2016 Scion iA first drive review: It fits

2015 Scion iA

2016 Scion iA

The Scion iA fits. Scion’s modus operandi has been, with a couple of exceptions, borrowing from others and making it Scion’s own. For example, the Scion xA and xD were import versions of Toyota’s home market Toyota ist, the Scion xB was sold as the Toyota xB on the home market, and the Scion iQ was the Toyota iQ in other markets. On the other hand, the Scion tC was created specifically for Scion, though on the Toyota Avensis platform (though platform sharing is so common it borders on cliché), and speaking of sharing, Toyota worked with Subaru to create the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ, which differ from each other by only the finest of fine tuning, and it’s sold here of course as the Scion FR-S.

And then there’s the Scion iA. As one might expect, it’s sold elsewhere under another name, only this time the name isn’t Toyota. This time it’s Mazda. Underneath it all, the Scion iA is all the next generation Mazda Mazda2 sedan. The Mazda2 sedan a model we didn’t get—the Mazda2 you could buy was a hatchback—and it’s one you won’t get. With the 2016 Mazda2 new from the ground up, Mazda decided against launching the new model for now, perhaps saving it for later.

2015 Scion iA dash

The 2016 Scion iA has a 7-inch dashtop touchscreen display. (click to enlarge)

But Mazda had all that production capacity in its Salamanca, Mexico, assembly plant, and with the Scion xB, xD and iQ all departing the lineup, Scion desperately needed more cars for its showrooms. That would partly be solved by the arrival of the 2016 Scion iM hatchback, but a three-model lineup wouldn’t be enough for Scion dealers to keep their kids in Keds.

Rather than badge engineer any other-market Toyota models—the mini-four door hatchback Toyota Aygo, for example—Toyota/Scion got together with Mazda to create a new Scion model, the Scion iA.

It’s a good pick for Scion. The Mazda2 a good platform, and at a $16,500 price point it matches Scion’s young student-loan-paying-off market. It’s mono-spec, meaning there are no options (although Scion dealers will have you step over this way to look at available accessories), but it’s well-equipped for that price. And although Scion can’t dictate exactly what price dealers will charge—dealers are independent businesses that the manufacturer can’t control—what a dealer advertises is the price you’ll pay in a no-haggle environment.

2016 Scion iA instrument panel

The 2016 Scion iA instrument panel has the world’s smallest tachometer. (click to enlarge)

The Scion iA is available only as a four-door sedan, complementing the new Scion iM hatchback as a sedan for those who’d rather sedan. Scion didn’t bring the Mazda2 over completely untouched. The Scion iA has a new face, with a huge open-jawed grille replacing the very Mazda-specific grille of the Mazda2. Alas, it’s one of those grilles that will be, um, significantly esthetically marred by a front license plate. But there’s stylish piano black, and daytime running lights are standard. Headlights are specific to the Scion as well, but from the front wheels back, it’s all Mazda2.

No surprise, the 2016 Scion iA is powered by a direct-injection high-compression (12.0:1!) double-overhead cam 1.5 liter Mazda engine. It’s rated at 106 horsepower and a mere 103 lb-ft of torque that doesn’t hit until 4000 rpm. There’s not an overabundance of muscle, but it pays back with fuel mileage. The iA is available with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic—the two “trim levels”—and has EPA fuel consumption ratings of 31/41/35 mpg city/highway/combined for the stick and 33/42/37 ditto for the automatic.

2016 Scion iA back seat

The 2016 Scion iA back seat has headrests that retract and seatbacks that fold for extra cargo room. (click to enlarge)

We drove the manual. We’re not surprised that the shifter has a lightweight but direct and precise throw. The clutch pedal has a light feel and easy take-up. If we wanted to teach someone to drive a manual, we’d want a Scion iA to do it in.

It helps that the iA’s curb weight is, well, light as well. At 2,385 pounds for the manual and 2,416 for the automatic, it’s one of the lightest four-doors we know. The iA gets rolling easy—less chance of stalling—and has a surprising amount of zip, particularly at lower speeds. Minimalism pays off, but we’d estimate about nine seconds for 0-60 mph.

The suspension of the 2016 Scion iA is simple, with struts up front and a twist-beam setup at the rear. On paper it lacks sophistication, perhaps, but the suspension bits are light, too, so that means what’s there can react more quickly to bumps and such and transmits less to the passengers.

The Scion iA also has a light feel to the steering—maybe someone should dial back a bit on the power assist—but it makes driving in traffic easy, and with a tight steering diameter of only 32.2, the iA will get into snug parking lot spaces without a problem. Scion promotes the iA as an in-town vehicle but the nimble Scion iA will be at home in any parking lot, garage or curb.

2016 Scion iA

2016 Scion iA (click to enlarge)

The 2016 Scion iA comes with relatively small front disc brakes and rear drums. We’ll assume, given the iA’s light weight, they’re up to the task, and anyway, who makes repeated hard stops in a car like the iA? Have we made enough excuses for not having all-wheel discs? We’ll add another. Many cars in this class don’t.

The 2016 Scion iA does, however, have low-speed pre-collision system that via an infrared sensor in the windshield determines whether a collision is imminent and if so applies the brakes. No more bumping someone from behind in backed up traffic if your attention should wander (which it shouldn’t, we know, but you aren’t perfect).