New Scion iA Sedan: Highly Affordable, Slightly Confusing

The new Scion 1A is a big departure for the automaker — its first sedan and the result of a one-time agreement with Mazda. And, the car is either a successful and experimental addition for Scion, or an awkward swing and miss. It’s all in how you look at it. I mean that very literally.

With the iA sedan and the new iM hatchback, Scion is deliberately moving away from the boxier, edgier look of its past models of its past in favor of an equally youth-friendly, but otherwise less distinct design language. 

Starting at just north of $15.000 for the manual transmission model (about $1,000 more for an automatic), the iA immediacy becomes one of the most affordable Japanese import sedans the moment it rolls into a showroom.  Beyond the transmission and power train options, there are no additional options to choose from as Scion opts for a mono-spec build plan. The thinking there is Scion’s young would-be buyers don’t want to spend forever in a dealership negotiating or reviewing trim levels. So, buyers get what they get no matter what color they choose.

What buyers do get includes power windows, cruise control, rearview camera, electric power steering, six speaker stereo system with USB connection, Bluetooth phone connection, ABS, emergency braking assist, stability control, traction control and pre-collision safety system.

Related: 2016 Scion iM Drives in Uncertain Direction

On the inside, it’s a Mazda-built, 1.5 liter, 106 horsepower, inline four cylinder engine (stamped with a Toyota badge) lowered onto a Mazda frame (based on the layout of the Mazda 2). The driving experience is adequate for urban mobility with enough power for freeway use. The handling is a little soft, but it’s a $15,000 sedan. You can’t expect rally car handling.

The external styling can be a head-scratcher. The car is built on a Mazda frame, and some aspects reflect cues from the Mazda 6. That’s not a bad thing, considering the current Mazda 6 was in the running for multiple “Car of the Year” awards when it debuted a couple years ago. The flowing line from hood to rear fender has a little Mazda flair to it, so the car might seem to have a unified, if rival OEM-inspired design language.

But, any other angle reveals a car with a confused identity. The front end is sloping and aggressive — very Mazda inspired and busy. The back end has a safer, more Toyota-based feel. The end product looks like two cars mashed together It’s up to the would-be buyer to decide if they like the resulting hybrid (not the Prius variety). Apply that old joke about a mullet and reverse the descriptions. The Scion iA is party in the front, business at the back.

While Scion did away with its more distinct aesthetics, the intended audience for its new iA and iM remains the same. Toyota’s sister company aims its ride directly at young drivers — first time buyers in the new car market. By keeping the MSRP around $16,000, Scion made sure its first sedan serves that buyer class well enough. The automaker also wedged enough features and technology into that $16,000.

But, the styling is oddly inconsistent, meaning the iA might prove an acquired taste for potential owners.