2012 Scion iQ Review:
In many respects, the 2012 Scion iQ is smarter than the Smart.
The Smart from Daimler, the German manufacturer that also manufactures Mercedes-Benz vehicles, is a two-seat micro car that captivated many buyers back in 2008, some of whom waited as much as 10 months to get their rides.
However, the bloom faded quickly. After a rousing year of 24,622 sales in 2008, dealer lots became clogged with the little cars and sales tumbled to the point where Smart was on a pace to sell just 4,900 in 2011.
The reasons were many, but the biggest factor likely was that the Smart’s singular advantage was its small size—only 8 feet 10 inches long—that enabled it to squeeze into motorcycle-sized parking spaces.
That’s a real benefit in many cities around the world, including some in the United States. In Europe, cars often park on sidewalks and median strips. In some places here, micro cars might be able to park between driveways. But shopping malls have big parking lots, and city streets usually have metered parking spaces marked for larger cars.
Fuel economy—the Smart’s 33/41 miles to the gallon on the government’s city/highway cycle—should have been a plus. But a host of four- and five-passenger subcompacts and compacts showed up with figures nearly as good. And even the price wasn’t a deal clincher because it was possible to lard up the Smart with expensive options.
Another downer was a balky automated manual transmission, along with the fact that the Smart is a two-seater with rear-wheel drive and a wimpy three-cylinder engine.
So now we assess the iQ, the second micro car out to entice American buyers. Compared to the Smart, it mightily improves on the concept but still will have to prove itself in a brutally competitive game.
The iQ—for “intelligent quality”—comes from Japan’s Toyota and is sold as a Scion, the company’s youth-oriented brand. It can seat up to four people, albeit with some wiggling, adjusting, tradeoffs and intimate cuddling.
It is 10 feet long, just 14 inches longer than the Smart. So it starts with the same advantage—the capability to scoot through holes in traffic and insert itself into tight parking spots. It is not expensive, though it also can be gussied up with mainly dealer-installed options.
The iQ has a factory base price of $15,995, which is for a nearly fully-equipped car. Likely few buyers ill want to go much beyond that, although some likely will opt for the classy $749 alloy wheels because the steel wheels with the plastic wheel covers, especially the five-spoke version, are stone ugly.
The only other major options are a rear spoiler, at $285, and fog lights, which add $340. If you want anything else, a dealer will be happy to empty your wallet or purse.
There’s little question that the iQ is cute and entertaining. Its tidy dimensions enable it to hang a U-turn, without backing up, on any average city street. It handles like a water bug scooting across a calm lake, quickly changing lanes and shooting gaps in traffic.
You rarely get spooked because the designers, like those who crafted the Smart, made it a relatively tall car. Both the iQ and Smart are taller than the mid-size Toyota Camry. As a result, even on freeways, you’re at eye-level with everything but big SUVs and pickup trucks, which contributes to confidence. It’s only when you look over your shoulder that you realize you’re in a chopped-off micro car.
As might be expected, the ride is choppy and the iQ’s shortness requires constant minor corrections to maintain a straight line, which could become fatiguing on a long trip, though it obviously was not designed to be a long-distance touring car.
The iQ comes with reasonable bones—a 94-horsepower, 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine linked to a continuously-variable automatic transmission that drives the front wheels. Unlike the jerky direct-shift automated manual in the Smart, the iQ’s CVT provides seamless power without shift points.
One sort of goofy enhancement to the CVT is a shifter with both “drive” and “sport” settings. Ordinarily, that would mean that the “sport” setting would improve acceleration, but not in this case. All it does is deliver additional engine braking. According to the Toyota engineers, it doesn’t hurt fuel economy but marginally improves brake life—a dubious advantage in a car that weighs just 2,127 pounds. Don’t bother with it.
Ingenuity abounds in the interior. There’s a split straight-backed rear seat, with headrests, that can accommodate two people with some adjustments. The right side of the dash is indented, allowing for an offset front seat that can be moved forward to accommodate a rear passenger. The left-rear passenger can only ride there if the driver’s seat is pushed way forward, but it can be done.
Though the specifications list four cubic feet of cargo space, it can only handle things like a small pile of cardboard. The rear seatbacks must be folded to carry anything, and that likely is how most owners will use the iQ—as a two-seater like the Smart but with more possibilities.
- Model: 2012 Scion IQ two-door hatchback sedan.
- Engine: 1.3-liter four-cylinder, 94 horsepower.
- Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic.
- Overall length: 10 feet.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 74/4 cubic feet.
- Weight: 2,127 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 36/37 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $15,995.
- Price as tested: $15,995.