The 2016 Scion iA is one of those new cars that comes along, seemingly out of nowhere, and vaults right up to the top of its class.
Most of the credit for that should go to Mazda, as the iA is essentially a Mazda 2 with a restyled nose and a different badge.
About that nose. It’s the most controversial part of the car. It’s not that it’s an unappealing design, although the trapezoidal, angry Cylon look has been overdone. The problem is that it clashes with the rest of the car.
The Scion iA looks like a miniaturized Mazda 3, and as such employs Mazda’s flowing, organic KODO design philosophy. The front grille, though, is clearly a product of Toyota’s angular design philosophy, and because of that the front end sticks out and looks a lot worse than if it were on a Toyota-designed body. It lacks stylistic cohesion.
It’s also not very photogenic, but it does look a lot better in person than in pictures. After a while it isn’t even noticeable.
The two iA sedans tested here came in two different colors. The manual was in graphite, which is a nice dark grey but not necessarily stunning. The Pulse Red on the automatic, however, is stunning. It’s a deep metallic red that brings out the best of the iA’s design.
Inside, the style is all Mazda, which is a very good thing. Mazdas have some of the best interiors in the business, and the iA should be on that list too. It has the same iPad-like touchscreen and crosshair-styled air vents as other Mazdas. In fact, except for some trim elements and the badge, the iA’s interior is nearly indistinguishable from the Mazda CX-3 crossover’s interior.
The horizontal trim piece under the vents is soft vinyl with blue stitching. The rest of the interior is mostly rock-hard plastic, although at this price point that’s not surprising. The faux carbon fiber around the center stack is a nice touch and adds some variation in texture.
There are some negatives. The blue stitching and blue-ish seat inserts are the only splashes of color in an otherwise black interior. The tiny digital tachometer, which sits to the left of the large central speedometer, is hard to read and gets washed out in almost any light.
The seating position, though, is excellent, and the seats are more comfortable than ones in some cars that cost a lot more. All adjustment is manual, but again that’s not a surprise in this segment. The climate controls are also all manual, but there’s a certain simplistic elegance to that.
The infotainment system is easy to use and has a very shallow learning curve. The redundant control knob and buttons – the only way to navigate the system while the car is in motion – are equally easy to use and intuitive. Mercedes-Benz could learn a thing or two from this economy car.
Like some recent Fiat-Chrysler cars tested at TFLcar, the iA’s system has no audio off button. However, it does remember whether the sound was muted when the car was shut off, so it won’t turn on the radio on full blast when the car is turned back on.
On the road is where the iA shines. Economy cars shouldn’t be this fun to drive. The iA’s steering is precise and gives proper road feel and feedback from the wheels. Body motions are well controlled for spirited driving, but not at the expense of ride quality, which is above average for a short-wheelbase economy car. Brakes are also strong and easy to modulate.
Under the hood, the iA has a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine making 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque. That’s not much, but the iA only weighs 2,385 pounds with a manual transmission and 2,416 with an automatic, so it never feels sluggish.
Both transmissions are geared well for the engine and give the illusion of torque. The automatic is a real automatic – no CVT here – with six speeds and a sport mode that alters shift points. It changes gears smoothly and has a manual shift gate in the proper racing pattern of forward for downshifts and back for upshifts.
The six-speed manual, though, is a revelation. It’s one of the best manuals ever put into an economy car. Throws are short with rifle-bolt precision. It’s a joy to row through the gears and the combination of transmission, engine and chassis makes even the most mundane commute something to relish.
The fringe benefit of the low power and light weight is good fuel economy. The iA is rated at 33 mpg city and 42 mpg highway for the automatic and 31 mpg city and 41 mpg highway for the manual. In the real world, however, the automatic averaged 31.4 mpg, while the manual averaged an impressive 38.1 mpg. Each car was driven for one week with a near-identical mix of city and highway driving.
The iA’s back seat is a little tight, but typical for cars in this class (the segment-busting Honda Fit notwithstanding). The trunk, however, is absolutely huge, fitting everything that was thrown at it, including four full bags of leaves, with room to spare.
The Scion iA is neck-and-neck with the aforementioned Fit at the top of the subcompact class (also known as the B-segment in Europe). The Fit’s hatchback design and otherworldly packaging make it the utility king of the class, while delivering about 90 percent of the driving fun of the iA. The Ford Fiesta is getting a little old, but still delivers a solid mix of fun and utility. The Chevy Sonic, with its available turbocharged engine, is the definite hot rod of the group. The iA belongs among these top contenders and is a much better car than others like the Nissan Versa and the Kia Rio/Hyundai Accent siblings.
As for price, the iA starts at $16,495 for the manual and $17,595 for the automatic. Scion has a single-model, no-haggle pricing scheme, so the only option is a $419 navigation card for the infotainment system.
On the TFLcar scale of:
- Buy It,
- Lease It,
- Rent It,
- or Forget It…
The 2016 Scion iA gets a Buy It!
The iA is one of the best new cars of the year and one of the best new subcompacts to come along in quite some time. Even with the polarizing grille, the iA has a stellar combination of style, performance, economy and utility all at an affordable price. Its road manners are without peer in its class. It truly is an affordable sports sedan.
Check out this TFLcar first drive review of the 2016 Scion iA:
This is the true face of the Scion iA, thanks to this pic of the Australian-market Mazda 2 sedan: