2017 Toyota Yaris iA

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One of the best little Toyotas isn’t.

It’s the Yaris iA. Which was badged as a Scion last year. But it’s not that anymore, either.

It’s actually a Mazda2 . . . which you can’t buy at a Mazda store.

Toyota will sell you one, though.

WHAT IT IS

The iA is a car in search of a home.

Toyota bought Mazda2s to rebadge and sell as iAs through its youth-brand small car line, Scion. This kind of thing is common because it saves the cost of developing a new car from the wheels up and in this case, it gave Scion something Mazda dealers didn’t have.

But then the Scion brand went away; something had to be done with all those cars.

So, they got rebranded for the third time – this time as Toyotas.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Not if you like a perky, extremely fuel-efficient, space-efficient, features-laden (standard 7-inch LCD screen with apps, push-button ignition, collision-avoidance system) and very affordable small sedan that – for whatever reason – Mazda has decided not to sell here under its own label.

Base price is $15,950 for an iA with a six-speed manual transmission.

With the optional six-speed automatic – which features rev-matching downshifts – the price tag is $17,050.

The primary cross-shop is Ford’s Fiesta, which costs less to start ($13,960) and is available in both sedan and five-door hatchback versions. Its chief deficits relative to the MazdaYota are a much tighter back seat (31.2 inches of legroom vs. 34.4 inches in the iA) and fewer standard amenities.

You might also want to consider the iA as an alternative to Corolla – which costs about $2k more to start and isn’t as fun to drive, in part because it’s only available with an automatic transmission and in part because it’s a Toyota – and hasn’t got the Mazda’s sporty reflexes.

Finally – and confusingly – there is the other Yaris. The hatchback coupe/five-door. Which is a totally different (Toyota-built) car. It’s smaller overall by about a foot and a bit less (but not much less) roomy inside. It’s priced very similarly – $15,250 to start – but it’s not nearly as nice a car, in terms of standard features and amenities. Probably the only reason it’s still in the lineup is because it gives Toyota a two-door hatch and a five-door hatch in this price range, for those who like the iA but don’t like four doors (or a trunk vs. a cargo hatch).

WHAT’S NEW

Musical labels.

The 2017  “Toyota” iA is the same car as last year’s “Scion” iA.

Sans the Scion badges.

WHAT’S GOOD

More standard features than the competition – and some features it comes standard with aren’t even available as options in the competition.

Good-sized trunk (13.5 cubic feet) for a small sedan.     

Excellent gas mileage with better acceleration than Fiesta.

'16 iA knob

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Sedan-only bodystyle. Not as cargo-friendly as hatchback Fiesta

Mazda-designed LCD interface looks slick but isn’t the easiest to use.

The 50 MPG-capable Sky-D diesel engine that was on deck has been put on permanent hold.

UNDER THE HOOD

The iA’s 1.5 liter engine makes 106 hp, a bit less than the Fiesta’s slightly larger 1.6 liter, 120 hp standard engine – but the iA weighs about 152 pounds less (2,385 lbs. for the six-speed manual version vs. 2,537 lbs. for the five-speed manual/2.0-equipped Fiesta) and so is quicker.'16 iA engine

Significantly so.

It takes the Toyota-incarnated Mazda about 8.9 seconds to get to 60 with the six-speed manual vs. about 9.5 for the Ford.

Gas mileage is among the best in this class: 30 city, 39 highway with the manual transmission and 32 city, 40 highway with the optional automatic. The Fiesta only manages 27 city, 35 highway with its base engine and five-speed manual transmission (27 city, 37 with the available automatic) and even when ordered with its extra-cost turbocharged engine and dual-clutch automated manual transmission, does only slightly better: 31 city, 43 highway

And to get the turbo engine and dual-clutch transmission, you have to buy the higher SE trim, which brings the price up to $15,885 – erasing the Ford’s initial price advantage.

Interestingly, the iA’s gas mileage is still nearly as good as the turbo-Ecoboosted Ford’s: 32 city and 40 highway (with the automatic; 30 city, 39  highway for the manual) vs. 31 city, 43 for the Ecoboosted Ford. 

Speaking of boost . . .

Mazda relies on very high compression ratios (12.0:1 in this case) to literally squeeze more power out of every drop of fuel. Turbochargers also increase cylinder pressure, but they do so only part-time and are primarily designed to make power on-demand.

