2016 Scion iAPosted on December 29th, 2015
Subcompact sedan is big on value
By Nina Russin
Every time I get behind the wheel of the Scion iA I have to remind myself that I’m in a subcompact car. With its substantial road feel and spacious interior, the iA feels more like a C than a B-segment sedan. On the flip side, its small footprint eases parking woes at popular trailheads where space is at a premium.
The EPA’s estimated 35 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy is conservative. I averaged 36.5 on my test drive and I have a lead foot.
The iA competes against the Toyota Yaris in a segment that also includes the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Spark and Smart car. In this writer’s opinion, it’s the best of the bunch.
Based on the same rolling chassis as the Mazda2, the iA features surprising array of standard convenience feature considering its $15,700 price tag: halogen headlamps, rearview camera, push-button start, Bluetooth and a seven-inch color touchscreen among them.
Scion’s monospec pricing takes the hassle out of car buying. The buyer simply chooses between a manual and automatic transmission. I’d recommend opting for the manual and saving $1100. In addition to offering better value, the manual transmission enables the driver to better optimize power from the sedan’s 1.5-liter engine. Adding the $795 destination, final MSRP on the test car is $16,495.
Test drive in Phoenix
Over the past week, I drove the Scion iA around Phoenix, Arizona’s east valley, including pre-dawn commutes to local trailheads, around Sky Harbor airport and along the 101 freeway between Chandler and Scottsdale. I also hopped onto a section of 75MPH freeway on the I-10 south of town.
After about 100 miles behind the wheel, I can honestly say that the iA should top the short list for first-time car buyers, or as a family’s second car. Nothing about the iA says compromise: it doesn’t have a bad bone in its body.
The engine produces a surprising amount of power for such a small block. I had no problems keeping up with fellow drivers in bigger, more powerful cars. Merging onto high-speed traffic is a piece of cake. The iA’s small wheelbase makes it extremely maneuverable: a boon in rush-hour traffic.
Visibility around the perimeter is quite good making it easy to monitor vehicles in adjacent lanes on the freeway. The standard rearview camera improves visibility when backing out of parking spots.
The electric power steering system is so well tuned that it is hard to distinguish from a conventional rack-and-pinion setup. The iA’s 32.2-foot turning circle means drivers can perform a U-turn anywhere. Really. Anywhere.
The sedan suspension consists of MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam rear end. Granted, torsion beams don’t offer the performance of an independent suspension but on a small, front-wheel drive car, most of the vehicle’s weight is over the front axle. The small, durable torsion beam is a good choice in this situation.
Brakes consist of discs up front and rear drums. I’m not a fan of drum brakes because they tend to hold water and are harder to service than discs. However given the value the rest of this car offers, it’s a compromise I could live with.
Engineers did a remarkably good job on NVH. Interior noise can be the bane of cars in this segment, but it is not the case for the iA.
The Scion iA offers a surprising amount of head, leg and hip room in the front row. Legroom in back isn’t quite as good, but the sedan can hold four passengers on short trips around town. The trunk has enough space for luggage, the weekly groceries and some modest camping equipment. Second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. Those wanting more room should look at the Scion iM hatchback.
I found the sedan’s manual seat adjustments easy to use. The standard cloth upholstery is attractive and much more practical for buyers with active lifestyles than leather. The upholstery weave is pretty tight, so if you jump in after a long workout, perspiration will tend to stay on the surface and evaporate as opposed to sinking in.
All of the controls are ergonomic and intuitive to operate. The steering wheel is a nice size, with redundant audio controls to minimize driver distraction. A tilt-and-telescoping function enables smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view and safe distance from the front airbag.
The shift lever has a nice short throw for crisp transitions between gears. The clutch pedal is light enough to be a non-issue in stop-and-go traffic.
Both the gauge cluster and center stack screen are easy to read after dark and in bright sunlight. The rearview camera projects a nice, crisp image in low light conditions: something that can’t be said for competitive products.
Sound quality from the standard audio system is surprisingly good. I had no problems hearing the radio when driving on the high-speed section of the I-10.
The iA is one of the few entries in its segment to offer a low-speed pre-collision warning system as standard equipment. Other standard safety features include daytime running lamps, tire pressure monitoring, antilock brakes, stability control, front, side and side curtain airbags and a first aid kit.
The peppy iA is on display at Scion dealerships nationwide.
Like: A great value for buyers in the subcompact segment, with excellent performance and an extensive roster of standard safety and convenience features.
Dislikes: Large trapezoidal grille seems ungainly on a small car.
Model: iA Manual
Base price: $15,700
As tested: $16,495
Horsepower: 106 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 103 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 31/41 mpg city/highway