Quick: what are the biggest issues with compact cars?
— They are typically a total snooze outside
— And alarmingly depressing to drive
Is that just an unbreakable curse, or can Scion engineer and design its way to greatness on its first attempt?
Scion has a double threat of new compacts for 2016: the all-new iA sedan and iM hatchback take over for the discontinued iQ, xD and xB.
After years of wild niche models, Scion is refocusing its mission to speak to 2015 buyer wants and needs via far more traditional body styles. The iM is a tC-based five-door hatchback in the Focus and Golf size class, while this iA the brand’s first-ever sedan.
We had a chance to drive both this week and are eager to share the full photo set, HD video and drive impressions — along with pricing and availability details.
So why start with the iA? Because it is fan-tas-tic.
The iA is instantly the best subcompact available in the US. Competing with the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent and Chevrolet Sonic, the new iA sedan is an incredibly fresh take on low-cost transport via a triple threat of slick exterior design, fantastic cabin and ace handling.
Is it the perfect car for all people? Of course not. There are some tradeoffs for the iA’s 16k pricing… but upside galore: a five-seater for the price of the iQ supermini!
The iA is a platform share with the upcoming 2016 Mazda2 hatchback, but will be the only way to have a four-door version here in America. With that sharing, there is clear family resemblance in the panel surfacing, slick creases and elegant overall proportions.
But where the Mazda2 might be forgettable from the nose and tail, the Scion iA makes those angles its most striking features.
First off, the nose.
NOSE – Design Analysis
This polarizing new look is completely unlike any Scion, Mazda, Toyota, or even Lexus on the market today. A deep singleframe grille in pinched trapezoid shape is deeply handsome and eye-catching. The grille mixes gloss black bumper elements with matte silver lower slats and a chrome edge element.
A mailslot intake above the grille is just as fresh, while the cascading jawline edge forms two strong bumper edges that meet the inner headlamp edges elegantly.
The overall form language is a breath of fresh air versus any competitor in the segment, or perhaps even the one above.
Tying this fresh face together is a long leading edge of the hood that visually lowers the car from the side, plus flows perfectly into the cab-backward windshield and A-pillars from dead ahead.
Not everyone will love the look, but we do. To be so fresh and enticing without any LEDs or glitz!? Major achievement.
And that’s not even the best part! The profile is easily as fresh as any other angle, despite much sharing with the Mazda2.
PROFILE and TAIL – Design Analysis
Crisp shoulderlines flow from both the nose and tail into the bodysides, with the intersection and visual appeal of these creases playing nicely with a sharp rising sill of the lower doors.
As the pinched fender details resolve into the normal bodywork, the line from the nose continues visually around the rear wheels. Same with the crease coming off the trunk and into the rear doors: continue the line and it sweeps around the front axle.
Simple slimline rear taillamps and an interesting brakelight graphic forming a U-shape when lit. The iA’s sedan trunk also corrects the semi-awkward chopped rear overhang of the Mazda2 hatchback.
Overall, for this segment, the level of design quality on the iA makes it the coolest compact on the block. Even on fairly tiny four-lug alloys and riding too high off the ground, the iA looks fresh and playful in a way that the Fiesta, Sonic and Accent do not.
So, it looks fresh outside with premium aesthetic appeal and almost a rear-drive look from some angles.
But for a $15k base price on the six-speed manual, and $16k for the automatic — the cabin is set to be all hard plastics and blank switches, right?
Perfect driving position with rake/reach steering wheel and seat adjustments giving a big range of comfy positions. For us, the iA is best sitting low and reclined in the supportive seat; the three-spoke steering wheel extended out as low and far extended as possible. From here, the iA really feels ready to get down to business. Standard front collision warning and city braking support employs stereo cameras and lidar behind the rear-view mirror looking ahead into traffic. It bings a warning in dangerous scenarios, and can stop or slow the car automatically under 18-mph if it senses a crash is imminent. Perhaps more useful in day-to-day driving, when the system sees something ahead, it automatically primes the vacuum pump for the brakes so max stopping power is available the moment you peg the brake pedal. Impressive feature for such a value model.
Same goes for the standard media system.
A standard infotainment display lives atop the center stack with touchscreen controls, Bluetooth streaming audio and phone integration. The only option besides color and transmission from launch is an SD card for the navigation. All iA’s are wired and Nav-ready, so you can buy the estimated $600 nav card either at purchase or a later date. Installation? Just pop it in!
Notably, the iA lacks a central armrest altogether, which is disappointing. Scion is working on this accessory and expects it to be available a few months after launch.
So is it a total love-fest? Around town, absolutely. The iA is eager and its 1.5-liter four-cylinder has a gutsy growl up the tachometer. It feels airy and light in town driving, with good NVH isolation and little road noise.
As the pace picks up past 50-mph, the iA starts to suffer from big road rumble and tire noise. Par for the segment, but still a huge change versus the Mazda3 or Mazda6 — or the new Scion iM.
The back seat brings good leg, knee and foot room but is narrow. This notable shoulder tightness is a non-issue with two people in back, but with three riders the iA is notably tighter than the Corolla for entry/exit as well as once loaded up.
The iA does trump the Corolla in the way-back, though: a 13.5-cubic-foot trunk for the Scion tops the Corolla’s 13-cubic-foot boot.
That big trunk is partially thanks to a ‘sport-tuned torsion beam’ for the rear suspension. This design is not as well-liked as independent rear ends, but has been engineered to make it as sporty as possible.
And it seemed to work. The iA is seriously fun to chuck around corners. You can really push the car to its limits safely and at legal speeds. In the twisty roads around Grand Rapids, Michigan, the iA carries a ton of speed around corners effortlessly. With TCS off, the front end pushes a tiny bit at eight-tenths before a clean four-wheel-drift takes over. A very neutral chassis tune makes us imagine a roadster Mazda version of this front-drive iA…. MX-2?
Keeping up speed in the corners is critical for twisty-road pace in the iA. Like any Lotus or the MX-5 proper, keeping speed is easier than adding it back on corner exit.
The iA really pulls convincingly from a stop up to around 30-mph, and also has good chug for mid-speed passing from about 20-mph to 60-mph.
Once up to speed, though, the iA really needs a lead foot to build pace. The six-speed manual we spent most time in needs a downshift to second or third to gain pace on the highway. A big gear spread, it seems like, with super short entry gears and very tall top ends.
The flipside is that the iA can chill at 90-mph in sixth with barely 3,000-rpm on the tach. The automatic is expected to dominate the sales mix for around 90-percent of buyers. And they are in for a treat. The six-speed auto is a classic torque-conveter unit that is far more pure and satisfying than any CVT — a cheap and light transmission that many competitors employ.
Either way, to make good speed the iA eggs you on: harder throttle! shift closer to revline! downshift sooner!
All this is to ring out the 106-horsepower of the iA.
Yes, that’s right.
Seems wrong and far too low, right?
But with a curb weight of just 2400 pounds, the iA has a better power-to-weight ratio than the Fiesta 1.0-liter turbo triple or the Sonic 1.4T. In fact, the iA has matches the ~9.0-second sprint of anything in its price range, plus tops them all with ridiculous EPA and real-world efficiency. The 1.5L iA is notably more efficient around town than the Sonic or Accent — which each barely nudge 28-mpg vs the iA’s ~33-mpg. Scion is shooting for 42-mpg on the highway — a deeply impressive score.
The iA manual stickers at $15,700 while the auto is priced at $16,800 (plus $795 delivery charge for either). The iA goes on sale on September 1st, 2015 as a 2016 model.
A nice surprise? Two years or 24-months of scheduled maintenance is included free of charge. Aside from a few BMW MINI’s, we cannot think of any other non-luxury make that offers such a perk.
Scion’s trademark Pure buying process with no-haggle prices still applies, and the firm is even Beta testing a Pure+ online buying system. You are still plopped into a dealer for the time being, but you can complete the entire financing and monthly costs online before the sale. Pure+ has halved the industry average showroom purchase time already: from a whopping 4 hours down to less than half that. The goal is, as it should be, to be able to walk into a Scion store at 11am, and drive away with your purcahsed car just an hour later.
This is especially critical for Scion and its under-35 target market. Regulatory issues mean a full online sale is not yet available, but Scion is far ahead of the overall Toyota/Lexus curve here. As ever, responding to wired buyer wants via their 1000 showrooms. That total, by the way, has Scion in more than 80-percent of Toyota showrooms nationwide.
So, we love this little car.
Hopefully the reasons are clear from the effusive praise above.
Would we like more power and perhaps even a lower price? Of course.
But like wishing to be thinner and younger, those wishes have some major technical limitations in real life….
Overall, the most impressive thing about the new iA is that it is pretty cool and not at all depressing. Something about many other compacts just makes you want to start shopping at Aldi for knockoff Oreos.
The iA is totally different.
It is a playful, confident expression of city-ready dimensions and mileage — with 90-percent of the great Mazda3/Mazda6 handling and cabin comfort at a fraction of the price.
Versus its competition and their mandatory and very pricey option groups, the iA rests its case the most innovative and fun-loving compact sedan on sale in 2016.
But why trust this hack? =] The best possible thing to do is to drive the Sonic, Accent, Rio and Fiesta after you try out the iA. The antidepressant-style optimism of the iA is contagious — and puts its peers to shame.
The Scion iA is not just about its low price. It is about high value inside, outside and on full throttle.
2016 Scion iA Review
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.