High compression engines always make the most of the incoming air/fuel charge, but the trick (historically) has been avoiding engine knock – and doing that without having to feed the engine high-octane premium fuel.'16 SkyActiveg

Aluminum cylinder heads (and blocks) help by dissipating heat and Mazda (er, Toyota) also uses variable valve/cam timing to make feasible high-compression engines that happily burn regular, lower-octane gas. In Mazda-badged vehicles, these engines are marketed as having “SkyActiv” technology.

Toyota does not tout this, but the engine’s the same regardless of the name.  

Worth a mention also is the IA’s optional six-speed automatic, which – unlike the Ford’s – is conventional (hydraulic, with a torque converter) rather than an automated or dual-clutch automatic.

Why is this worth mentioning?

The Ford’s dual-clutch/automated manual box will cost you maybe more than the car itself is worth if it ever craps out on you, post warranty. And the nature of the thing – it’s an extremely complex piece of technology – makes it more prone to crapping out and more expensive to service regardless. Ford uses these transmissions chiefly because they are extremely efficient but note (again) that the Fiesta’s mileage isn’t appreciably better than the ToyoMazda’s.

ON THE ROAD

Mazda excels at building fun-to-drive small cars (and fun-to-drive bigger cars, too). A car’s personality isn’t affected by where you buy the car – or the badge on the trunk lid. A Toyota Camry re-sold as a Mazda6 (no, they’re not actually doing that . . .) would not feel like a Mazda.

And the iA does not feel like a Toyota despite being sold at Toyota stores.

So, what’s that mean, exactly?

It’s the difference between kissing your sister – and kissing your new girlfriend.

Toyotas – the ones built by Toyota, not just badged by Toyota –  excel at being dependable long-term companions. Cars that take you from A to B without muss or fuss for 200,000-plus miles miles and are usually still worth more than the tankful of gas you just put in the thing. Long-haul reliability and blue chip value. These are the main reasons people buy Toyotas  – and so that’s what Toyota focuses on.

Mazda, on the other hand, focuses primarily on the driving vivacity of its cars. How they make you feel when you’re behind the wheel – when the wheel is cranked hard left and your right foot is hard on the gas coming out of your favorite back road curve.

An engine that seems happy when you’re running it hard.

A manual transmission to match.

You will find all these things in the iA – because, after all, it is a Mazda.

Those reading this who may be dubious about the iA’s small-sounding 106 hp should bear in mind the Mazda Miata’s not very muscular, either – but it’s still one of the most fun to drive cars in the world – if you’re someone who likes to drive. Both the Miata and the Mazda2  – uhm, the iA –  are cars that respond when you make advances. When you ask, they answer. Enthusiastically.

They kiss back.

They are not cars for people who enjoy sitting on the sofa watching Price is Right reruns.

That’s what the Corollla – and the other Yaris – are for.

Peak power isn’t made until 6,000 RPM, so don’t be afraid to rev the thing. The sounds it makes when you do will let you know it’s ok – that it’s at home in the upper reaches of the tach. Eighty-ish is this car’s sweet spot, with the tach running around 4,000 RPM. Which just happens to be exactly the torque peak (103 ft.-lbs.) of the 1.5 liter engine.

The little Mazda-in-mufti likes to cut a rug, too.

Notwithstanding its fairly long wheelbase (101.2 inches vs. 98 for the Fiesta) the iA’s turning circle is more than two feet less than the Ford’s (32.2 feet vs. 34.4 feet). The iA also comes standard with 16 inch alloy wheels (vs. the Ford’s 15 inch steel wheels) and weighs less, too.

The result is an eager little rabbit puncher that is both economical to drive and exceptionally fun to drive, too.

Even with the optional automatic, by the way.

Which comes with a driver-selectable Sport mode, manual gear change control and throttle-blipping, rev-matching downshifts, too.

It’s a Mazda, remember.

The other Yaris comes with a four-speed automatic. No rev-matching.  And its standard manual has only five speeds. The Corolla is automatic (CVT) only.

AT THE CURB

Another thing Mazda does well – and so now Toyota – does, too, is space efficiency.

The iA is small, foot-print-wise – but it’s not cramped. The car has 34.4 inches of backseat legroom vs. 31.2 inches in the Fiesta. It also has al most 14 cubic-foot trunk, large for the size of the car.

'16 iA LCD 2

It also comes standard with everything.

Or at least, more things than you’d expect to find in a car in this price range – including a 7-inch LCD monitor, pushbutton/keyless ignition (with remote engine start), a back-up camera and a collision-avoidance system with automatic braking.

These are high-end features in a just-over-$15k-car.

