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Pedro Arrais review: New Scion hatch is the Matrix, reloaded

Happy days are back again at Toyota/Scion dealers with the introduction of the 2016 Scion iM. The iM is an all-new five-door hatchback that fills an important void in both the Toyota and Scion product lines.

Happy days are back again at Toyota/Scion dealers with the introduction of the 2016 Scion iM.

The iM is an all-new five-door hatchback that fills an important void in both the Toyota and Scion product lines.

When Toyota discontinued the Matrix last year, car buyers on the West Coast naturally started looking at the Volkswagen Golf, Mazda 3 and Ford Focus.

While Toyota hoped its loyal owners would make the switch to the Scion xB, sales numbers suggest not everybody chose the boxy alternative.

Scion has also been longing for a new model to rejuvenate the brand, following the discontinuation of the xD.

The iM might be the answer — and not a minute too soon, as Honda has just announced that it intends to offer a five-door hatchback (for Canada only) in the upcoming, redesigned Civic.

When Toyota discontinued the Matrix, loyal Toyota fans collectively said: “What were they thinking?” The small wagon was compact, practical, dependable, fuel-efficient and moderately priced — in short, an all-round winner.

Sadly, it didn’t fare as well south of the border, so when it came to the end of the line, Toyota decided not to replace it — until now.

While I am not privy to how many letters Toyota might have received lamenting its passing, I can imagine it may have been a few.

The good news it looks like Toyota listened, with a twist.

Instead of returning as a Toyota Matrix, it is now a Scion iM. Dimensionally, it is 35 millimetres shorter and 25 mm shorter, but the width and wheelbase remain the same. The boxy wagon look is gone, replace by a contemporary five-door hatch body. The new car will not feel out of place parked beside its major competitors now.

The major change under the skin is the retirement of the torsion-beam rear suspension, replaced by an independent double-wishbone set-up, which should help handling.

Those who like driving on country roads will also appreciate another piece of standard equipment: 225/45 R17 rubber on alloy wheels. Every other competitor’s base model comes with narrower, 16-inch tires. Not only are the larger tires more desirable for cornering, they also add visual heft to the body. Yes, 17-inch wheels are available on the competition, but they are an extra-cost item.

As far as extra-cost items go, Scion is the only one without many factory options. In fact, the only option on my tester was a CVT transmission. Standard equipment in my base car included the aforementioned alloy wheels, climate control, 7-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, back-up camera, integrated signals in the outside mirrors (which also power fold), LED running lights and eight airbags. Any other options are dealer-installed.

Sadly, those who like to let the sun in on good days will be disappointed that a sunroof is not available.

The cabin is well laid-out with above-average attention to detail — soft-touch materials surrounding a jet-black piano-like finish centre console, for example.

The seats speak of the sporting aspirations of the target driver, with thigh and torso bolsters to hold the body during exuberant manoeuvres. The beefy, leather-wrapped steering wheel is similarly oriented towards the driving enthusiast.

The 1.8-litre four-cylinder under the hood is a more-powerful version of the one in the Corolla, producing 137 hp and 126 lb.-ft. of torque. It might be more powerful than a Corolla, but it comes up a few horses short compared with others in its segment. My advice is to embrace the fuel-sipping virtues of the powerplant rather than try to challenge other hot hatches to a duel at a red light.

As with most contemporary vehicles, the iM comes with both Eco and Sport modes. On the latter, the engine adopts more aggressive shift points and holds gears longer. Drivers can further control the engine by manually changing the virtual gears in the CVT.

The back seats feature 60/40 foldable seatbacks to increase cargo capacity from 360 with the backs up and 1,199 litres when down. The cargo floor is not quite flat, but there is a storage tray under the floor.

My only pet peeve are the head restraints for the rear occupants. While effective, they don’t easily fold down to improve rearward visibility. I drove with the back seats down to improve sight lines when backing up. Fortunately, the iM comes with a standard back-up camera.

Efficient, practical, fuel-efficient and moderately priced, the 2016 Scion iM may be new, but once word gets around, it is sure to get reacquainted with old Matrix owners as well as make new friends.