Toyota made a very smart decision when it turned to Mazda to build their newest subcompact sedan.
And they made an even smarter decision when they decided to keep it around after killing off their Scion brand.
What was called a Scion iA last year is now called the Toyota Yaris iA in 2017. Although it has absolutely nothing to do with Toyota’s own, woeful Yaris subcompact, it is virtually identical to the 2016 Scion, and that’s a really good thing, as last year I called it a budget sports sedan.
Apart from the badge change, the new Yaris iA looks identical to the old iA. Because it’s a Mazda – a Mazda2 sedan to be precise – it looks like a shrunken Mazda3 sedan, both inside and out. The grafted-on, Toyota-designed front grille received a lot of flack, but I’ve actually gotten used to it, and somehow it makes more sense with a Toyota badge on it instead of a Scion badge.
Outside, apart from the grille, it’s KODO through and through. Sweeping character lines and an overall flowing, organic look all scream “Mazda.” Because of its shrunken proportions, it does seem a bit top-heavy – moreso than the Mazda3 – but it’s still one of the best looking subcompacts on the market. Maybe not the best, but put up against cars like the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa and it looks like a supermodel.
Inside is where the iA blows away its competition. Mazdas have always had some of the best interiors in the business, and the iA has the best interior in the subcompact class, bar none. Materials are first-rate and wouldn’t be out of place on a more expensive car.
The overall aesthetic has the typical Mazda pseudo-Benz look, with rounded vents, an iPod-like touchscreen, and a command interface in the center console that shames other, high-dollar control interfaces (I’m looking at you, Lexus Remote Touch). The dash curves gracefully into the door panels, and the bullseye air vents add class and style.
The Yaris iA is not going to win a lot of stoplight drag races. In fact, it’s one of the least powerful cars on the market. The tiny 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine makes a whole 106 hp and 103 lb-ft of torque.
However, the whole car only weighs 2,385 lbs, so those 106 ponies don’t have a lot of car to move around. Unless laden with a lot of people or stuff, the iA doesn’t feel slow.
And then there’s that transmission. It’s simply one of the best manual transmissions I’ve ever used, period. It doesn’t even need the “for a front-drive car” qualifier. I’d put it up against the best rear-drive transmissions anyone can think of. It’s rifle-bolt smooth and precise.
Manual transmissions are dying an unfortunately rapid death, but a good manual, like the one here, isn’t a burden in traffic. I’d even say that it’s better than an automatic, as it’s actually fun and engaging. My commutes were never this fun.
Ride and Handling
The iA is a small, cheap car. It’s not going to rival a BMW or Lexus for handling or comfort. But for what it is, it does a pretty good job of both.
Being a Mazda, it’s skewed toward handling over ride, and that’s just fine with me. The new iA is still a budget sports sedan. Steering is light but accurate, and the car loves to be thrown around. It’s a simple setup – struts up front, a torsion bar in the back – but the suspension is so well sorted that it shames other cars with fully-independent setups.
Part of the fun of driving the iA is also the transmission. It has to be included with the handling, because the whole package works so well together. This car with an automatic would still be a fine handling car, but with a stick it’s a revelation.
For all this handling, the ride isn’t too bad. The firm, simple suspension and short 101.2-inch wheelbase make the ride a little choppy, but in the subcompact realm, it’s perfectly acceptable. And it’s a great trade-off for the fine handling. The Nissan Versa is the limousine of the class, but it has the wallowy handling to match. For me, I’d pick handling over ride any day.
Being a small subcompact sedan, the iA isn’t for a large family – large in number and in, shall we say, girth. I stand 5-10 and weigh about 185 lbs, so I can fit comfortably in the driver’s seat. Someone much taller – especially over six feet – might have a hard time.
I was able to sit behind myself, but my knees did hit the seat. I had plenty of foot room under the seat, though – kudos to Mazda for that. Smaller occupants would have no problem being comfortable back there, although a really long road trip might get a bit tight.
The trunk is surprisingly large and deep for the small size of the car. At 13 cubic feet, it’s the same size as the Toyota Camry Hybrid. The load floor is flat and the trunk is devoid of any weird nooks. The hinges take away some of that space – another nod to cheapness – but it can fit a lot of stuff.
Comfort and Convenience
The iA’s seats are comfortable, with medium padding (not stiff, but not overly soft) and grippy side bolsters that really keep occupants centered during hard driving. They are a bit lacking in lumbar support, though. The driver’s seat adjusts for height, but the passenger seat doesn’t.
