Stick Shift: 2016 Scion iA

By: Brandon Randall

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For many years now Scion has been Toyota’s weapon of choice for targeting everything youth oriented. When the first models went on sale back in 2003, Toyota was attempting to capitalize on the tuner craze that swept the nation in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Especially on the west coast. Underpowered cars like the Honda Civic and Acura Integra came with low displacement engines but tuner friendly platforms, offering seemingly endless potential for power upgrades, bolt-on turbochargers, flashy body kits and over-the-top interiors. A four wheeled blank canvas begging to be made totally unique to you through limitless customization. Who didn’t get swept up? I certainly did. Hollywood did too, see any ‘Fast and Furious’ title for proof.
Now, over a decade later, Scion is still at it with an all new model for 2016, the iA. Another relative first for Scion is that the iA is a subcompact 4-door sedan. This newest Scion is fundamentally just a Mazda 2 with a few extra doors. Now that Mazda has pulled its pint-sized pill from the U.S. market, the iA is our only access to so much ‘Zoom Zoom’ at such a low price. Even from the outside, the iA’s profile looks like a Mazda 3 that stepped in front of Wayne Szalinski’s shrink machine from ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids.’
Its hood, front lights, and most everything else all the way back to the tail is from Mazda’s parts bin. No complaints here. With a gaping black trapezoidal mouth, halogen headlamps, chrome-tipped exhaust and respectably sized 16” alloy wheels, the iA already comes in a sporty, attractive package, while still leaving plenty of room for improvement. Of course, Scion being who they are, their will be a plethora of options for personalization available.
The inside is chalk full of value. Considering that the iA has a suggested retail price of just $15,700, everything of relative quality can be appreciated all the more. The interior of the iA is as clutter free and straight forward as can be. It radiates a level of polish far beyond what’s actually there. Plastic panels look high grade and have a nice feel. Padded panels with dark blue stitching and faux carbon fiber are tastefully situated throughout, providing a variety of different textures and finishes to enjoy.
A commanding 7” stand-up infotainment screen calls to mind the new Mercedes CLA. Controlling the infotainment system is a round dial placed in the center console. Tucked behind Mazda’s beautiful three-spoke steering wheel is a motorcycle inspired digital gauge cluster. It’s compact and no-fuss, only reading out the important stuff. Rear seats are tight but fold flat making cavernous an already generously sized trunk.
The Scion iA is a car for the younger generation, and happily, it comes equipped to satisfy. Their are AUX and USB ports aplenty, with iPod connectivity, music streaming via Bluetooth, Pandora, voice recognition technology and enough trunk space for a couple 12” subwoofers to treat the neighbors to the latest… whatever kids listen to these days. Throw in a rear backup camera, push button ignition and optional Navigation and we begin to see the kind of bang you can get for your buck.
Under the small hood we see a smaller engine. Not entirely unexpected given the segment. The iA comes equipped with a 1.5L 4-cylinder, making a whopping 106 hp. You can harness all that power through a 6-speed automatic or manual transmission. I thoroughly enjoyed, and would highly recommend the standard gearbox because of its short throws, light clutch and precise shift gates. Combined MPG is an impressive 35, with 41 on highway. Of course, with so little power you’ll wish you had a few more horses up front pulling when coming out of a dead stop. However, I found the iA to have enough gusto at midrange speeds to dart around slower traffic and put a smile on your face.
What makes the iA as great as the front wheel drive imports of the past is its tight chassis and wonderful level of driver feedback. Steering is very neutral with only a hint of understeer in tight corners. In general the iA’s suspension handles anything you throw at it without missing a beat. It would especially shine bright on an autocross road course where it could fully take advantage of its crisp turn in and sharp handling characteristics. It stays level under load, brakes with tremendous confidence and weighs in at a dainty 2400 lb.
If only one word could be used to describe the new Scion iA, I would say it’s ‘value.’ If I could use a second word it would be ‘fun.’ Maybe i’d use ‘fun’ first, no wait… Well, whatever the order, the iA brings plenty of both and will leave enough money left over to bolt on plenty more.

Price as tested: $16,495.00

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