The legacy of Scion continues to permeate throughout Toyota showrooms. While the logos, marketing material, and the fancy displays have long since been deposited in the dark corners of history, several of its models continue to linger in Toyota showrooms. One of these is the budget friendly iA sedan. Designed and engineered with help from Mazda, the iA was Scion's last ditch effort at attracting young first time buyers before the rug was pulled from under it. Will the addition of a Toyota badge and a new name allow the Yaris iA to still fulfill its mission in life? Or does it get lost in the shuffle for good.
The exterior styling of our Chromium hued test car is an interesting canvas when you have a chance to take a closer look at all of the styling elements that are on display here. The front fascia for instance reminds us of a species of freshwater carp we saw on display at the local fish market. This is mainly due to its large gaping mouth, as well as its headlight design which adds to its fishy motif even further. Thankfully, things do improve at the rear of the car, where the rear fascia channels most of its Mazda infused design, and looks relatively slick and handsome in motion. Our car's base wheels even add a subtle dose of aggression, though they balance things out with their small size.
The interior of our tester is where the majority of its Mazda DNA stands out (for better and for worse.) A good trait bestowed by its Mazda roots is its nice design, which utilizes high quality materials and eliminates some of the ergonomic oddities that exist in its counterpart, the Yaris hatchback. This infusion also allows the iA to come with standard equipment such as a rear backup camera, a 7-inch touchscreen display, and other goodies that are often optional extras on many luxury cars. The iA's budget oriented nature emerges in other areas however, with the doors having a hollow metallic sound when they were shut, the manually operated parking brake lever, as well as the lack of navigation in our tester. That latter item was highlighted by the redundant "Nav" button, which brought up a separate information screen informing us of the absence of this feature when pushed.
Lastly, the iA also has what can be widely considered to be THE WORST push button start layout we have ever encountered in an automobile. The button is mounted by the gauge cluster, and is physically blocked by the windshield control stalk. This cumbersome setup forces drivers to gingerly work their finger around the stalk to hit the button. While we appreciate the addition of this feature at such a low price point, we wish Toyota/Mazda engineers would've moved the button to a more central and easily usable location.
The front seats are nothing to write home about in terms of support, but they were reasonably comfortable, and offered an excellent driving position. The rear seats are typical of this segment and offered adult passengers low levels of rear headroom, cramped legroom, and equally cramped shoulder room. We recommend either leaving this space for small children, or doing what we did and fold them down to enhance the already impressive 13.5 cubic ft of cargo space offered by the trunk.
With such an interesting blend of traits, its a shame that the iA's biggest weakness is ironically the one thing that Mazda usually gets right, performance. While we have no complaints about the excellent 6-speed manual gearbox in our tester and its laser sharp accuracy through the gears, all of our fury was focused on the engine. The 2017 Yaris iA is based on the Mazda2 sedan, and that means the 2's 1.5 liter four cylinder engine also makes the transition unchanged. With only a meager 106 horsepower on tap, the paltry engine delivers sluggish acceleration, and requires the driver to make maximum use of the manual gearbox to extract the iA's true potential. This might be fun out on a twisty road, but in city commuting it can be downright annoying especially when leaving a stoplight. The meager horsepower also forces the driver to avoid passing when possible, and instead to choose a lane and stay with it for as long as possible.
Thankfully, the iA has handling prowess that helps make up for the engine's noticeable flaws. The car has a playful character that is highlighted by its precise steering, responsive brakes, and toss able handling manners. Granted the torsion beam suspension and rear drum brakes are concessions for its budget oriented mission, but don't let that stop you from exploring the car's limits, this is a slow car that loves to be driven hard. It's also kind to your fuel budget too with the iA capable of returning 35 mpg in combined driving. The iA does compete with rivals like the Fiat 500, but the spunky Italian is only available in hatchback guise, and also makes more power in mid-range Turbo trim. Another budget friendly contender is the 2017 Mitsubishi Mirage and while it is even slower than the iA, it does have a lower price point, and higher highway fuel economy (42 mpg)
Pricing for the 2017 Yaris starts at $15,950 with our tester having a final MSRP of $16,815. Unlike many other subcompacts, the iA is a relatively straightforward buying experience, with buyers having only one trim level and engine to choose from. The only key option is transmission choice with the iA wielding either a manual or automatic transmission. Dealers do have a range of accessories available for those that choose to personalize the iA, but we advise avoiding them, especially if you wish to maintain its high level of budget friendly value. This slick pricing layout should especially please families of first time teen drivers that want a vehicle that can deliver the things that tech-savvy millennials demand, but in a budget friendly package that doesn't overwhelm the skill level of the new driver.