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2016 Scion iA First Test Review

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 8/7/2015 Manufacturer, Austin Lott

Everyone remembers their first car. Some of us had to share an economy car with a sibling, and others drove a newer Mustang. More than likely it was used, and almost certainly it was abused.

As a maker of good first cars, Scion shares a reputation for reliability and stellar resale value with its parent company, Toyota. Scion once made some of the more extroverted models on the market, but things have calmed down. After discontinuing a few models, the Mazda2-based 2016 Scion iA sedan is now the brand’s entry-level model. We spent a few nights in a blue iA with the six-speed manual to see if we could answer a pressing question: Could the newest Scion be the right car for the job?

The Applicant: Pedigree

2016 Scion Ia Front Three Quarter In Motion 03© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Scion Ia Front Three Quarter In Motion 03 An agreement between Mazda and Toyota resulted in Scion gaining exclusive distribution rights for the Mazda2 sedan in North America. That is to say, the iA is a Mazda2 sedan with a Scion front fascia and Scion badges. From the side you can see the larger Mazda3 sedan in the swooping character lines. Walk around the rest of the car, and you can’t help but notice the Mazda family resemblance. The front end, however, with its tapering lines, frowning headlights, and angry mouth, really throws the iA off. We imagine after taking school pictures with the rest of the Toyota and Scion Class of 2016, the iA probably didn’t win the yearbook vote for “Best Teeth.” But, like the Mirai, it’s not for a lack of trying.

Mazda makes some of the most entertaining fuel-sippers in the compact segment, so we expected that the 2016 iA would have driving dynamics in the bag, but when we saw the spec sheet, our hearts dropped. Only 106 hp at 6,000 rpm from a diminutive 1.5-liter I-4? Just 103 lb-ft of torque and at 4,000 rpm? The Scion had underwhelming written across the spec chart. At least the EPA estimates were respectable at 31/41 mpg city/highway with the manual and 33/42 mpg with the automatic, both six-speed units.

The Applicant: Performance

2016 Scion Ia Rear Three Quarter In Motion 01© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Scion Ia Rear Three Quarter In Motion 01 We hopped into the Scion iA, depressed the clutch, and were greeted with a not unpleasant engine note. It’s civil and incredibly quiet at idle. We gave the throttle a little goose and were surprised by a lazy response. You really need to step on it to get it to rev, which is the polar opposite of the small, rev-happy four-banger we expected.

The clutch is light, and the take-up is easy to get used to. After the first stoplight, it hits us: The iA is pretty friendly. Apparently, some combination of direct injection and gearing wizardry has blessed the little sedan with what feels like torque. The spec sheet didn’t lie when it said 103 lb-ft, but we’re finding it hard to believe something with 1.5 liters of displacement can be this good.

We head for the nearest Chevron, and while we’re taking a shortcut through a local business park, a midsize crossover gets a little aggressive and attempts to scoot ahead and pass us by blatantly rolling a stop sign. A hard stab of the go-pedal, a little wheelspin, and a quick shift into second has the little sedan zinging past the portly crossover and squealing with glee around the corner. We’re having fun.

On the corner we decide to top the iA off: $25 fills the tank from the one-fourth mark and leaves us enough left over for Slurpees. Score! We think the weekend might not be so bad after all.

The Applicant: Normal Driving

2016 Scion Ia Top View© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Scion Ia Top View Driving the iA is a bit of fun, and commuting in the sedan is as painless as it can be in Los Angeles. The little 1.5-liter engine feels a lot like the 2.0-liters from yesteryear, with more of a tolerance for lugging than the average I-4. The little sedan is so quiet and smooth that it gives you little indication when to shift. Although we only sampled the manual, we’re encouraged by the option of a traditional automatic over the near-ubiquitous CVT. Mazda’s automatic is excellent in all the compact offerings we’ve sampled, so we expect the popular transmission (Scion estimates 90 percent of buyers will choose the auto) will be just as good.

2016 Scion iA First Test Review

The illusion of torque we experienced when taking off from a stoplight carries over in the muck of rush hour traffic, where the iA is happy to lump along in second near idle and then surge forward when the going gets faster. The ride is agreeable, and freeway expansion joints and potholes don’t unsettle it much. When things do begin moving, it can hold its own. At 60 mph the iA is turning just 2,100 rpm in sixth, which makes it a much more relaxed cruiser than the average subcompact.

Our unscientific observation of “it’s got enough spunk to get out of its own way when merging” was backed up by the more scientific observations of the Motor Trend test team. The little Scion got up to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds and turned a quarter mile in 16.8 seconds at 81.9 mph.

2016 Scion Ia Side Profile 03© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Scion Ia Side Profile 03 How can 106 hp and 103 lb-ft of torque do all this? It’s no Mazda magic but rather an as-tested curb weight of 2,376 pounds with the manual transmission. Although it allows the Scion to scoot like it has more power, it shakes when an SUV barrels past one lane over.

As you might expect, the iA struggles a bit with a full load and requires a couple downshifts on the highway if you hope to maintain speed up any kind of grade. When taking the Scion to our test track in Fontana, Motor Trend intern Trace Hance was prompted by the little sedan to downshift from sixth to fourth when he began rapidly losing speed on the I-10. Even with the pedal matted in fourth, the iA struggled to gain speed up the hill.