Laudably, the iA’s telescoping steering wheel has plenty of forward travel that allowed me to find a perfect driving position. I was able to put the seat back far enough to accommodate my legs, yet I still had a comfortable reach to the steering wheel. Many cars get that wrong, so this is a big deal for such an inexpensive car.
Back seat comfort is average, with a flat seat bottom and not a lot of bolstering. I can’t imagine it being a good place to sit for a long period of time.
The infotainment system is straight out of Mazda. It’s attractive, intuitive, and very easy to use. One thing that bothers me is that once the car is moving, the touchscreen no longer works. Mazda’s lawyers must think that the command interface is easier to use when in motion. They’re wrong.
Speaking of the command interface, the two-knob system is probably the best non-touch system I’ve ever used. It blows away the Lexus joystick or the Mercedes-Benz touch-curvy thing. The larger knob can be either turned or moved like a joystick, and the smaller one is for volume. A few well-placed buttons surround the knobs.
However, as good as it is, the touch screen is better, and it’s a lot easier to use when the car is in motion. Do you hear that Mazda attorneys? Let us use the touch screen, for the love of Pete!
One thing that I can’t let Mazda get away with is the lack of an audio-off button. I don’t give Fiat-Chrysler a pass, so Mazda doesn’t get one either. A little background: cars through the years have always had a knob or button that would turn the audio off and on. Now that touchscreens are prevalent and the word “infotainment” is now part of the lexicon, some companies think that the on/off button is no longer needed.
Bollocks. It is needed. Honda and Toyota haven’t abandoned it.
Why is it needed? Take this scenario. You’re driving your iA, listening to your iTunes library though Bluetooth streaming. You get to your destination, pause the playback, and go about your business.
An hour later, you get back in your car to drive home. After the car starts and the system boots up, it automatically starts playing your playlist at the same volume. Now, you may not want that. Maybe you want a quiet ride home. Well, you don’t get the chance, unless you quickly pause the playback or mute the volume.
I’ll give Mazda credit for one thing – at least, if the music is muted before the car is shut off, the car will remember that and mute the audio on startup. Even FCA won’t do that, although I wish the Mazda system would also pause the playback like the Uconnect system does.
Why can’t the mute button be an audio on/off button? It seems like such a simple thing to do. Mazda, you do so many other things right, could you please fix this?
The Yaris iA is rated at 30 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, and 34 combined with the manual (the automatic is 32/40/35). However, in my week with the iA, I got 37 mpg average. That’s with only one relatively short highway trip and a lot of flogging to redline (because it’s so much fun in this car).
It’s slightly lower than the 38.1 mpg I got with the Scion iA, but I think the colder temperatures had a little to do with that. Still, 37 mpg ain’t bad at all and it’s one of the best weekly averages I’ve had since I’ve started testing cars.
Value and Competition
Because the Yaris iA used to be a Scion, there’s only one model and one option – an automatic transmission. The manual iA is $16,815 after destination. All other options are add-ons. The test car doesn’t have the map card for the navigation system, but otherwise it has everything someone shopping in this price range would want in a car.
The Yaris iA is still the top of the class, but those looking for a little more room should look at a Honda Fit. Or, those who want more room and don’t give a rat’s patoot about driving should look at a Nissan Versa.
There are other good cars in this class – Chevy Sonic, Hyundai Accent – but only the Ford Fiesta comes close to the iA’s sporting abilities, and the iA has a better interior.
- Buy It,
- Lease It,
- Rent It,
- or Forget It,
The 2017 Toyota Yaris iA gets an enthusiastic Buy It!
Call it a Scion, call it a Toyota, heck, call it a Mazda, but the iA is still the best subcompact on the market, especially for those who enjoy the act of driving. An iA with a manual is the perfect commuter car, but it’s also a damn fine back-road carver. Every commute is more fun, more engaging. It’s still one of my favorite cars.
2017 Toyota Yaris iA Specifications
|Price As Tested:||$16,815|
|Horsepower:||106 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque:||103 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Drivetrain:||Front engine/front drive|
|EPA fuel mileage:||30 mpg city/39 mpg highway/34 mpg combined|
|Fuel capacity:||11.6 gallons|
|Curb Weight:||2,385 lbs|
Check out this related TFLcar video of another former Scion, the 2017 Toyota 86: