The 2016 Scion iA is an entry-level sedan newly-minted in the Scion lineup, and so packed with goodness that you'll never know it's a compact. This car tosses the old "compacts are cheap and boring" cliche out its window and speeds off without looking back.
As Toyota's youth brand, Scion has been waning recently with sales slowly fading. The Scion xB, a staple in the brand's lineup, failed to catch on with buyers, who largely seem to have considered it a knockoff of the Kia Soul. Replacing the square box xB model is a duo of options under the Scion badge. The Scion iM is a new hatchback model aimed towards slightly more sophisticated buyers in the 18-25 year-old range, that aren't convinced by commercials featuring hamsters living the gansta life. The other is the Scion iA, a compact sedan aiming for fun driving and current technology as its appeal points.
The 2016 Scion iA hits those points squarely for two reasons. The tech comes because the infotainment could have no compromise in the car. It had to be on point. The driving dynamic comes from the fact that the car is actually a Mazda2 wearing Scion badges. Since the 2 isn't sold in the United States, it's become part of the handshake partnership between Mazda and Toyota, who're going to collaborate on future vehicle tech as well.
So this Scion is filled with Zoom Zoom, which explains everything about the car's dynamic. It's a great combination. Scion has the marketing ability that Mazda just can't muster, and Mazda knows how to build a low-cost car that drives way above its pay grade. This makes the Scion iA the most perfect entry-level compact on the market.
The standard features in the 2016 iA are plentiful and attractive to the core audience the vehicle aims for. Included are 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, split-fold rear seats, keyless ignition and entry, cruise control, infotainment with voice recognition and Bluetooth, A/C, a rearview camera, and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel. A big surprise is the low-speed forward collision warning system with automatic braking that's also standard. That's rarely even optional on competitors' entry-level cars.
Powering the 2016 Scion iA is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet (140 Nm) of torque. In a car as small as the iA, that is plenty. Especially when coupled to the standard six-speed manual transmission in front-wheel drive. A six-speed automatic is an available upgrade, but takes all of the moxy out of this car. Gizmag tried both options at a ride-and-drive event hosted by Scion over the summer. Our more recent week in the manual proved our initial impression to be right.
The real fun in the iA is in the drive itself. Shifting is easy and has been so simplified that even novices will master it quickly. The ability to move the lever and push the third pedal adds a lot of joy to the driving experience. That experience is already fun thanks to the tight chassis and nimble nature of this little car. The high torque value it achieves gives a punchy feel off the line. In corners, the precise steering and sporty chassis means that the little iA hugs the line, enjoying itself when a little zig is asked of its zag.
On the inside of the car, the 2016 Scion iA is well-done for a car of this price point and caliber. The interior is basic, but not cheap, and combines a judicious use of materials and smart ergonomic features to make the plain seem less ordinary. Outside of the infotainment screen at the center of the dash, however, there isn't much going on up front.
The back seat is usable by children and small adults, but is otherwise fit only for the family dog. The whole car is small, and the back seat is where that shows the most. The trunk helps make up for that with a good size and wide-mouthed opening for easy loading. The trunk-accessible rear seat release to expand the cargo space is unusual for this class.
Let's go back to the infotainment. It deserves a lot of kudos. The 7-inch touchscreen has sharp graphics and a nice interface that's easy to use. It offers more than might be expected of a US$16,000-ish car as well. The touchscreen is reachable from the driver's seat, though it would be a stretch, so the iA includes a command knob behind the shifter and next to the hand brake. This is something normally only found in luxury cars. It makes using the infotainment much easier. Navigation is an optional upgrade.
Our overall impression of the 2016 Scion iA, after a week of driving and a total of 250 or so miles behind the wheel, is that this is easily the best compact entry-level car on the market today. Its closest competitor is the Ford Fiesta, which has a bit more in the exterior looks department, but is pricier when compared with equal options to those as standard in the iA.
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