2017 Toyota Yaris iA Review

The NMA Foundation presents Eric Peter’s Car Review, a weekly Saturday feature on the NMA blog. 

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One of the best little Toyotas that 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 and 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.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Sedan-only body style. 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.

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.

And even with its optional engine (a 1.0 liter, three-cylinder “EcoBoost” turbocharged engine), the Fiesta isn’t any quicker.

But it is more expensive.

Ford won’t sell it to you unless you buy the higher SE trim, which stickers for $14,890 to start. The Ecoboost engine adds another $995 to this — 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.

Aluminum cylinder heads (and blocks) help by dissipating heat and Mazda (or, 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 Toyota-Mazda’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 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 likes to cut a rug, too.

Notwithstanding its fairly long (for a subcompact) 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’s 34.4 inches of backseat legroom (vs. 31.2 inches in the Fiesta) is bested only by the roomy (37 inches) but extremely spartan Nissan Versa S — a car that is solid as basic transportation and doesn’t offer much more than that.

The iA, on the other hand, doesn’t offer much, either.

It just comes standard with everything.

Or at least, more things than you’d expect to find in a car in this price range — such as a 7-inch (and “floating,” iPad-style) LCD monitor very similar to what you’d find in something like a Mercedes-Benz CLA . . . plus 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.

And they’re standard.

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’. It’s finished with handsome real chrome/polished metal accents and carbon fiber-ish trim panels; the AC vents are ball-type and similar (again) to what you’d find in a much more expensive car, like a Mercedes.

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.

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

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.

Hence we get no diesels, in Mazdas. Or Toyota-Mazdas.

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.

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.

Comments?

www.ericpetersautos.com

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3 Responses to “2017 Toyota Yaris iA Review”

  1. Padre says:

    Great article! I have had this car in the Abyss (dark blue) color for over 19,000 miles now. I bought it new in December of 2016. Being a car fanatic I do get tempted to get into other vehicles of all sorts but I am sticking with it because the value you get with this car is superb and very hard to beat.

    I also have made the comparison to buying a Corolla. Every time I am put in a loaner 2017 Corolla from the dealership for my maintenance appt.’s I am always glad that I chose the iA. The dash on the Corolla has a nice upright angle and it is very very roomy up front and incredibly roomy in the back but the interior build quality is downright shameful. Drive on one road with irregular pavement – cracks, craters, bumps, potholes – you will hear that dash rattle all across the top from the driver side to the passenger side. Granted my iA had some interior rattles down near the left of the HVAC controls and around the passenger side AC vent but they are limited and relatively easy to fix without any dash assembly. The Corolla on the other hand probably needs to go back to its plant of assembly. The seat architecture and fabric is waaay better in the iA too. I actually can’t sit or even ride shotgun in the Corolla for very long. ***I advise getting an iA in an exterior color that goes well with the sole interior color that it comes in – “Mid Blue Black w/Fabric Upholstery [Black].” The Abyss (dark blue) color matches the best in my opinion, but that Graphite (dark grey) and Stealth (black) look great too.

    One drive of my friend’s 2016 Mazda 3 hatch with a manual transmission made me fall in love with the Mazda design ethos. However, I did not make the value-comparison to the 2017 iA. I had no idea that the hatch has LESS room than the iA’s trunk! I love the way the 3’s hatch rear-end looks but if it isn’t giving me more space, plus the fact that I would hear the noise my cargo could make, then why buy it?

    I only have a few criticisms about my car…tire size is rare and is only made my Toyo right now and they’re not cheap. I had to replace one at the dealer and it costed over $180. Paint quality is not the best, but we can sadly say that about most vehicles on the road today. I immediately put paint protection film over the hood, bumper, mirrors, and door cups after I bought mine and I’m glad I did. Do whatever you can to protect this car’s paint because I find that it can chip too easily.

    There have been some cool surprises about the 2017 iA. The first tank of gas yielded over 500 miles withOUT a real engine break-in period! Today, as my trip meter tracks the miles I am getting out of this tank, I have gotten about 280 miles with over half a tank showing on the fuel gauge. While I do typical high-miler tricks like slow starts and engine braking/anticipated deceleration, I do rev my engine from time to time for quick lane changes, passings, and for carving country roads. ***I have the automatic and make no mistake it is the best driving experience without a clutch when you move the gear selector to the left and go through the “rev-matching” six speeds in the manual shifting mode.

    All in all, the car is just fantastic. I can sit comfortably and ENJOY my trips in and out of the city with some pep and GREAT fuel economy and very decent technology. I only hope that this Mazda-Yota (I use this term too!) will see more years of production and updates.

    • JP says:

      Same color for me, only with a manual tranny. Love everything about it!

      I hadn’t noticed the fragile paint, but I do plan to have protective film installed before I do. 🙂

      Thanks for your views and opinions.

      JP

  2. JP says:

    I just bought one of these cars with the manual tranny. Nearly impossible to find in Colorado. I was told it was one of the few in the state and they’d had it on the lot for over a year (leftover ’17 at a rock-bottom price)!

    Love EVERYTHING about it. Does exactly what I bought it for at a great OTD price – $14,500, taxes and all.

    Are you sure that the engine has variable valve timing? I wasn’t aware that the iA’s had that.

    Thanks for one of the most informative and interesting reviews I’ve seen. Your nod to Seinfeld’s “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” was noted and appreciated! 😉

    JP