2016 Scion iA

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Quick Summary
The 2016 Scion iA sedan is a strong value given its affordable price tag, plentiful features and good performance for the class. It's only a few minor improvements away from being a top contender in this increasingly competitive segment.

What Is It?
The 2016 Scion iA is an all-new compact sedan in the brand's lineup. It's not an entirely new car, though, as it's actually a Mazda 2 sedan that's been restyled by Scion for the U.S. market. (The Mazda 2 sedan was never sold in the U.S.) Scion benefits from Mazda's recently improved quality, features, fuel economy and performance. Value defines the iA, with a starting price of $16,495 for the six-speed manual transmission model. The optional six-speed automatic adds another $1,100.

We tested both transmissions and recommend the automatic-equipped version over the six-speed manual. Though it accelerates slightly more slowly, the automatic does away with the manual's poor clutch and shifter feel.

Compared to other subcompact sedans like the Chevrolet Sonic or Ford Fiesta, the Scion iA is slightly smaller in most dimensions. Its 171.7-inch-long body is about 2 inches shorter than the Ford Fiesta, and the iA is an inch or so narrower than the Fiesta and the Sonic. One notable area where the iA is larger is its 101.2-inch wheelbase. That's nearly 2 inches longer than the Sonic and more than 3 inches longer than the Fiesta. The result is more than 3 extra inches of legroom in back compared to the Fiesta.

Standard equipment includes 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and ignition, air-conditioning, cruise control, a 7-inch touchscreen, Internet streaming radio apps, Bluetooth connectivity and a rearview camera. Two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance further sweetens the deal. A navigation system is among the few options available, but neither of our test cars was so equipped.

How Does It Drive?
The 2016 Scion iA is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. This is significantly less power than its domestic competition, as the Fiesta gets a standard 1.6-liter engine with 120 hp while the Chevy Sonic comes standard with a 1.8-liter engine making 138 hp.

Sixty mph arrives in 9.1 seconds in the manual transmission version, which is several tenths slower than the Honda Fit with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and Ford Fiesta EcoBoost with a five-speed manual transmission. When equipped with the six-speed automatic, the iA is marginally slower.

With that in mind, we weren't all that surprised that the iA takes its time reaching highway speeds. On models with the automatic transmission, a quick flick of the Sport switch noticeably sharpens engine response and holds gears longer to improve acceleration, but you still have to floor it when merging with faster-moving traffic.

Thanks in no small part to it being a Mazda underneath, the iA is surprisingly capable when tossed into turns, at least compared to other subcompact sedans.

Though its tires howl in protest and Mazda's usually precise steering is noticeably absent, the iA performs adequately. In other words, it'll make evasive maneuvers without trouble, but it will do so without much feedback.

The brakes also feel trustworthy and easy to modulate, while the braking distances are average for the segment.

Road, tire and wind noise are an ever-present downside in most subcompacts and they're noticeable here, too. One of our two test cars had a wind-induced whistle near the driver side window, which was present even at low speeds. Otherwise, there's no more tire and road noise in the iA than any other sedan in this class.

What's It Like Inside?
Considering the Scion iA's price and competition, it exceeded our expectations for comfort and refinement. The front seats offer only basic adjustments, but there's ample support and cushioning for comfortable long-distance cruising. Taller drivers may wish for more extension from the telescoping steering wheel, though, as the lack of range will force them into a more upright position closer to the dash.

Adult-size passengers relegated to the rear seats will notice the lack of head- and legroom that is typical for this class. A sloping rear roof line and tall waistline contribute to the feeling of confinement.

The iA's interior is among the best in the class, and the praiseworthy infotainment system found in other Mazda vehicles suits the Scion brand's tech focus. A 7-inch touchscreen is placed right in the driver's sight line, and the knob-based controller is similar to that of BMW and Mercedes. Stitched leather on the dash and doors is a nice touch not found in other subcompacts. There are an abundance of plastic surfaces inside, some of which look and feel cheap, so there's still some room for improvement.

Rear visibility is impeded by a tall rear deck lid, but the standard rearview camera removes any guesswork when reversing. A fortunate byproduct of the elevated rear deck is very useful cargo space, though on paper, its 13.5-cubic-foot capacity is only average. The trunk is tall and deep, with a low liftover height and a remote release on the key fob. The split-folding rear seats don't fold flat, but can be released via individual handles inside the trunk.

What Safety Features Are Available?
In addition to the basic safety features mandated by the government, the Scion iA comes with seat-mounted side and side curtain airbags. There's also a standard low-speed (under 18 mph) frontal collision warning and automatic braking system, which is a rare option in this class, let alone a standard feature.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the iA as  a Top Safety Pick +, which means it performs highly in all of the agency's crash tests.

What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Get?
Our automatic-transmission-equipped tester produced an impressive 44.8 mpg on our standard test loop and 31 mpg overall over two weeks (33 overall for the automatic). This places the iA among the most fuel-efficient subcompacts we've tested. Its primary rivals, the Fit and Fiesta, only managed the mid-30s on our loop.

The EPA estimates fuel economy at 37 mpg combined (33 city/42 highway) for the automatic transmission and 35 mpg combined (31 city/41 highway) for the manual, numbers that place it at the top of the class by a narrow margin.

What Vehicles Does the Scion iA Compete Against?
There are currently three Edmunds "A"-rated subcompacts. Among those, the Honda Fit is the most utilitarian. It offers a versatile interior design, with unique rear seats that fold both vertically and horizontally to create a highly functional rear seat/cargo area.

Ford's Fiesta offers both sedan and hatchback body styles and two powertrain configurations. Combine the Fiesta's striking styling and low cost and it, too, receives our highest mark.

A quiet, comfortable interior is rare in a subcompact, but that's part of what earns the Hyundai Accent its "A" rating.

Why Should You Consider This Car?
In a segment that is narrowly focused on affordability, this newcomer has broad appeal, delivering a nice interior, abundant features and impressive fuel economy. Two years of free scheduled maintenance is virtually unheard of in this class.

Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
The Scion iA's lack of rear passenger space is its most significant drawback, even though many rivals don't fare much better. If you regularly transport more than one passenger, there are better choices. The atypical Honda Fit seems positively spacious by comparison.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.