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2016 Scion (Toyota) iA Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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2016 Scion iA

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

Great value in its class

            • SEE ALSO: Scion Research and Buyers Guide

Timing is everything… No more than fifteen minutes before I took delivery of this week's Scion iA test car, I read the news of Scion's phaseout at the end of the 2016 model year. Was I about to report on a car that would soon be unavailable?

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2016 Scion iA

No. The plan is to re-badge Scions as Toyotas, which is what most are in the rest of the world anyway. The iA, Scion's first (and last) sedan, is a bit different. You might notice that it doesn't much resemble any Toyota, and has a shoulder line that looks familiar. Yes, it's a joint venture deal with Mazda, basically a Mazda2 sedan with a nose job. And its built at a Mazda facility in Mexico. Welcome to the 21st Century. Sometimes it's hard to tell the players, even with a program.

The Scion iA being a Mazda2 in light disguise is a good thing. It's Mazda in its personality, encompassing ride and handling and engine and transmission response. While not specifically sport-oriented, it's fine fun to drive, and combines supple comfort and quick reflexes with more refinement than is expected from an entry-level subcompact with an MSRP just under $16,000 minus destination charge.

Power is from a 1.5-liter twincam four-cylinder engine with, surprisingly for its modest position in the world, direct fuel injection. Welcome to the future -- this means exemplary fuel efficiency with no performance penalty. With a maximum of 106 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 103 lb-ft of torque (at 4,000 rpm) driving the front wheels through a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, the iA is no dragstrip terror, but light weight -- around 2400 pounds -- means it's quick enough to safely merge into fast traffic. And fun. And that also means that it sips fuel, to the tune of well over 30 mpg easily even when wringing maximum possible performance out of it.

Being (for the rest of the model year) a Scion means "mono-spec" trim packaging. With alloy wheels, keyless entry and pushbutton start/stop, power outside mirrors with integral LED turn signals, variable-speed wipers and a rear window defogger, air conditioning, a backup camera, power windows and locks, full instrumentation, a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel with audio, information, an cruise controls, a seven-inch touchscreen for audio -- which means streaming Bluetooth audio as well as AM and FM radio and external inputs -- among the standard equipment, it's very well-equipped. Dealer-installed add-ons include wheel locks, rear bumper applique, and an SD card based navigation system.

My test car had none of those items, and they weren't missed. The car was the same one used at the local press introduction last summer, none the worse for wear despite the several thousand journalist miles now on it. It felt solid, with no creaks or rattles. Rapid forward progress required maximum use of the engine and gearbox, but some of us find that to be good. Drive it hard, be rewarded by fun, but with 106 horsepower pulling 2400 pounds you're not in undue danger of license loss. As the saying goes, it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than it is to drive a fast car slow, and here that still meant low 30s for mostly city and backroad driving, with the trip computer noting 37 for long-term mileage. Add the excellent for the class interior quiet and comfort, and suspension refinement, and the Scion iA is well worth looking at by anyone needing inexpensive but non-boring transportation.

APPEARANCE: There's no getting around that face… I've got to wonder if the Scion designers saw the rest of the car before styling the front. The headlights look like they came off an FR-S, a plus. The oversize grille is surrounded by cutlines that have me wondering if someone grew up with overexposure to a Billy Bigmouth Bass toy. "Controversial" comes to mind. It is definitely distinctive. The gracefully-arched shoulder lines and sculpted fenders are unmistakably Mazda, as are the roof line and taillights.

COMFORT: Inside, you wouldn't know you were in a low-priced car. With soft-touch materials, stitching, faux carbon fiber trim and the screen protruding from the top of the dash, controlled by a knob on the center console, it looks -- and feels -- more German at twice the price than Japanese-brand low-budget. It's simple and functional, with all of the necessities and then some. The front sport buckets offer good comfort and support and continue to be pleasant even after several hours. A tilt- and reach-adjustable steering wheel and height-adjustable driver's seat cushion mean that all drivers can find their perfect seating position, for both comfort and safety. A knob on the console, surrounded by marked hard buttons, controls audio functions. The small knob next to it is the volume control. Simple, intuitive, and effective. Climate control is by means of basic rotary controls, again simple. Auxiliary audio, information system, phone, and cruise controls are on the steering wheel arms. The only negative is that glare too easily obscures the instruments at times, especially the small digital tachometer. Not a major problem, shift by ear and feel or meet the rev limiter with the stick, and the automatic should keep revs in hand anyway. A medium-sized glove box and bottle holders and a bit of storage in the front doors provide some useful storage space. Two USB ports, a jack, a 12VDC 120W power point and SD card slot are found at the front of the console, with space underneath for an audio player or phone. Rear passengers have more leg and head room that one would expect for the iA's small size, and the rear seatback folds 60/40 if necessary. There is a space-saver spare under the trunk floor.




SAFETY: The 2016 Scion iA has been named a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS. Its unibody structure is designed to protect passengers, and uses high-tensile steel in the floor pan for strength with minimum weight. The usual airbags and antilock brakes are complemented by a low-speed pre-collision system, an unusual feature in its lowly price class. A brake over-ride system and backup camera are also standard.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Here is where the iA outshines its competition. While its MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension design is typical for the subcompact class, the tuning and refinement are far above. Spring rates are moderately soft, in a European manner, for good ride comfort and the ability to deal with poor road surfaces. Shock damping rates are correctly-matched, so there is none of the harshness or thumpiness that is usual in low-priced cars. There are cars that cost twice as much that are nowhere near as good. The electrically-assisted power steering is not over-assisted, and offers decent road information. The stock tires were likely chosen for cost, so an upgrade there can work wonders. Brakes are disc in front and drums at the rear, but with only 2400 pounds to deal with they are more than adequate.

PERFORMANCE: By today's standards the iA's 1.5-liter engine isn't particularly powerful. Maximum horsepower is 106, developed at 6000 rpm. Maximum torque is 103 lb-ft, developed at 4000 rpm. The aluminum alloy twincam powerplant uses direct fuel injection, which, with careful combustion chamber design, allows a high 12:1 compression ratio (on unleaded regular) for power with efficiency. Even though the iA weighs in at a featherweight 2400 pounds, that's still over 22 pounds of car per horsepower. It works well enough around town and in low-speed traffic. There isn't much urge below the torque peak, so if quickest acceleration is needed, as on a short highway onramp, wind it out and shift just before the rev limiter kicks in. I haven't driven the automatic, but it does have a "sport" mode so use that. Even used hard I got 32 mpg for the week, same as the mixed highway and fun roads stint during the press intro. Long-term mileage, according to the trip computer, was 37. No complaints there!

CONCLUSIONS: The Scion iA is a worthy entry in the low-priced class.

SPECIFICATIONS

2016 Scion iA

Base Price $ 15,700

Price As Tested $ 16,470

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection

Engine Size 1.5 liters / 91 cu. in.

Horsepower 106 @ 6000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 103 @ 4000 rpm

Transmission 6-speed manual

Wheelbase / Length 101.2 in. / 171.1 in.

Curb Weight 2385 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 22.5

Fuel Capacity 11.6 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P185/60 R16 Toyo Proxes A27 m+s

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, ABS

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / torsion beam axle

Drivetrain transverse front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 31 / 41 / 32-37

0 to 60 mph 9.0 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Delivery fee $ 770


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