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2012 Scion iQ: much smarter

August 3, 2012
Scion iQ

Orin O’Neill photos

In much of the world, when it comes to cars, size matters. But not in the way you might think.

While in America, bigger has always been thought to be better, pretty much everywhere else there’s such a thing as “too big.” Cities platted thousands of years ago often didn’t have streets wide enough for horses, never mind automobiles.

That’s why Daimler’s smart fortwo is so popular in Europe’s major cities. In fact, you’ll see cars that are even smaller.

Still, for many city car buyers the smart leaves something to be desired. Sensing an opportunity, Toyota jumped in a few years ago with its iQ, which arrived in the U.S. in 2011 badged as a Scion.

The name is a jab at Daimler: a high I.Q. makes you, uh, smart, geddit?

The iQ I drove belongs to scooter friend Megan, and it was the first one delivered in Bellingham, in late 2011. Since then, three others have found their way to the ‘Ham’s streets. It’s very much a niche vehicle.

The iQ is a bit larger than the smart in every dimension; it’s pretty close in size to a 2012 Fiat 500. Among other things, this makes possible a larger interior. Which includes a back seat. Seriously.

Jason in the back seat

While there are four sets of seat belts, fitting four occupants will require a great deal of cooperation among at least three of them. A fourth occupant will pretty much have to be a small child, or a medium-size dog.

But as you can see in the picture, Jason is pleasantly surprised by how much room he has in that back seat. Of course, Megan had moved the front passenger seat forward; it can go up to six inches further than the driver’s seat.

That the iQ’s wheels are pushed out to its corners helps the cause of interior roominess considerably, but Toyota also took aggressive action in miniaturization of the dashboard components, HVAC ducting and even positioning of the engine.

And though the front seats are much less bulky than average, they are firm and comfortable. The iQ has many, many airbags. Including one that’s under your butt. Megan likes that feature.

Like the smart, once seated in the iQ you’ll think you’re in a much bigger car. The British call this the Tardis effect (google “Doctor Who” if you don’t know what I’m talking about). There’s plenty of headroom for someone much taller than me, and visibility to the rear is much better than the MY 2012 average.

On the road, I found myself thinking, this is like driving a Toyota Yaris. Like a scooter, the iQ has a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT); like a Yaris with an automatic, you just drive it. The drivetrain really isn’t any noisier than conventional automatics’.

iQ iP

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: in motion, I find the electric power steering seriously overboosted, but I say this about nearly every new car. OTOH, the steering assist perfectly compliments the iQ’s really tight turning circle. While the size of the parking lot where we were prevented a full youie, a really clean J-turn was no problem at all. The iQ is a city car, after all.

With three aboard, the ride was quite well-controlled, and the iQ didn’t bottom out on bumpy pavement. Once you get used to the steering, it corners quite well (it helps that the tires are car-size vs. the smart’s, which makes one think they were stolen from a big-wheel scooter), without leaning or tire squealing.

Freeway speed was a doddle, and getting up to that speed was not a problem at all, even with the aforementioned three on board. Megan says she’s getting 34-38 mpg. Not scooter-like, but comparable to the smart and the Fiat.

Megan's iQ

Yes, there are lots of other cars one could have for the iQ’s $15K-plus pricetag that are just as fuel-efficient, and don’t require the iQ’s gymnastics when it comes to accommodating passengers and/or stuff. At a tiny bit over 10 feet in length, an iQ is a good choice for someone with limited garage or parking space (you get a discount on Washington State Ferries, too). Or someone who wants something quirky and unique.

Which is what Megan said she was looking for. Favicon

Plus: Roomier than it might appear, flexible interior, plenty of power for freeway driving.

Minus: Only 37 EPA highway mpg? Fifteen grand buys a nicely-equipped B-segment hatchback.

The details

Base MSRP: $15,265
Built in: Japan
Construction: Pressed steel unit body w/front subframe
Curb weight: 2127 lbs (965 kg)
Length: 120.1 in (3051 mm)
Width: 66.1 in (1679 mm) (w/o mirrors)
Wheelbase: 78.7 in (1999 mm)
Front susp: MacPherson struts w/21 mm stabilizer bar, coil springs and telescopic dampers
Rear susp: Torsion beam axle w/coil springs and telescopic dampers
Front brakes: Hydraulic 10.0-in ventilated disc
Rear brakes: Hydraulic 7.1-in drum
Front tires: 175/60-16 (standard)
Rear tires: 175/60-16 (standard)
Engine: DOHC 16-valve w/VVT-i 1329 cc, liquid-cooled w/EFI and electronic ignition
Transmission:  Continuously Variable
Power/torque: 94 hp (70 kW) @ 6000 rpm/89 lb-ft (121 Nm) @ 4400 rpm
One Comment
  1. August 4, 2012 5:17 am

    Interestingly enough this was one of the cars that we looked at in our quest to buy a new car. We ended up with a Chevy Sonic which gets the same gas mileage but with a little more of a back seat and its slightly larger size seemed “safer” to us.

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