2016 Scion iA: First Drive


What is it? A subcompact, entry-level sedan

Price range: $15,700 (6-speed manual) or $16,800 (6-speed automatic)

Competitors: Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta, Chevy Sonic, Hyundai Accent

Alternatives: Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris

Pros: It’s not only efficient, but nimble, and comes with a relatively upscale interior with plenty of soft-touch surfaces. A solid value. 

Cons: It’s an econobox, so everything is small. The seats are small. The cabin is small. The back seat isn’t big enough for a hobbit. Yet the trunk is somehow huge. 

Would I buy it with my money? The iA ticks off almost every other box on my “list of things I like in a car.” If I had my way, the car would have more on-demand power. But for the price, you’d be hard-pressed to beat this car. 


Downsizing doesn’t have to mean compromising. (Well, not entirely.) Case in point, the all-new 2016 Scion iA sedan. Unlike most compact econoboxes in the sub-$17,000 price range, the iA features a quality interior, sophisticated (but not deep) feature set, and sleek, sporty looks. It’s also fun behind the wheel — not Fast and Furious fun, but a whole lot more entertaining than simply rolling down the street in a tin can on wheels, as is the case with many of its peers. 

Ironically, the automaker is touting the iA as the first sedan it has ever built. That statement is comical because the iA isn’t a Scion at all, or even a Toyota, Scion’s parent company. It’s a 2016 Mazda2 sedan, a body style of the Mazda subcompact that won’t be sold here in the United States. 


Most Scion vehicles have been based on Toyota models, but Toyota president and CEO Akio Toyoda is a huge performance enthusiast, and wanted to infuse some of Mazda’s playfulness into Scion’s stable of youth-aimed models— much like how Toyota borrowed the Subaru BRZ to make the Scion FR-S

Regardless of who conceived and built it, the iA is one of the racier-looking subcompacts out there. In profile, it resembles the new Mazda3, only smaller with better proportions, from the heavily contoured hood to the rounded flanks. Outside of a few styling changes and the Scion badges, this is a Mazda — which means instead of the typical Toyota skimpiness on interior materials, the inside feels more like a smaller version of the Mazda3′s higher-quality decor.


My only quibbles about the cabin are related to size. The seats are tiny — too small, in fact, for an average-sized person to feel comfortable. The cockpit is narrow. I could almost reach the passenger door from the driver’s seat without stretching, and my knees banged up against the center stack and driver’s side door. And the backseat is only useful as a bench when and if two average sized humans are sitting up front and have pushed the front seats back into a comfortable seating position (i.e., their knees are not banging up against the dash). But can you expect more space for under $17,000? I don’t think so.

Feature-wise, the Scion touts is relatively stacked. Highlights include a low-speed pre-collision safety system that uses cameras and radar to detect and warn drivers of impending collisions and a versatile infotainment system with a seven-inch touchscreen, controls mounted in the center center-stack, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, two USB ports, one auxiliary input, and apps from Pandora, Aha, and Stitcher. It is also voice-recognition capable. The touchscreen is responsive, but not overly so, and the landing pages are comprehensive and easy to find. One pet peeve about the multimedia device: You can’t operate the system via touchscreen while moving, even from the passenger seat. It’s annoying and distracting.  Otherwise, the system works to perfection and offers everything a geek could want, except for a Wi-Fi hotspot. 

The iA’s is only available with Mazda’s 1.5-liter Skyactiv four-cylinder, although it won’t wear Skyactiv branding under the Scion’s hood. With direct injection, the power plant produces 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual is standard, but a six-speed automatic with a Sport mode is also available.


That’s not exactly pants-on-fire power, but enough to provide the 2,385-pound Scion with plenty of get-up-and-go around town and, as we discovered, on the highway, too. More importantly for someone interested in a compact, the diminutive four-banger delivers impressive fuel economy: 31/41 mpg city/highway for the manual, 33/42 city/highway for the automatic. 

On the road, we were happy to discover Scion did not mess with Mazda’s driving dynamics. The car might look smaller than it is, but the iA handles bumps and bruises in the road like a much larger car – composed and assured. The subcompact sedan’s electric power steering provides a direct yet light feel and is highly responsive. Braking starts off smooth and builds up to a firmer feel under hard braking. 

Scion was meant to lure young people into the Toyota way of living, but the iA is a helluva value for buyers of any age, even if it lacks the spacious interior we all desire from a sedan. The 2016 Scion iA will be available in September, starting at $15,700 for the manual and $16,800 for the auto.

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