The cars we loved.
Have you ever attended a party where the person who made it worth going to arrived late and just before the lights went out and doors closed? That’s the curious dilemma of Toyota’s Scion brand. Created to appeal to hip urban youth who were making the transition from video games to their first new car. SCION started with a bang thanks to a boxy pair of car things that in many ways defied categorization and spawned a trend. Other models followed before peaking with the sporty FR-S. Then, gradually the Scion line up would be pruned. First the capable but odd looking tC, leaving the brand with a few odd looking compact cars (save for the FR-S).
Then came the iA. The subcompact sedan is Scion’s first and gives the brand a badly needed shot in the arm, just as its about to run its course. Despite the iA’s late arrival, Toyota is still slated to end SCION brand and perhaps roll its products into it’s main line.
The FR-S coupe and once trendy xB put the brand on the map with different subsets of it’s target market, but sales have been declining in recent years. The exciting FR-S which catered to tuner-boys is not enough to sustain a brand. The other products from Scion either missed their targets design, affordability or fun factor targets.
It’s too early to say if the iA will make a dent in the sales of segment leaders like Ford’s Fiesta, Nissan’s Versa or even Toyota’s own Yaris just yet. Unfortunately for Scion the iA just might be too little too late for that despite being the most exciting car outside of the FR-S sport coupe on Scion lots. It’s even better than the non ST versions of the Ford Fiesta, a car that once shared a platform with the last gen Mazda 2 in the US (which is now gone).
Much of what makes the iA so fun to drive is the fact that it’s based on the new Mazda 2/Demo. Having Mazda roots these days means that the iA has some performance chops, even if it does not wear it on it’s sleeves. Much of the Mazda Skyactive technology such as the excellent 6 speed manual or automatic transmission, well calibrated suspension and feisty 106 hp 1.5 liter four cylinder engine make the transition to Scion unscathed.
The iA also gets a wonderfully simple yet elegant variation of the Mazda interior that makes the iA look and feel more expensive than it is. At just under $18,000 for all the must have infotainment gadgets like bluetooth, touchscreens and phone integration, the iA shames far more expensive cars in the standard kit for the dollar category (I’m talking about you BMW and Audi).
The sparse optional choices are limited to one trim level in either automatic or manual and go from there, but not too far. Like other Scion cars, the iA can be customized at dealerships despite the few options from the factory.
The little iA is swift, but not likely to win any stoplight matches with a 9 second 0 to 60 time. Of course that is not what the iA is about. Despite its great handling and refined ride, it is designed for entry level buyers who want considerable value – the original ideal behind the Scion brand in the first place.
Ironically just as the brand has rolled out a fun car that compliments the FR-S and the Miata in spirit, the iA will never get the chance to lure young buyers to Toyota’s youth division experiment for long. Had it been offered years ago, it might have saved the brand. If The iA becomes a Toyota badged car, it will slot below the Corolla and possibly above the Yaris. It’s much more fun to drive than any of those, but may appeal to a slightly different market.
About the only bad thing about the iA might be it’s looks, the front in particular. The big grill looks like a Cylon raider’s helmet and looks too heavy for a car with such petite proportions. While not a deal breaker, it will take most some time to warm up too.
Fortunately the elegant lines of Mazda’s KODO design philosophy are mostly intact on the sides and back of the car. The original 2 in it’s new form is so attractive, Toyota should have just turned the grille upside down and called it a day.
The TARDIS effect of being big inside and small out has been a Japanese car staple for years now and the iA carries on that tradition with modest headroom and space for rear passengers. This trend has resulted in many small cars today having high side profiles. On the iA it makes even the standard 16 inch wheels look small.
Visually there’s little to bridge the iA with any current Toyota product except for the gaping pinched mouth front ends of some Lexus cars. It will be interesting to see how this car will fit into the Toyota family and if it will get a nose job as a result. As a inexpensive small car that’s fun to drive, has Toyota’s backing and reputation mixed with Mazda’s excitement factor, the iA will be tough to beat under any name.