Amid the rising sales of truck and sport utility vehicles, sales of small, subcompact cars have held their own, suggesting that attributes such as affordability and fuel efficiency still have enormous appeal for a significant population of buyers.
The segment is also likely to expand as new, city-dwelling buyers, both young and old, who might for an alternative to vehicles that don’t really fit into increasingly scarce parking spaces in urban areas, enhancing the overall appeal of cars such as the new Scion iA.
The iA is the anchor of an effort by Toyota to re-invigorate the Scion brand, which has struggled in recent years at least in part because of a product strategy that seemed hit or miss. With the introduction of iA, which will compete directly with cars such as Honda Fit, Mazda 2, Chevrolet Sonic and Nissan Versa, Scion is making a bid to re-establish its presence and influence in the heart of the affordable, subcompact market.
The car’s exterior styling is competent and is mercifully free of the quirkiness that has undermined the exterior designs of Scion and Toyota products in the past. The fact the iA is the product of a joint venture in Mexico between Toyota and Mazda, one of its smaller Japanese rivals, has bestowed the iA with a nice, clean but not flashy appearance.
The iA front fascia is uniquely Scion and follows in the tradition of new models from Lexus and Toyota by giving the car a unique and readily identifiable face complete with halogen headlights that have been tucked into the corners of the design.
On the inside, the Scion iA is impressive for a car that will retail for less than $20,000. Prices for the manual transmission start at $16,495 for the version with a manual transmission and $17,595 for the version with an automatic transmission and options are few. There is also a $750 destination and delivery fee.
In the past, Scion’s have suffered from cheap-looking interiors filled with plastic. But the iA is relatively plush and filled with soft-touch material along the dashboard and inner doors and even the piano black accents around the small center console enhance the overall appearance of the cabin.
The instrument cluster with a tachometer and analog speedometer was clean and easy to read, though the trip odometer didn’t have enough back lighting to overcome the sun’s glare, which made it next to impossible to read on a bright day in Grand Rapids when TheDetroitBureau.com drove the car. The graphics on the seven-inch screen in the center stack that’s also used for back-up camera were also nicely done and the steering wheel had a nice feel in your hand.
Navigation is available as a $395 option, but Toyota is taking something of a gamble, I think, with Scion iA’s entertainment system. There is no connection for satellite radio and no compact disc player.
The theory is motorists who want music can bring their own into the car UBS drive or their smart phone, which can be connected to the audio system. But the system comes with Bluetooth, voice recognition and quick access to streaming sites such as Pandora.
(Scion open to “any product suitable” while looking for winning formula. For more, Click Here.)
The back seat of the iA, however, was tiny given the 101-inch wheelbase and limits the car’s utility as a people carrier. But the trunk space, which bigger than some of its competitors, was modest.
The powertrain in the iA was built around a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 106 horsepower and 103 foot pounds of torque that was matched up with a six-speed manual transmission. A six-automatic transmission is optional, but I found driving the six-speed manual transmission was a great deal of fun thanks to a very favorable power-to-weight ratio, which helps offset the lack of raw horsepower. The version equipped with a manual transmission weighs only 2,385 pounds.
Aside from being more difficult to use in heavy traffic, one of the reasons manual transmission have been disappearing from consumer shopping lists are balky clutches and hard to manipulate shifts. The manual transmission in the iA is first rate, very smooth and easy to operate and makes the car more fun to drive.
(Click Here to see more about Scion’s plans to reconnect with young buyers.)
The automatic is surprisingly peppy, when in “sport” mode. However, the lightness of the vehicle combined with its gearing made its performance a pleasant surprise.
The iA is also equipped with multiple air bags and a low-speed collision warning system that both alerts the driver if a crash in eminent and will stop the car if the vehicle is traveling at speeds below 18 miles per hour, which is adequate for stop-and go traffic where a lot of fender benders occur. But the system doesn’t work at higher speeds, according to Scion officials.
The iA also comes with a fairly lengthy list of standard equipment, including air conditioning, power windows and door locks and a tiltable and telescoping steering wheel as well as 16-inch alloy wheels.
(Scion uses alphabet soup to punch up new models. Click Here for the story.)
All and all, the Scion iA is nicely appointed and fun to drive and I am pretty sure a good number of potential buyers, who are looking for something smaller and maneuverable, will find it a very good value.