|1. Called a 3+1 seater, thereís actually room for three adults, plus a small space behind the driverís seat for a child.
2. Powered by a 94-hp 1.3L 4-cylinder itís the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid in America with a 36/37-mpg rating.
3. The Scion iQ has a turning circle of 12.9 feet, half that of the Smart fortwo.
4. The iQ gets 11 airbags, as well as stability control and a brake override system.
5. Priced at $15,265 the iQ is several thousand more than a Smart car and close in price to the Fiat 500. Itís also $2,000 more than a Yaris.
A ďmicro subcompactĒ car, the iQ is preceded, by over a decade, by the Smart fortwo. Then thereís the modern Fiat 500, which may have beat the iQ to our shores (due in part to a delay in its launch as a result of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami), but the tiny Italian city car is arguably less as a form of mainstream transportation, and more an accessory for wealthy housewives.
The idea behind the iQ is to deliver urban transportation, but not a sort of stripped-down approach one might take with a vehicle for emerging markets. Rather, it is designed for modern urban centers, not to mention the tastes and expectations of consumers there.
The iQ was designed to break the size-equals-quality hierarchy that is currently a part of the Toyota brand says assistant chief engineer Junichi Hasegawa. Luxury automakers are finally having some success at conveying the idea that luxury doesnít depend on size, but selling that concept in a non-premium segment is far mode difficult.
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As a tiny Japanese car you might expect the iQ to start at less than, say, a Yaris. It doesnít. At $15,245 its over $2,000 more. In fact, you can almost step into a Corolla for the same money. That alone will make the iQ a tough sell for many. If the price is the same, but the size isnít, then the value difference has to be made up in the rest of the car, from features to trim quality, uniqueness, exterior design and driving dynamics. Is it?
Thatís what weíre in San Francisco to discover, being the first to pilot the iQ in a city that is sure to value its compact dimensions.
It certainly has more style than a Yaris, although much of that might just be attributable to its unusual dimensions. Painted white or black and without any of the optional 25 Scion accessories attached, itís rather unassuming. Wrap it in Molten Lava (a unique shade of orange), toss on some optional 16-inch aluminum wheels, and even lower the suspension with TRD springs and it pops. If the Fiat 500 is quintessentially retro, the iQ represents the opposite side of the spectrum, giving a vision as to what the future of transportation will look like.
Inside, the iQ unequivocally comes up short. There are some strong efforts made to add value and originality with gloss black accenting, a thick leather-rimmed steering wheel and cool Scion branding on the doors. And for the most part the materials used are not low-grade. Itís hard to overlook, however, the Toyota parts-bin knobs, switches and stalks and the dated orange info screen on the dash. Then there are the seats. While coated in a uniquely-designed fabric, they look lifted from a Chevy Cavalier Ė complete with an utter lack of lateral support.
Scion boss Jack Hollis describes the iQ as ďso much more car, than a Smart car.Ē And while true on all fronts, the Smart car is hardly a lofty target at which to aim. The Fiat 500 has replaced it in the minds of many, and when you compare the interiors of these two cars, the Toyota-brand product comes up short of the comparatively-priced Fiatís near-premium cockpit.
This drawback overshadows the fact that the iQ does come with a highly contended cabin. Standard features include remote keyless entry, one-touch power up/down windows, steering wheel audio controls, 11 airbags, USB and iPod hookups, plus Bluetooth is standard.
The iQ is also sold in what the company calls a mono-spec form, meaning everything (apart from the 25 accessories and a few optional upgraded audio systems) is standard. That will help console your sense of value, as you can walk out of a dealer sticking far closer to that original asking price than youíd expect.
Still, for the price, itís hard to image you have to pay extra for aluminum wheels (steelies with hubcaps come stock). A stereo system that looks like more than a Best Buy car audio isle afterthought would also be ideal.