You also get cruise control, intermittent wipers, power windows and locks, AC, tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a six-speaker HD audio system with Bluetooth (and Pandora/Stitcher/iHeart apps) as well as voice-free phone connectivity.

No extra charge for any of it.

The cabin is much nicer than the other Yaris’s too. It’s finished, Mazda-style, with handsome real chrome/polished metal accents and carbon fiber trim panels; the AC vents are ball-type and so you can direct airflow almost anywhere.'16 iA cut-away

There is only one option – other than the automatic transmission: A GPS upgrade for the LCD infotainment system.

A word about this. . . .

The “Multi-Function Commander Control” input – which consists of a knob that you rotate/push and secondary buttons mounted on the center console – looks sharp but isn’t as functionally well-conceived as the rest of the car. Things that should only require one action – changing radio stations, for example – require multiple actions. To change stations, you first have to select the audio function, at which point a bar of options appears on the LCD screen. Next, use the mouse to scroll right to reach the << or >> to go up or down.

Now, select.'16 iA knob

There ought to be just one knob for this.

Don’t blame Toyota, though. Blame Mazda. It’s their system. The same one you’ll find in other new Mazdas, incidentally.

The good news is certain often-used functions (such as volume control) can be controlled by secondary controls mounted on the steering wheel.

These steering wheel controls are also standard, by the way.               

THE REST'16 Sky D engine

It sucks that Mazda’s line of Sky-D diesel engines are not (unlike Eddie Murphy) coming to America . . .either in Mazdas or Mazdas rebadged as Toyotas.

These engines – which are available in Japanese/European market Mazdas – are capable of 50-plus MPG, almost as good as a Prius hybrid, without the hybrid downsides of high up-front costs, weight and multiple powertrains (combustion engine, electric motor, battery pack).

Mazda – and other car companies that have diesels ready-to-go – are not ready to go here because of our EPA’s  almost-impossible-to-comply-with diesel exhaust emissions regs. See what happened to VW. Mazda – and the others – don’t want that to happen to them.

Hence we get no diesels, in Mazdas. Or ToyoMazdas.

Speaking of which: Since Mazda no longer sells a subcompact sedan under its own label, the only way to get one is to buy this one. And here’s an interesting thought for you:

The iA as an alternative to the Mazda3 – which is the smallest car Mazda sells under its own label.'16 iA last

The Mazda3 is bigger outside – but only slightly more on the inside. It has about an inch more legroom for the backseaters and less than half an inch more such room up front.

It actually has less cargo room (12.4 cubic feet) behind its back seats (it’s a hatchback rather than a sedan) and though it has more engine (155 hp) it also carries more curb weight  (2,930 lbs.) and so it’s only marginally quicker – and its fuel economy, though good (28 city, 36 highway) isn’t quite as good as the Mazda2’s (oops, the iA’s).

The Mazda3’s base price – $17,845 – is also $1,895 higher than the iA’s.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The badge has changed, but the goodness remains the same.

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Author of "Automotive Atrocities" and "Road Hogs" (MBI). Currently living amongst the Edentulites in rural SW Virginia.

19 COMMENTS

  1. My battery died the other day (left light on) in 2016 Subaru Outback. Couldn’t even get it out of park to neutral to move it out of garage to jump. Anyone else experience this? I guess some cars and older model Subies had a manual override for nuetral safety switch.

  2. I had a brief moment of glee when I read that these things can still be had with a stick. At least that is good news. Speaking of sticks….looks like somebody beat this car (and most other new ones) with an ugly stick! How come cars no longer come with bumpers? And with these gaping, weird-shaped fugly grills, these cars are all beginning to look like guppies.

    My scorecard on this’un”

    Manual tranny=Yay!
    Manual available without buying some special “package”=Yay!
    Aluminum block=GTFOOH!
    Aluminum head=” ”
    Variable cam timing=” ”
    Variable valve timing= ” ”
    Touch screen=” ”

    Imagine what we could get in a car today for $15K if they didn’t have all of this high-tech BS, and Uncle-mandated “safety” crap?! In that case, they might even be feasible to drive after the warranty expires!

    • Hi Nunzio,

      Blame Uncle for the bumperless look. Chrome plating got very expensive, because Da Earf. So, painted plastic fascias instead. Very cheap to manufacture, but easily damaged and costly to replace.

      • It was the 5mph bumper that was a bigger factor. It was a struggle to make them look good. The first bumper regulations, taking effect in 1973, started the first covered bumpers. The 1973 Ford Mustang immediately comes to mind. The chrome 5mph bumpers are simply the most hideous embodiment of federal regulation. Even with some relaxation of the requirements it is still a challenge to do something that looks good.

