Behind The Wheel: Last Scion-branded iA sedan inexpensive, sporty

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The Scion brand is going away, but there's still time to get a 2016 iA, an inexpensive sedan with impressive handling, top fuel mileage and surprising standard features.

This iA is new for 2016 and rides on a front-wheel drive platform and suspension that is noteworthy for its sporty handling. The starting manufacturer-suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $16,495 for a five-seater with six-speed manual transmission, while the six-speed automatic is $17,595. The four-door model is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine.

But it's not a stripped-down vehicle: Standard features include a rearview camera, push-button ignition, keyless entry, sport front bucket seats, 16-inch alloy wheels and a 7-inch, touch screen display with voice recognition. Plus, there are two years/25,000 miles of free, factory-recommended maintenance and roadside assistance.

Scion parent company Toyota announced in February that the brand, for which sales peaked in the U.S. at 173,000 in 2006, would disappear in August. Toyota dealerships will service Scions and honor the free maintenance commitment.

The Scion iA is a subcompact sedan version of the Mazda2, a small car that's not sold in the U.S. but has a reputation for exemplary handling. Toyota and Mazda established a partnership for Mazda to provide the 2016 iA to Toyota, and it is built in a factory alongside Mazda2s bound for other countries.

Top braking system

Its standard low-speed, pre-collision safety system can activate the brakes in stop-and-go traffic if a car in front suddenly stops. Typically, pre-collision systems are pricey options, even on luxury cars. Other standard features include turn signals on the outside mirrors, which improve safety by alerting nearby drivers that the iA is going to change lanes or make a turn, as well as hands-free Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, two USB ports and a height-adjustable driver's seat.

The iA, which is just more than 14 feet long, provides a commendable 41.9 inches of front-seat legroom and an unexpectedly large 15-cubic-foot trunk.

The 2016 iA test vehicle was the lowest-priced model, with manual transmission and no options or accessories. The car didn't feel or act cheap, due to soft-touch materials on the dashboard, attractive seat fabric and a six-speed that was precise and had short, satisfying throws.

The car, which has a small sporty steering wheel, was fun to drive, hugging the pavement and bounding around curves. It uses Mazda's 1.5-liter, double overhead cam, direct injection, SkyActiv four cylinder that optimizes power with fuel economy. While this engine generates only 106 horsepower, it made the lightweight test car feel spirited. Torque peaks at 103 foot-pounds at 4,000 rpm, and engine sounds could get a bit raucous when the car was hard pressed to accelerate up mountain roads.

Admirably, the test iA averaged 37 miles per gallon, which bested the federal government's city/highway estimate of 35 mpg. To get even better mileage, buyers can get the automatic transmission version, which is rated at 33/43 mpg and ranks as the top, gasoline-powered, non-hybrid small sedan in the U.S.

A final note: Toyota said it will fold the iA into its Toyota brand for the 2017 model year, but the new model name, pricing and equipment changes have not been announced.


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