Auto Review: The genius of a tiny iQ

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., May. 10, 2012
- Contributed Photo

In this age of cars coming in every shape and size imaginable, the thought of a new vehicle that is a genuine head-turner because of its radical form seems unlikely. But, low and behold, we have a whole new category of automobile called (among other things) the micro-subcompact, originated by the smart (deliberately lower case) car distributed by the Mercedes Benz group. This tiny four-wheeler is ideally suited for an urban environment, as its diminutive size makes it easy to park pretty much anywhere. It also has a very modest appetite for fuel, is chock-full of the latest safety technology, and is reasonably pleasant to drive.

But now competition has arrived in the guise of the Scion iQ, which the company claims is the “world’s smallest four-seater.” Unlike the smart, which is a rear-engine, rear-drive car, the iQ uses a front-engine, front-drive layout. It rides on an (almost) motorcycle-like 78.7-inch wheelbase and has an overall length of 120 inches, but a surprisingly wide 66-inch width makes the cabin feel as wide as a “regular” subcompact. The smart, by comparison, has a 73.5-inch wheelbase, 106-inch length and 60.7-inch width.

To motivate this automotive hobbit, the iQ has a spunky 1.3-liter Inline Four with Variable Valve Timing and 94 horsepower. The lone gearbox is a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that is an excellent choice for this unusual conveyance and helps it scoot to 60 mph in an average of 8.85 seconds.

The ride is fairly compliant (but still firm), and thankfully not in lawn tractor territory, considering the wee wheelbase. What is similar to lawn maintenance equipment is the tight, 12.9-foot turning radius that lets you easily do a U-turn on a standard two-lane eastern Connecticut country road. The standard ABS brakes are excellent, and other safety features include an industry-leading 11 standard airbags (including the world’s first rear window unit).

The interior of the iQ offers a very unique passenger arrangement, called 3+1 seating, which I’ll explain in a moment. As for the front seats, room and comfort is good and the cloth appears very durable. Controls are typically Toyota/Scion logical, although some placement is odd (like fog lights way on the front of the center console). As for the back seats, Scion describes them thusly: “The ‘3+1’ offset seating arrangement allows one adult to sit behind the front passenger and a child or small package behind the driver.” So you can’t get four adults in the car, but to be honest, this is mainly a vehicle built for two with a reasonable amount of cargo space (with the rear seats folded you get 16.7 cubic feet of hauling room) and the ability to park anywhere.

Another huge question when you have a tiny car is mileage, and the iQ is EPA-rated 36 MPG city/37 highway, and we saw 38 MPG in a week of mixed driving. Our pre-production model has no sticker, but the 2012 Scion iQ has a base price of $15,265. The options on our tester will take the price up to around $18,347.


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