When Toyota’s youth-focused Scion brand hit the scene in 2002, the fledgling automaker saw resounding success by offering exciting compact models overflowing with personality and dealer customization options. The brand’s attractive financing and no-haggle Pure Pricing strategy paid off with first-time car buyers, many of whom went on to graduate to a Toyota or a Lexus.
Flash forward 13 years, and Scion has lost some of its luster. Sales are down from their peak level of 173,034 cars, achieved in 2006, to just 58,009 units in 2014. With the exception of the well-received FR-S sports car, itself a niche-market product, buyers have been less than impressed with other recent offerings as competitors have made gains. The newest xB and xD hatchbacks and iQ minicar have seen decreased interest. In fact, the Kia Soul, crafted as an answer to Scion’s boxy xB, by itself sold nearly three times as many units as the entire Scion brand last year.
Two new models introduced at the 2015 New York International Auto Show hope to change all that. Each features a forward-thinking design language that incorporates elements of the FR-S but will set the tone for a revamped Scion product lineup in the coming years. First on the list is the all-new 2016 Scion iA subcompact sport sedan. With four doors, seating for five passengers and a separate trunk, it will be the first sedan model to come from an automaker known for its love of hatchbacks. Base pricing is expected to roughly equal the Toyota Yaris hatchback, starting in the $15,000 to $16,000 range. That would place the iA squarely against the Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Sonic.
The sedan’s platform is said to be derived from the new Mazda2 subcompact through a new partnership between Toyota and Mazda. That would bring spritely handling living up to a reputation Scion seeks to foster as the driver-oriented choice within the subcompact class. Power will come from a four-cylinder VVT-i DOHC engine making in the neighborhood of 120 horsepower.
A smartly styled interior design seen in leaked photos ahead of the iA’s New York reveal further carries on the sport sedan theme. With a swoopy beltline rising once again to meet prominently arched rear fenders, the sedan leans forward with purpose. Interestingly, its front end language reminds a bit of recent Hyundai models like the Elantra and Veloster.
Another exciting addition to the Scion lineup was first revealed to the American public in concept car forum at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show. The all-new 2016 Scion iM is based on an existing Toyota product sold overseas known as the Auris. This five-door hatchback is popular with European buyers in the U.K. and elsewhere, offering lots of cargo space in a package of a similar size and feature content to the Corolla that Americans are already fond of.
Since Toyota only sells the Corolla as four-door sedan with a trunk in the United States, the new iC will fill a hole for the automaker in sporty Scion guise. Styling cues like a deep front air dam, a new honeycomb grille and low, tuner-style side sills help cut a dramatic shape in a segment where many competitors can look a bit ho-hum.
The iC will fill an important role at Scion and Toyota in general left vacant since the Toyota Matrix hatchback left production at the end of the previous Corolla’s model life. Priced around $17,500 or so, the iC will do battle with the Hyundai Elantra GT, Volkswagen Golf hatchback and SportWagen, and taller compact crossovers like the Nissan Juke and Honda HR-V.
While European Auris buyers have a choice gasoline and diesel engines as well as a hybrid, the Scion model is expected to be equipped with a single engine choice: a four-cylinder gasoline 1.8-liter making around 160 horsepower. This engine will be derived from what Toyota currently equips to the Corolla. Scion has high hopes for the new models to bring fresh buyers into its showrooms to help maintain its desirable status as the industry’s brand with the youngest average buyer age. The new models’ success will be based on their standard feature content, something where Hyundai and Kia in particular have raised the bar, as well as attractive pricing and customization options.
For its part, Toyota Motor will also need to make sure the two new Scions live up to the Japanese auto group’s corporate ethos of quality and long-term reliability. While the main Toyota brand and its Lexus luxury division consistently rank at the top of reliability studies from J.D. Power and Consumer Reports, Scion still has some catching up to do.
Scion plans to debut a third all-new model later this year for the 2017 model year that may be a new taller, more crossover-like take on the boxy and slab-sided xB. Other current products include the xA and iQ, both of which will be phased out when the 2016 iA and iM. With fresh products in showrooms and the FR-S continuing to bring in shoppers attracted to its slick styling and amazing handling, things are certainly looking up at Scion.