How does the little sedan stack up against the competition in the numbers game? We looked at several 2014 examples: a Ford Fiesta SE sedan, a Nissan Versa Note SL hatchback, and a Sonic RS Turbo (a more expensive hatchback in a sporty trim). With a figure-eight time of 28.0 seconds at 0.59 g (average), the iA edged out the Ford, which posted a 28.4-second time at 0.62 g (average), and the Nissan, which posted a 29.0-second time at 0.55 g (average), but it fell to the Sonic RS, which finished in just 27.8 seconds at 0.61 g (average). The Scion’s set of pre-collision sensors should help it stay off bumpers in the real world, but its 132-foot stopping distance from 60 mph was bested by the Versa, which stopped in 127 feet, and trounced by the Ford and the Chevy, which both stopped in 118 feet.

The Applicant: Ergonomics and Interior

2016 Scion iA© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Scion iA Ergonomically, the 2016 iA is better than most, with a six-way adjustable driver’s seat and a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, allowing even a 6-foot-2 driver to get comfortable easily. The interior is handsome, and with the car only offering one trim level, you’re certain to see all of the things we liked, including dash stitching that extends across the passenger’s side of the dashboard. Although it’s surrounded by some hard plastic, the main touch points are pleasantly finished.

The controls are thoughtfully laid out, and though the infotainment screen atop the dash supports touch inputs, you’ll want to avoid fingerprint marks and use the rotary controller. The controller, which comes with its own wrist rest that keeps your hand in the right position, has a dedicated volume knob next to it. The infotainment is snappy, responsive, and, except for a handsome splash screen graphic of an iA silhouette, all Mazda. We think that’s a good thing.

Although we noticed the lack of armrests right away, when we went to stash some personal belongings in something other than the cupholder, we noticed the lack of a center console, which we’re told will be offered as a dealer-installed option. Without the optional center console, the glove box is the only place to stash your personal belongings out of sight. We also missed an exterior trunk release, though there’s a button on the remote and a lever in the cabin to open it.

The Applicant: The Competition

2016 Scion Ia Front Three Quarter 03© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Scion Ia Front Three Quarter 03 Because the Scion iA comes in just a single trim level for its MSRP of $16,495 with the manual or $17,595 with the automatic, it is nicely equipped for what you spend. There are only a few direct competitors: the Ford Fiesta sedan, Nissan Versa sedan, and Chevrolet Sonic sedan, which all start at a lower price but quickly surpass the iA when comparably optioned. The Scion buying experience is as easy as choosing the transmission and paint color, a purchasing process Scion calls Pure Process Plus, which cuts down paperwork time from four hours, the national average, to just two.

Inside the cabin, 2016 iA driver and passengers are treated to 85.9 cubic feet of people room, with 38.2/36.8 inches of headroom front/rear. That puts the Scion on par with the Ford and Nissan, but it’s less spacious than the Chevy in back. The Scion’s rear-seat legroom is better than the cramped Ford and right on the Chevy’s heels, but it’s behind the limolike Nissan.

To match the iA feature for feature, those three competitors end up costing thousands of dollars more. The iA’s low-speed pre-collision system, which can help mitigate a collision by applying the brakes and warning the driver, isn’t available at any price on the Nissan or Ford. We even had the system chime “BRAKE” at us a few times when approaching slow-moving L.A. drivers.

The Applicant: Hired?

2016 Scion Ia Front Three Quarter In Motion 05© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Scion Ia Front Three Quarter In Motion 05 Is the Scion iA a good first car? Yes. The iA sedan drives well, which may translate into vague excitement for the enthusiast crowd but should reassure all drivers that they’re in a stable vehicle if they need to make an emergency maneuver. The subcompact is best with a single occupant and would likely be a dog with a full load, discouraging most hooligan behavior from a new driver and a car full of friends. The interior, though not cavernous, is comfortable and looks good, too. The exterior allows for top-notch outward visibility once you’re inside, and a two-year/25,000 mile no-cost maintenance plan should also get the ownership experience off to a good start.

We imagine the Scion iA would be the type of first car you get in high school and keep through college, and then once you’ve graduated and want to start a family or upgrade, you could still sell it for a reasonable amount of money. Is the Scion iA the best new small car out there? We prefer the versatility of a hatchback and find little wrong with the excellent Honda Fit. On the other hand, you could do far worse than the new sedan from Scion.


2016 Scion iA
BASE PRICE$16,495
PRICE AS TESTED$17,246
VEHICLE LAYOUTFront-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE1.5L/106-hp/103-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)2,376 lb (60/40%)
WHEELBASE101.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT171.7 x 66.7 x 58.5 in
0-60 MPH8.9 sec
QUARTER MILE16.8 sec @ 81.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH132 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION0.81 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT28.0 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON31/41/35 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY109/82 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB0.56 lb/mile

2016 Scion Ia Front Three Quarter In Motion 01© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Scion Ia Front Three Quarter In Motion 01
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