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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 (and last) 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. (Deja vu, anyone?)
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.
The iA can also add "most fuel-efficient" Scion to its list of accolades. The EPA estimates up to 42 highway mpg, 33 city, and 37 combined mileage when equipped with the automatic transmission. With the manual transmission, those estimates drop to 41 highway, 31 city, and 35 combined mpg. I finished my spirited drive through the Santa Cruz mountains with the trip computer indicating a very respectable 32 mpg. And in a second, longer drive in the iA over the course of a traffic-heavy week in San Francisco, I was able to duplicate those results.
Standard smart keyless entry grants you access to the cabin and standard push-button start brings the car to life. Sticking out of the dashboard like a toasted iPad is a very un-Scion-like 7-inch voice-activated Mazda Connect infotainment system. Of course, the interface has been sanitized of any mention of Mazda, but the operation, features and organization are identical to what I've tested previously in the Mazda3 and the MX-5 Miata. The screen is touch-sensitive when the vehicle is stopped, but when the iA is in motion, a physical console controller must be used.
The move away from the standard and easily upgradable double-DIN setups used throughout the rest of the Scion brand will be unsettling for car audio buffs wanting to swap the stereo (perhaps to one of those new Android Auto or Apple CarPlay rigs hitting the market now), but this seems to be the way the entire industry is moving. As is, the iA features Aha and Stitcher app integration, Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming, and dual-USB connectivity; not at all a bad standard loadout. I didn't spot a CD player anywhere in the iA's dashboard, but I doubt anyone in the iA's younger target audience will miss it.
Interestingly, the iA -- which is the least expensive model in Scion's lineup now that the iQ has finished its short run -- seems to boast the best standard safety tech of any Scion model, coming standard with a rear-view camera and a standard low-speed precollision system that uses a forward laser sensor to alert the driver of an imminent collision and can even activate the brakes to prevent or reduce the damage in the event of an accident.
In the event that the iA is rear-ended, it also features a secondary collision reduction system that will automatically apply the brakes and activate the hazards to reduce the likeliness that the sedan will then be be pushed into the car ahead. These are some fairly advanced features for about $16K and one of the best available loadouts in the subcompact class today.
Speaking of pricing, the 2016 iA joins the Scion family alongside the 2016 iM. With the manual gearbox, the iA will run you just $15,700 before a $795 destination charge. Choosing the six-speed automatic bumps the price up to $16,800 before the same destination charge is applied.
Aside from the gearbox, the only other real options to consider are color and whether to drop $419 on a navigation SD card. With no other way to upgrade the navigation, that's a tempting offer, but I think that most iA drivers will probably do what I did and just use the nav apps on their phones.
The 2016 iA does battle with the likes of Nissan's Versa, Hyundai's Accent sedan and Ford's Fiesta, and based on my time behind the wheel and the massive grin on my face, the Scion/Mazda looks like a very strong contender.