Driven: 2016 Scion iA

An angy cartoon face is one way of making the 2016 Scion iA sedan distinctive looking | Bob Golfen
An angy cartoon face is one way of making the 2016 Scion iA sedan distinctive looking | Bob Golfen

The Scion brand was designed to attract young people who turn up their noses at Toyotas, which they generally view as being their parents’ cars and therefore not cool. But Toyota’s push to lure youthful drivers into the fold has been fading, and with the signature xB box on wheels gone after 2015 because of slack sales, only the FR-S sports coupe (shared with Subaru) is attracting any attention.

But two affordable new cars enter the Scion ring for 2016, the subcompact iA sedan and the compact iM wagon, and content seems to be key; each of them comes with a load of standard features usually found on more-pricey vehicles. Neither car is all that unique, but the more-for-less proposition does have appeal, which could help get the Scion buzz going again.

The Scion iA is a restyled version of the Mazda2 | Bob Golfen
The Scion iA is a restyled version of the Mazda2 | Bob Golfen

There’s even a new slogan aimed directly at the under-30 targets: “Weird, right?” The self-effacing message is emblematic of the irony-embracing Millennials, but time will tell whether they take the bait.

The iA is the focus of today’s review, and like its sportier FR-S sibling, it was created through a marriage of two competing brands. Under its skin, iA is built from a Mazda, specifically the wee Mazda2, which is not sold in the U.S. The iA is even built at the same plant in Mexico, and it is essentially a Scion sedan version of the Mazda2.

But Scion puts its own design spin on iA and the look certainly succeeds at being different. But I have a question: Why does iA have a face like a scowling kabuki mask? This little car looks angry, irate even, and its front styling hangs out there like a sculpted cartoon monster grafted onto the body of an otherwise fairly placid sedan.

But who am I to say that the designers are not right on the money? That grimacing mug could be the key to iA’s success with the young ironicals, for all I know. Weird, right?

The Scion scowls its way down the road | Scion
The Scion scowls its way down the road | Scion

Otherwise, the iA is a nice-driving craft with a touch of Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom agility. The test car that I drove was fitted with a six-speed manual transmission, which helped make it feel sporty as well as wringing power from the 1.5-liter, 106-horsepower inline-4 engine. The engine, a SkyActive unit lifted directly from the Mazda2, feels quite refined and revs skyward with smooth aplomb. You do have to jump on it when you want to accelerate quickly, but that’s part of the fun.

There’s also a six-speed automatic available, which most-likely will make up the bulk of iA’s sales. EPA fuel mileage for the stickshift car is very good at 31 city and 41 highway. The automatic does better, according to the EPA, at 33 city and 42 highway.

The iA comes with a bucketload of standard high-tech features, all for the base price of $15,700 plus $795 shipping, which is part of Scion’s plan for youth domination. The list is lengthy and includes a seven-inch color touch-screen that controls a decent six-speaker audio system with full connectivity, Bluetooth technology, music streaming, voice recognition, and Pandora, Aha and Stitcher services; remote keyless entry and push-button engine start; steering-wheel controls; halogen headlights; and cruise control, as well as such safety features as low-speed pre-collision system, dynamic stability control, traction control and rear-view backup monitor.

The well-equipped interior has a premium feel | Scion
The well-equipped interior has a premium feel | Scion

The interior is very nice, with a premium feel that’s a major plus in this price range. There is good space up front, not so much for the back seat, although it would be usable if nobody on board is too big. Overall, the iA feels solid and with better quality than what you would expect in this price range.

The motorcycle-like gauge cluster is kind of a clinker though, small and chintzy looking. The gauges are dominated by a large speedometer in the middle with small electronic readouts and warning lights clustered around it. These include a pretty-worthless tachometer squished over on the left side that is almost impossible to monitor. A good tachometer is not so critical with automatic but beneficial with stickshift. I would rather that the car had a large tach and small speedo off to the side, or an embedded digital/numerical speedometer readout as I’ve seen on other dashboards.

The Scion works well at accomplishing its mission, which is to offer a fun, fully equipped runabout for young drivers with limited resources. Performance is not bad and the interior has a quality feel. Now, if only they could do something to make the car look just a bit happier. Or at least not so angry.

2016 Scion iA

Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive
Base price: $15,700 Price as tested: $16,495
Engine: 1.5-liter inline 4, 106 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 103 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches Overall length/width: 171.7 inches / 66.7 inches
Curb weight: 2,385 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 31 city / 41 highway / 35 combined
Assembled in: Salamanca, Mexico

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