        If there is a car model that went through the bumper regulations many get converted to the small pre ’73 bumpers.

  3. Eric, you and the long-time guys here probably remember that I work for Mazda at a low level. My comments here are strictly my own opinion, and I don’t speak in any sense for the company.

    Originally Mazda was going to sell the Mazda2 as a hatchback in the US and Canada, then after a public introduction at a big Canadian auto show, only in Canada plus Puerto Rico. Then Canada was dropped, leaving Puerto Rico as the only market for the 2. Mexico gets the sedan and hatch versions, but that market has a different spec. You can still get a federal-spec 2 hatch in Puerto Rico.

    My sense is that Mazda chose not to sell the 2 here because sales of small cars have plummeted compared with crossovers and SUVs, and the company probably did not want to undercut Toyota’s version. The Scion/Toyota iA is made in Mexico at the relatively new Mazda plant there.

    Sales figures for the CX-3, CX-5, and new CX-9 have been great, but sales of the Mazda3 and Mazda6 sedans have stagnated or fallen. Other automakers have seen the same trend. You can find the sales figures in lots of places online.

    But it appears that we will see the Skyactiv-D 2.2 diesel late this year in the new 2017 CX-5, with urea injection added for the North American market. Accounts claim that this engine in this car with this spec drives great. We’ll see. I have high hopes. I suspect that strong consideration is being given to offering the diesel in the Mazda6 sedan as well, probably after it gets revamped soon.

    For now the new 2017 CX-5 is being offered in the US only with the 2.5–liter four with automatic in all trims. The 2.0 base engine with stickshift has been dropped here in the new model, but they were scarce anyway.

    FYI, hope this helps.

  4. Eric,
    This car with a manual tranny sounds like a fun little car to zip around in. Just the kind my wife wouldn’t want me flying around in.

    Do you know if other scion’s like the xB and the FR(really a Subaru I think)are going to be re-badged as Toyota’s?

    • Hi Ancap,

      It is!

      There’s no buzzer when you pull up on the handbrake, either…

      And, yes – Toyota sells the Sciobaru coupe as the 86 but the xB is gone.

      • No buzzer on the handbrake! Where’s the safety cult on that one? That’s taking me back to 2005 when there was blood in the streets for lack of safety.

        That sucks that the xB is gone. The second gen was heavy and big on the outside. The 1st gen xB’s were the biggest little car ever made. Those things were great for taxi’s before I sold out. 300,000 mile+ cars with low maintenance and repair costs.

        I loved driving them. You sat up high like you were in an SUV. Leg room was great. Visibility was great. Of course, uncle had to kill them with the 07 safety and emissions mandate. Then came the overweight, less efficient version for 08-16.

        • That coincides with my impression that cars became almost instantly more onerous and obnoxious to drive right around that time. As I understand, the governmet gave automakers a couple of years to fully comply. It seems as if most cars got worse around 10-11. Am I right?

          • Swamp,

            It seems so. I’d say 08-10 was when they got worse. By 10 every damn car sold had huge headrests and pillars as thick as railroad ties.

            The first gen scions can be had in other countries. They are Toyota BB’s.

  5. I love this car. My second choice behind the mazda6. If you shop around you get it for a flat 15k. Still come with forward collision braking standard? That was a nice feature. Especially for newer drivers. Was peer pressured into a mazda6. Would have gotten the sportswagen if it still has diesel

        • I meant when I was in the market for one in the dead of winter. There was practically none in my area of NJ. I think it has something to do with RWD demand in the winter. They want the snow friendly vehicles front and center. I wanted the base manual without the tacky spoiler in white. That did not exist. Delaware they had it though and some place in PA.

        • I wish that Mazda or some other manufacturer would come up with a RWD version of something like the 2. That would rock.

          • Hi Swamp,

            It would – but I suspect the reason it won’t happen is because thew RWD layout is more expensive to manufacturer and the resultant car is apt to be heavier and so harder to through the CAFE gantlet.

            Then again, the Miata is RWD and very light and very fuel efficient… so, it maybe could be done. Just not with a V8!

            • ,….or those Jap cars of the 70’s and early 80’s- RWD, and about as light and fuel-efficient as you can get- Many of ’em got better MPG’s than the modern “technologically-advanced” stupid Smart Car- and could carry 4 or 5 people and a decent amount of cargo. -And with a carburetor, no less.

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