2016 Scion iA
I have to say the Scion iA’s downturned grouper fish face is growing on me, the subcompact four-door certainly delivering its own unique character in a class that hasn’t always been so risky. Then again, Scion has never been a staid and conservative wallflower brand.
The new iA is the first Scion that’s not actually a Toyota under the skin, or one that’s simply rebranded from another market. The closest we’ve seen to the iA is the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ duo, but this was a collaborative effort between two brands from the get-go, Subaru partially owned by Toyota no less, while the iA is actually a Mazda2 with a nose job, that’s it. What’s ironic is it’s the bestselling model the underperforming Scion brand has had in a very long time, having already found 5,797 buyers in its first three months sales. In comparison the new iM has sold just 3,852 units during the same September through November 2015 period, also its first three months, whereas the tC has only managed 3,166 sales during the same 91 days, the xB just 2,953 deliveries, and FR-S only 2,153 units down the road.
That’s got to hurt. I mean, Scion tried to sell the Toyota Yaris-based xD for years and it flopped, but now this Mazda2-based upstart is a hit? That should make the folks in Hiroshima smile. It helps that the new Mazda2 is not yet available in North America, so we’re not familiar with its rear end styling that’s essentially unchanged. The big grille opening and headlamp design are from Scion, a dramatic departure from what Mazda offers in other markets, although the rear portion of those headlights, where they meet up with the front fenders, is identical.
If it sounds like I’m complaining or in some way saying this is a bad thing, I’m not. If any company were looking for a partner to share its good brand name with, Mazda would be a smart choice. Fiat is doing likewise with the new Mazda MX-5 Miata, a resurrected Fiat 124 Spyder on the way as a result, although you won’t be able to see that the two share the same underpinnings as easily as you can with this car or the aforementioned FR-S/BRZ.
The iA’s big grille benefits from chrome trim around its edges and combination headlamps that look quite attractive, while its mirror caps and door handles are body-color so as not to look too basic, the former even including integrated turn signals, while the wedge-like Mazda2 taillights are nicely detailed. The car’s lines are swoopy from front to back, the side profile showing off its aerodynamic sculpting best. That’s where you can see how far the hood bends downward as it nears the grille, and get a good visual on the lower belt line that sweeps upward as it passes over the back door. The 16-inch twinned five-spoke alloys look great from a distance, although drum brakes poking through the rear rims aren’t particularly good optics.
Being a Scion the iA is a one-trim-fits-all car, but I still couldn’t have expected how nice this “base” model was inside. Its Mazda overtones are impossible to miss if you’re familiar with the normally competitive Japanese brand. The experience starts via keyless entry from a Scion-branded Mazda-designed switchblade-style key fob that’s really nice for the class, while once inside the first thing I noticed was Mazda’s metallic edged wing-style primary gauge package, with a largish circular speedometer at center, a tiny digital tachometer, odometer and gear selection display to the left and another digital grouping of gauges to the right, including fuel, average fuel economy (which was good at 34 mpg) and an exterior temperature display, plus an engine start/stop button on the very right lower corner. The steering wheel is also obvious Mazda kit. While not leather-wrapped the tilt and telescopic three-spoke design is quite sporty, with a metallic twinned spoke at bottom, while it’s filled with high-quality redundant audio, Bluetooth phone, multi-information display, voice recognition and cruise control switchgear.
Another Mazda-sourced asset is the full-color high-resolution tablet-style infotainment touchscreen display atop the dash, an excellent system that lets you control its features with an easy to reach rotating knob and set of quick access buttons on the lower console, while its standard six-speaker audio system offers better sound quality than most competitive models’ base four-speaker systems, with plenty of power and decent tone. There’s no CD, but that probably won’t matter to the iA’s younger target demographic that will appreciate the USB port and Bluetooth streaming audio much more, let alone Aha, Pandora and Stitcher.
The HVAC system is simple with three rotating dials and filtered air conditioning, and while it was easy to operate it took a long time to heat up the car. Despite being only about 35 degrees outside it took 10 minutes before the car warmed up enough for us to feel relatively comfortable, and that was at full heat using the recycling mode when it worked. We had to wait about eight minutes before we could use that because each time we tried the car steamed up so badly we had to go back to fresh air mode. It brought back memories of sitting up front with my dad in his ’66 VW Beetle wiping the windshield while he drove. I appreciate the endearing thought, but a heating and defog system like this isn’t good enough for winters in the colder or wetter states. Also, I must admit to missing heatable seats now that temperatures are hovering around freezing in my area.
