Badge engineering. Mention this term to anyone in the automotive industry and you are sure to get a look of disgust. This comes from past attempts where a number of automakers seemed to rightly mess it up. The classic example is GM’s A-Body vehicles from the eighties where each brand’s version looked very close to one another. This led to the infamous Fortune Magazine cover showing this. But when done correctly, badge engineering can actually do a lot of good. You’re probably wondering how badge engineering can be done correctly. One way is to bring over a model not sold in the country. A recent example is the Scion iA which is a Mazda2 in different clothing.
Anyone who knows cars will instantly recognize the iA as a rebadged Mazda. The overall shape lines up perfectly with the larger 3 and 6 sedans. That’s not to say it is a bad thing. Mazda has been on a roll producing some of the sharpest looking vehicles in the industry and this model is no exception. Such details as a flowing character line and sculpting on doors make the iA a standout in a crowded class. Scion has done the requisite changes to transform the 2 into the iA with badge swaps and inserting a new front grille. The grille is the weak point in the iA’s as it doesn’t look quite right. Scion’s designers thought it would be a good idea to squish the tC’s grille and place it on the iA. The end result is polarizing, but not in a good way.
Getting yourself situated in the iA is quite easy with a small number of manual adjustments for the seat and a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes. Once adjusted, the seat provides excellent levels of comfort and support. Controls are within easy reach for driver and passenger and feel quite solid. Space in the back seat of the iA is what you expect in subcompact; decent amount of head and legroom for passengers under 5’7”. Trunk space measures out to 13.5 cubic feet, making it slightly better than other subcompact sedans.
The infotainment system is somewhat infuriating to use with the touchscreen as it doesn’t seem to act like other touchscreen systems. A perfect example is listening to something on your iPod. You can pause or skip tracks by using the touchscreen. But if you want to pick a different album or artist, you can’t choose it by using the touchscreen. You’re better off using the dial controller in the center console to move around and control the system.
Power comes from a 1.5L inline-four with 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque (@ 4,000 rpm). There is the choice of either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Our test iA came with the manual. The modest power output of the engine does very well in the city as it gets up to speed at a good rate. The expressway is another story as the 1.5L struggles to get up to speed, even with your foot planted on the floor. The six-speed manual makes the engine slightly more flexible when it comes to making a pass, but you’ll still be pushing the pedal almost to the floor. The manual itself is quite enjoyable. Movement of the shifter is quite smooth and feels precise when it comes to putting it in gear. Fuel economy is rated at 31 City/41 Highway/35 Combined. I got an average of 37 MPG in mixed driving conditions.
As it's a Mazda2 in disguise, the Scion iA is no slouch when it comes to driving fun. Around corners, the iA’s suspension feels sorted with barely any body roll and the willingness to change direction quickly. Steering is direct and provides the driver a decent level of road feel. Ride quality is smooth and the iA wasn’t unsettled by any bumps. One item I do wish Mazda and Toyota could work on is noise isolation. There is a good amount of road and wind noise coming into the cabin.
One item that sets the Scion iA apart from the competition is a low-speed collision avoidance system that comes standard. A radar system mounted on top of the windshield monitors the road and if it detects an obstruction, it will warn the driver. In certain situations, the system can activate the brakes to prevent or reduce the amount of damage in an accident.
The 2016 Scion iA proves that when done correctly, badge engineering does a lot of good. For Mazda who supplies the vehicle, it helps bring in some money so they can keep producing some of best driving vehicles on sale. For Scion (and soon to be Toyota), it gives them a subcompact sedan that is at the top of the class. The iA offers an engaging drive, extensive list of standard features, impressive fuel economy numbers, and good value. Our iA manual came with an as-tested price $16,495 with destination. The only option not on our vehicle was navigation for an additional $419.
While the Scion brand will be going away, the iA will be sticking around as a Toyota (creatively named the Toyota Yaris iA). No matter what the badge might say, it will still be regarded as one the best decisions Toyota has ever made.
Cheers: Smooth Six-Speed Manual, Fun to Drive, Automatic Braking System Standard
Jeers: Small Back Seat, Engine's Performance is Weak Outside the City, Road & Wind Noise
Disclaimer: Scion Provided the iA, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 1.5L DOHC 16-Valve Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Manual
Horsepower @ RPM: 106 @ 6000
Torque @ RPM: 103 @ 4000
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 31/41/35
Curb Weight: 2,385 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Salamanca, Guanajuato, Mexico
Base Price: $15,700
As Tested Price: $16,495 (Includes $795.00 Destination Charge)