2016 Scion iA

When my children were growing up, I was the last to know that this week they hated apples when last week they asked for more.

Whether apples or cars, the preferences of young people can change faster than a turbo can spool up power. And this is the buyer group that Scion targeted when it launched its fast and flippant brand of small cars in June of 2003.

Now, barely 13 years — and an economic implosion — later, Scion is hoping to jump start its base with two new cars for 2016. But it’s complicated. What was once a target audience of 18- to 34-year-olds “going against the grain” has grown older since the recession. And the younger buyers are now more pragmatic and practical, said Scion VP Doug Murtha at the media launch for the iA sedan and iM hatchback. “Their lifestyle is about experiences over possessions,” he said. “The car is an enabler of fun.”

If Scion’s new direction is on track, then the iA and iM will be handy little enablers. But both are very different cars and both went on sale Sept. 1. The iA compares with such subcompacts as the Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta, Chevy Sonic and Nissan Versa.

The iM is built on the Scion tC platform, but the iA is the first love child of a Toyota hookup with Mazda. Both companies will cherry pick cars and technologies for various applications in a world market.

The best part of the iA, today’s tester, is that it is a Mazda2. It has more refined driving features and higher quality interior materials than a comparably priced Toyota (parent company of Scion).

In the U.S., Mazda sells only the hatchback model. It didn’t think the Mazda2 sedan would be very popular in North America — it’s not a pretty small car. But Scion is excited to run with it and has loaded it with standard features and advanced safety technologies.

Pricing for the iA starts at $16,495 for the six-speed manual or $17,595 for the six-speed automatic, which includes the $795 freight charge from Mexico. Scion’s Pure Process Plus allows shopping at home to build a car, apply for credit and arrange for delivery at the dealership. Scion says the process reduces the shopping/negotiating time to two hours or even one hour, which is at least half of the average time it takes to buy a new vehicle.

It’s a simple “mono spec” pricing system in which the only choices are paint color and the gearbox. And then there are a range of accessories, such as a front armrest ($295), carpet trunk mat ($85), door-sill trim plate ($170), navigation SD card ($419) and others. But the standard equipment list is long and rich for a subcompact car. Among the features are keyless entry with push-button ignition, rearview camera, dual-zone air conditioning, power side mirrors with turn signals, 7-inch touchscreen and six-speaker (voice command) audio system, hands-free Bluetooth phone and music connections ,and 16-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires.

Satellite radio is not available, but there are apps for Aha, Stitcher and Pandora.

Standard safety features include eight air bags and a low-speed precollision safety system. The radar-based system uses a laser sensor to monitor range between 2 and 20 mph. If needed, it will alert or automatically brake the car. This is an intelligent helper for awareness in the daily commute.

Scion did little to modify the interior from the Mazda2, nor did it need to. The cabin is roomy for a subcompact, and trunk space is larger than in the Toyota Corolla. But it is a small canvas for making all the features visible, such as the small gauge cluster that gets washed out in sunlight. There is no telescoping to the steering wheel. And the center console can rub on the knee or thigh of taller drivers. But there is good front headroom (38.2 inches) and nearly 42 inches of legroom. The seats are supportive with bolsters (part of the Mazda driving DNA). The large visors have a covered vanity mirror. There is useful door storage with a bottle holder. The temp-fan vents are accessed by three large dials. And the base of the center instrument panel console has an e-bin with 2 USB ports, 12-volt plug and an SD card slot.

The back seat has a fairly functional 34.4 inches of legroom and good footroom. The low center exhaust tunnel adds to three-across comfort. The seat bottoms have good support.

The 106-horsepower engine is definitely not overpowered and raises a strained voice when pressed, but it’s nearly silent at idle. The automatic’s sport mode holds gears on hills, but it doesn’t do much to kick up performance. The ride quality is tight and solid with some tire noise at highway speeds but good cabin soundproofing.

The $1,100 difference for the automatic may pay off over time in fuel economy. The iA’s direct-injection 1.5 liter four-cylinder engine with manual transmission is rated 31 mpg city, 41 mpg highway and 35 mpg combined, on 87 octane. The auto gets 33/42/37 mpg.

The iA is a quality piece. Now, if Scion can just find those young, post-recession motorists seeking practical and pragmatic transportation.

Mark Maynard is online at mark.maynard@utsandiego.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage