While it’s great to test the latest hi-tech, hi-buck vehicles, we really enjoy when a manufacturer makes an inexpensive car something special.
Especially when it’s not only good, but also a surprisingly good drive. And this is one of those vehicles.
Yaris, I am your father…
OK, the Yaris has a confused parentage going on here. Until last year, the iA was a Scion. And when Toyota got rid of that brand, it adopted the little sedan. Hence the funny iA name – clearly a remnant from Scion.
But of course, that’s only half the story, because the iA is actually built by Mazda. Elsewhere in the world, it’s known as the Mazda 2. But it’s not sold here by the zoom-zoom people. But the Mazda DNA is deep in the iA – and that’s a good thing.
One look, and you see the Mazda-ness in the design. While the front end has a Toyota-like snout and large grille, the rest of the proportions look like it came from somewhere else. In this case, there’s a handsome small Euro-sedan look to the iA, and it looks like a 7/8th scale Mazda 3 sedan. Our tester in Abyss (Blue) looked tasteful, and the standard 16-inch alloy wheels and chrome tip exhaust add an upscale and sporty air.
You may wonder why the iA is sedan and not a hatchback – which would seem to attract more buyers in the price bracket. Our guess is Mazda didn’t want to create competition to its own Mazda 3 hatch and CX-3 crossover. Sedan it is…
Inside there’s plenty of tell-tales in the iA’s genes. Again, this works in your favor, because Mazda has been making big strides lately to create interiors that look and feel a grade above what you pay.
There’s the instantly definable stuff, like the instrument panel with the large center pod housing the speedometer, the 7-inch tablet-style display, and the very European info-tainment controls behind the shifter, with a large knob for calling up items, and a smaller volume control underneath.
There’s also plenty of chrome trim, tasty little carbon-fiber-esque bits on the steering wheel, and high-quality materials throughout.
The iA feels good, too. The front seats are surprisingly well contoured with a sporty feel, and a nice lower cushion that fits taller drivers as well. And with 10-inches of fore-aft travel and a seat height adjuster, drivers of all sizes will find a nice fit.
The compact dimensions mean the rear seats are tight on legroom, but the large greenhouse gives good headroom, and you don’t feel like you’re in a dungeon like some small cars. They also split fold –giving you added cargo carrying ability. It’s not hatchback-huge, but plenty roomy.
The iA also shows its Scion parentage, which always included loads of standard features. Here the iA delights with goodies you wouldn’t expect on an entry-level sedan. Tilt and telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, remote controls on the steering wheel, power windows, locks and mirrors, pushbutton ignition, standard Bluetooth phone and audio, six speaker audio system, that 7-inch tablet display with touchscreen and voice recognition, rearview camera and two USB ports. Wow.
And then there’s the Zoom-Zoom part.
You got a pretty good car right there. But the company that creates the Miata knows a little something about making small cars fun to drive, too. Power is supplied by a 1.5-liter, 4 cylinder that kicks out 106 hp – which doesn’t sound like much. Add in our tester’s optional 6-speed automatic, and we weren’t expecting blazing acceleration.
But ignore the numbers – this is a happy, revvy little engine, and the 6-speed automatic is equally responsive – especially when you put it in sport mode. There’s also a manual-mode that lets you nudge the shift lever back and forth to call up the gears for more driver fun. It’s not a fast car, but the willingness to rev goads you into kicking it around and taking full advantage of every horse.
We previously tested a manual transmission iA, and found it to be quite the junior sport sedan – and probably would be our choice – but the automatic works beautifully, and still delivers plenty of enjoyment.
But this is the Miata company, right? And the iA’s chassis is even better than the powertrain. It steers with precision and a nice light touch. The suspension talks to you, and it’s a lively little thing that’s fun to toss into corners and slice and dice through city traffic.
The ride is surprisingly supple for a small car that handles this well, and we found the gearing of the automatic model actually makes it a better – and quieter – freeway cruiser than the manual transmission model we tested before. All this and we average low 30 mpg’s too.
While this is a sporty sedan, it’s also a small family car, so we appreciate the standard Low-Speed Pre-Collision System which alerts you to brake if it perceives a potential collision, and will automatically apply the brakes if the driver doesn’t respond.
And of course, the Toyota part.
And that means great value. The iA starts at $15,950, with all the goodies we mentioned above. Our automatic equipped iA started at $17,050. Add $895 for delivery, processing, etc. and our tester rang in at $17,950. Toyota even throws in complimentary maintenance for the first 24 months/25,000 miles.
No matter whether it’s a Toyota, a Scion or re-badged Mazda, the Yaris iA is a great little sedan. We like the modern style, the extensive equipment level, great price, and best of all – it’s just a ball to drive.
One of our favorite small sedans. By any name.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.