5-series, or the new Volvos, maybe a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, or a Toyota Avalon. The braking system comes courtesy of Conti Temic, and makes use of infrared radar tech to analyze roads about 30 feet ahead, though only if the Scion iA is moving at speeds of 2 to 18 mph. 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. If it spots an object and the driver doesn’t hit on the brakes, the iA will provide an audible notification, flash a warning light, and pre-charge the brakes; it will then apply the brakes if the driver hasn’t hit on them yet.

Other internals consist of a Bluetooth phone and audio music streaming experience with voice command ability, 10-inch slide seat adjustment, a tilting and sliding steering wheel, a 7-inch multitouch display and six speakers for an excellent audio listening encounter, two USB ports and auxiliary input, push-button start, air conditioning, keyless entry, a 60/40-split rear backseat fold, halogen headlamps, power-folding mirrors, and a backup camera. But here’s what you get besides the breaking system, for just 17 hundred dollars: 106 horsepower delivered by an inline four 1.5 liter engine, which makes accelerating a dream. Scion expects its 2016 cost-friendly, futuristic vehicle to have the right balance of “sporty handling and comfortable ride not normally associated with this segment,” the company says. Yes, you also get power exterior mirrors, a 7-inch touchscreen display in the car, and bonus, a rear-view backup camera, so you don’t hit your neighbor’s dog while backing into your garage.

According to their official declaration, young clients are also interested in safety measures, even though the majority of the market studies prove the opposite. The Scion iA’s pre-collision braking system is part of Scion’s overall strategy to give its 18-35-year-old target demographic the chance to drive a name-brand, sports vehicle while remaining budget-conscious. “Potential iA drivers can’t afford to be materialistic but are very brand-conscious,” Scion head Doug Murtha stated. 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. Though there are some criticisms, including the car’s wide-mouthed grille, the split-second lag of the transmission when turning tight corners, and its “Mazda2” resemblance that gives away the idea that imitation is the highest form of flattery, it just may reinvigorate the 12-year Scion brand that has struggled in the face of Nissan, Hyundai, Ford, Chevrolet, and other high-end, sports vehicles.

Oddly, the iM’s CVT is the transmission of choice for performance-oriented driving, keeping revs in the sweet spot for spirited maneuvers while mimicking the natural feel of a traditional automatic. On the road, the iA belies its bargain pricing with good feel from its electric power steering, confident handling characteristics, and a compliant ride that absorbs imperfections. Though the iM handles well enough, uncommunicative steering makes it difficult to identify limits; there’s also a fairly jittery ride that can feel unsettled even on smooth pavement. The iM has style, versatility, and the allure of Corolla-like reliability; the fact that there isn’t an equivalent Toyota hatchback might also steer buyers to Scion’s side of the showroom. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers’ own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs.

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