As far as interior detailing goes, the iA gets a stylish contrast stitched leatherette dash pad that runs from the left side of the center stack to the rightmost corner, but that’s it for soft synthetics. Still, the way the circular dash vents are visually tied together with a thin strip of metallic trim that acts as a directional controller for a hidden vent in between is downright artistic, plus the matte black carbon fiber-look surfacing on the steering wheel spokes, surrounding the power window switches, inside the cubby -on the lower center stack (the outside of the pillar-like buttresses are finished in a shiny version of the same treatment), etcetera, is almost as impressive as the blue patterned seat insert material, which I obviously like a lot. The black woven cloth used for the bolsters shows up on the padded door inserts as well, the entire interior coming together very nicely.
The front seats should be comfortable enough for most, I certainly had no issue, while those in the rear offer good lower back support. It’s a narrow car, par for the course in the subcompact class, which means there’s room for two adults or three kids abreast at best, although three adults can be squeezed in. There’s no center armrest either, but the side armrests are rubberized for comfort like those up front and the woven cloth inserts I spoke of a moment ago continue into the back. Those rear seats split 60/40 incidentally, opening up the reasonably accommodating 13.5 cubic-foot trunk when required for longer cargo.
The iA stands out even more when it comes to standard features, its single trim line getting a level of equipment many subcompacts don’t even offer in top levels, with items not yet mentioned including daytime running lights, powered locks and windows, powered side mirrors, an overhead console with two very bright interior lights and a handy sunglasses holder, cruise control, rear seat heater ducts, and a backup camera, plus safety features that include ABS-enhanced brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and a brake override system, plus traction control and dynamic stability control, tire pressure monitoring, front and rear seatbelt pretensioners with force limiters as well as front and side airbag protection, while security is enhanced with an anti-theft engine immobilizer.
All of this safety kit along with a super strong, well engineered body shell has resulted in the highest Top Safety Pick + rating from the IIHS, although the NHTSA hasn’t rated it yet. As for Mazda’s overall reliability rating (remember it’s really a Mazda2 behind that grille), J.D. Power and Associates doesn’t rank the brand as high as Toyota or Scion, yet it was above average in the latest 2015 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) that rates brands and individual models after three years of ownership.
All iAs get the same 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that’s good for 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque, which isn’t exactly powerful, or at least not initially. My six-speed automatic-equipped tester took a bit of time to respond to throttle input, but after revs ramped up it really liked to go, whereas Sport mode allowed the engine to rev higher towards redline before each shift, which can either be left to the transmission’s own devices or managed manually via the gear lever for a sportier feel overall. I imagine the base six-speed manual would make the iA even more fun to drive, but comments on such will have to wait for a future review.
With stock alloys on 185/60R16 all-season rubber the iA handles pretty well, which is both a Mazda trait and an attribute I’ve grown to appreciate with other Scion models. It comes equipped with a front strut and rear torsion beam suspension, yet it manages to overcome some of the high-speed handling challenges encountered when compared to a multi-link rear design. This said, most subcompacts choose the torsion beam setup in back due to lower costs and less intrusion on luggage space, which as mentioned already is pretty good in this four-door. As for ride quality the iA was quite smooth and comfortable, while it tracked very well on the highway.
This car’s got the goods when it comes to fuel economy too. While the manual might be a bit quicker off the line the price you’ll pay is an EPA rating of 31 mpg city, 41 highway and 35 combined, whereas the automatic gets a slightly more agreeable 33 city, 42 highway and 37 combined. I certainly could live with either.
That’s the way I feel about the entire car. While I experienced some trouble getting the heater to warm up as fast as I would’ve liked, which could have been something to do with the car I was testing, the rest of the iA was way above average. From the quality of materials inside and how everything was put together to its impressive load of features, not to mention its road-going performance, great fuel economy and top-tier safety rating, I’m impressed.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto**Press.