The 2016 Scion iA represents many things for the brand. It's the first sedan to bear the Scion name. Starting at $15,700, it's the least expensive model in the current lineup. It is also one of the best () cars to ever wear the Scion badge, which is interesting because it's actually a Mazda in disguise.
By now, it's no secret that the iA is actually a badge-engineered 2016 Mazda2 sedan, built by Mazda in its Salamanca, Mexico assembly plant before basically receiving a "Face/Off"-style fascia swap with a Prius C. But because Mazda has announced that it won't be selling a Mazda-badged Mazda2 in the US market anytime soon -- and, as I recently learned, the iA is such a fantastic little car -- I'll welcome it wearing any badge it can.
Beneath its Toyota engine cover breathes a 1.5-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine. Output is stated at a modest 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. Mating the engine to the front wheels is either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic with a flexible locking torque converter. Scion tells us that the automatic can lock its torque converter in any gear to give the powertrain a more direct and responsive feel. My Sapphire blue example featured the manual gearbox.
Don't let those numbers fool you. One thing I think that Mazda does exceptionally well is make lovely little, low-power engines. This one is no exception. An absolute peach of an engine, it's lively, eager and just a joy to rev.
The iA rolls on standard 16-inch wheels shod with 185mm wide tires. Suspending the chassis above those rollers is a MacPherson front end and a "sport-tuned" torsion-beam rear axle. Yeah, I also scoffed at the idea of a sporty torsion rear...and then I hit the road.
The approximately 2,400-pound sedan is way more fun to drive than it has any right to be. The suspension is just perfectly sorted: it's at all times responsive, supple and communicative. There's an effortlessness and directness to the steering that makes tossing the econobox into corner after corner a joyful experience. The iA's shifter is also fairly well built. The throws are short, the gates are precisely defined, and there's a nice engagement when slotting into gear.
The 2016 iA isn't a fast car, and it's not a particularly powerful one, but with a low curb weight and nimble handling, the sedan manages to be just delightful -- even at reasonable speeds. I absolutely love that everything about this car feels like it was designed to work well on the road, not to just look good on paper. ()
Though it showcases some fancy footwork, the iA is not a sports car. The engine is so quiet that you can barely hear it below about 4,000 RPM, and the tachometer is a petite little digital gauge crammed into a tiny wing of the instrument cluster, so precise timing of downshifts can be tricky. Also, the clutch pedal was just too light for my sporting tastes. On the other hand, a light third pedal means that this commuter won't tire out my left leg when creeping through heavy city traffic.