The Scion product line is a decidedly blended family, adopting models from other markets and even those with mixed parentage. Among the latest additions is the Mazda-sourced 2016 Scion iA. This subcompact sedan serves as a new entry point into Scion, and ultimately, into the Toyota empire.

On the surface, it may be easy to criticize Toyota for recruiting and co-developing cars from outside its global portfolio. But a quick stint behind the wheel of the 2016 Scion iA will instead have you questioning the wisdom of the retired, lackluster xA and xD—two efficient, reliable cars that otherwise spelled mobile misery.

Look beyond the Toyota-style angry bass visage and prerequisite badging, and the 2016 Scion iA is a compelling sibling to the enjoyable Mazda3. Here is an affordable car, starting at $16,495, that limits the compromises associated with shoestring budgets.

2016 Scion iA front

Unlike those other Scions, the iA has a rather engaging character. We rented an example from Toyota with the smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission. Even rowing the gears ourselves, acceleration is tepid, with all the verve one could expect from a 106-hp small-displacement engine. The clutch action is light, with a soft, mid-travel engagement that would make it especially easy for a beginner to learn to drive. This is a good thing, as shifts are frequent as the 2016 Scion iA races to keep up with traffic. (A six-speed automatic transmission is available for $1,100.)

The Mazda DNA can be appreciated in the responsive steering and capable road holding that make the iA more fun to drive than its peers, like the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Toyota Yaris. Ride quality is decent for the class, having poise on rough surfaces, although on some pavement, a taut rebound can be felt.

The driver’s space is narrow, with tight pedal placement and an intruding center stack that risks forming a knee callus from rubbing. The front bucket seats are fairly supportive. Controls are straightforward, aside from the Mazda touch screen perched atop the dashboard like an iPad Mini tablet. The screen-based controls, such as for audio and navigation ($419 option), require a practiced hand on a rotary knob positioned between the seats. The mode selection buttons that flank the controller require one’s eyes to move far, far away from the task at hand: driving.

2016 Scion iA interior

The cabin inside the 2016 Scion iA is nicely finished with a sprinkling of soft-touch elements and tasteful accents that visually separate the iA from some rivals. Backseat space is intimate with limited head room, aggravated by the sloped roof and intrusive head rests.

For the class, some standard equipment serves as a welcomed treat, including low-speed pre-collision system, backup camera, and keyless ignition. Active safety systems are appreciated at this price category, and, frankly, are rare even on many mainstream models. This may especially benefit the youthful drivers this car targets.

The 2016 Scion iA has a relatively large trunk opening. But the commodious cargo space is compromised by slender gooseneck hinges and the need to essentially load from the back, rather than set contents downward.

Entry-level cars tend to be rather sad purchases, marred by overt shortcomings. But the 2016 Scion iA twists the convention, bringing Miata-flavored character and notable standard features to the class. Sure, cheaper cars can be had, but they simply won’t be as enjoyable.

2016 Scion iA rear