Sitting inside the iQ, itís impossible to take the marketing fluff at face value. Four seats? They must be kidding. And yet thereís actually enough space on the passenger side for two 6-foot adults, one in front of the other. The driverís side doesnít offer the same, but doesnít promise to either. This unique 3+1 layout is the result of clever packaging, with the passenger seat slightly ahead of the driverís. There is a down-side to this, however, and thatís in visibility for the driver. With the seat back just a few inches, the roof hangs over into the field of view (or at least it does for taller drivers), blocking-out street lights.
Cargo room is essentially non-existent in the rear with just 3.5 cu-ft behind the rear seats Ė though it seems like even less. Drop the split-folding 2nd row seatbacks though and you have a reasonable 16.7 cu-ft Ė about three cu-ft larger than the trunk room in a Camry.
Powering the iQ is a tiny 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine that sounds like a quiet moped at idle and makes 94-hp and 89 lb-ft of torque. Thatís not a lot of power, but with a curb weight of 2,127 lbs (over 300 less than a Fiat 500), it moves along just fine. It certainly feels faster than its Prius-like 11.8 second 0-60 time would suggest Ė due in part to its CVT transmission.
Generally abhorred by auto journalists (AutoGuide included), the CVT is one of the big reasons the iQ works. For starters, it makes for a smooth drive. More importantly, it means the tiny engine is never in the wrong gear or hunting to find the right one. As a result, thereís always a sufficient amount of power, even when youíre scooting up some very steep San Francisco streets. For ideal results, keep it in the ďSĒ gear around town, which keeps the revs a little higher. And for downhill driving thereís a low B gear as well.
A major reason for buying a car like this is fuel economy, with the iQ getting a 37-mpg combined rating, making it the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid for sale in America. ďWeíre not interested in gamesmanship,Ē says Scion boss Jack Hollis. ďThere arenít special low rolling resistance tires. Itís not a special edition. Itís 37-mpg legitimately.Ē
Designed to excel in the urban scoot, the iQ does just that. Itís nimble, has good around-town power, is a cinch to park in the tightest of spaces and while it canít technically turn on a dime, Scion says it can pull a full 360 on the width of two king size mattresses (12.9 feet to be exact). Thatís half the space of the Smart car takes, despite the iQ being a foot longer.
While excellent urban runabouts, when heading out on the highway, small cars often show their flaws. With such a short wheelbase the iQ does pop and bounce around on bumps at highway speeds, but it doesnít get buffeted around by winds or trucks due to a sturdy and sizeable width that is 2-inches more than the Fiat 500 and almost a half a foot thicker than the Smart.
Its width also translates into a more substantial feeling no matter what youíre using it for. Combined with a more involved driving position than the Fiat 500, from behind the wheel you donít feel like the iQ is a tiny urban commuter.
On more serpentine roads itís a reasonable amount of fun, though hardly exhilarating. (With 94-hp, getting into trouble take a lot of work). In almost all ways itís better than we expected. The steering is decent in terms of feel and responsiveness, with the wheels out at each corner it doesnít have much of anywhere to lean, and it requires some serious hustle to understeer.
The Smart carís lack of success can be blamed on many factors, most of which are solved by the iQ. It offers far greater functionality, a solid offering of standard equipment and, perhaps most importantly for American buyers, doesnít feel like a toy. And yet itís still incredibly unique, while offering improved fuel economy Ė however minimal.
Unfortunately, along with being better than the Smart in every way, itís also significantly more expensive and even stacks up against many Toyota offerings as a tough sell. Those who value its compact dimensions, however, likely wonít mind paying extra for what they perceive as an advantage.
For that group, just one sticking point remains: the carís interior. Unique and individual it may be. Premium it is not. And thatís exactly where the Fiat 500 wins out. In the Scionís defense, it does come with two years of free maintenance, plus, being a Toyota product, you can guarantee a high level of built in value in the form of reliability and durability.
Set to go on sale this October, Scion will roll-out the iQ in waves, starting in California and the Western States, spreading to the Gulf states in December, the North East in January and the Midwest by March.