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2012 Scion iQ Test Drive: The Smarter Smart

2766 Views 7 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  gokartride

Make a tiny two-door city car, and name it the iQ. That is pretty clearly a shot at the Smart car, right off the bat – it would be like Chevy releasing a special edition Camaro called the “it’s faster than Shelby.” So how smart is Toyota’s Smart? What’s its iQ, to stretch the pun?

Are you looking at my butt?

The iQ has the odd distinction of being the smallest four-seater in America. And small it is: it’s 119.9″ long overall, which is one-tenth of an inch shorter than the wheelbase of the Chrysler 300 I just recently reviewed. It’s 13″ longer than a Smart ForTwo, but it does have back seats- and only 5″ additional wheelbase. It’s 20″ shorter than a Fiat 500, 29″ shorter than a Mini Cooper Coupe, 38″ shorter than a Mazda MX-5 Miata, and amusingly you could fit the iQ (119.9″) inside the wheelbase of a Chevy Suburban (130″), and almost park two end to end next to one (222″ overall.) It’s tiny.

So in a car this tiny, how do they manage to fit four seats? What compromises are made? What’s the point? Well, for starters, here’s the engine.

There’s an engine in here?

You can actually reach back there and poke the firewall; it’s amazing they fit an engine in what wouldn’t pass for a trunk in most cars. There was a lot of clever engineering that went into making the iQ as space-efficient as possible. The steering rack is mounted above the engine, instead of behind it. The A/C system has been miniaturized and stuffed in behind the dashboard (which is why there’s no glove box.) The reduced size of A/C components allowed the engineers to cut the dashboard forward towards the floor, move the seats up, and create room for the rear. As a result, the car’s tiny outside but you can fit three people comfortably.

The rear-seat magic trick.

Or you could remove the headrests, flip the seats down, and actually have useable trunk space. There simply isn’t any with the seats up (3.5 cubic feet does not count, sorry) since the rear headrests sit against the back window!
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Still a fairly small trunk.

So with all this engineering cleverness, the iQ will appeal to people who enjoy space efficiency and a tiny turning circle: the iQ will whip in a circle like a zero-turn-radius lawn mower. It’s designed as a “city car” and it fits the bill perfectly. It won’t appeal to speed demons, but we’ll get to the powertrain in a minute. The result of all this work: surprising interior room, even for two full-sized adults, in an unbelievably small package.

Dastardly Disappearing Dashboard Doesn’t Disappoint

Everything in the iQ is designed to maximize interior space, but you don’t feel like you’re suffering. The center stack rises up high with HVAC controls aligned vertically, and the stereo system at the top – low-value real estate, so to speak. The gauge cluster is a motorcycle-style combined bin (similar to the one in the Chevy Sonic, actually), and there’s a large touch-screen stereo head unit, something of a Scion calling card.

It’s just like riding a GSX-R1000, minus the fast motorcycle part

The instrument cluster is surprisingly artful and easy to read; they make the tachometer so small because you don’t need it. Like a lot of commuter appliances, the iQ omits a temperature gauge in lieu of an “it’s still cold” and “it’s too hot” idiot lights, which I don’t find offensive. There’s a digital gas and trip mileage gauge to the left, which sadly washed out in these photos. Hey, I’m a writer, not Easton Chang.

Cheap car, fancy head unit.

Touch-screen stereos are something that will appeal to youngin’s, and annoy the crap out of old people. Fine by me: Scion’s always been aimed at 18-24′s, and they like this kinda stuff. The stereo’s actually pretty good, and it comes with Aux-in and USB ports down next the shifter, for your ubiquitous Apple product. Overall, the interior is remarkably spacious and comfortable: the seats are a lot better than what you get in a Yaris or Corolla, and the sit-up-and-beg driving position gives you a good view over the road.

This is where the angry hamsters live!

Here’s where the magic happens…. or not. The iQ is “powered” by Toyota’s 1.3L 1NR-FE. It’s a twin-cam, 16v I4 with VVTi cam timing, an 11.5:1 compression ratio, and port injection. It screams out 94 highly enthusiastic horsepower (at 6,000rpm) and 89ft-lbs torque (at 4,400rpm.) If it doesn’t sound like much, keep this in mind: it’s primary competitor is the Smart car, and it will blow it’s freaking doors into the next zip code. I’ve driven subcompacts a size or two up that would also lose their ingress portals, and that’s for two reasons. One, the iQ weighs all of 2127 pounds, and two, it has a pretty clever CVT.

The Smart chokes out 68 horsepower from its rear-mounted 12-valve slant three, but the problem is that it sends it through literally the world’s worst transmission: a 5-speed automated single clutch manual with all the intelligence of an ADD-riddled third grader. It’s so terrible, I cry thinking about it. It takes forever to engage a gear, forever to get going from a stop, and it’s the single worst thing about the car – among a lot of bad things. The iQ’s motor has a big displacement advantage (the smart is a 1.0L) but it gets the jump from the CVT. Have no doubt, the best pairing for a tiny power-challenged engine like the 1NR is a well-programmed CVT. Want proof? The iQ is around 3 seconds faster than the Smart ForTwo to sixty miles an hour; 9.6 seconds isn’t fast, but in a race with a CR-Z you’ll be surprisingly even.
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Perfect candidate for a rear-mounted Hayabusa motor. You’re thinking it too.

Unlike earlier CVT attempts (I’m looking at you, Saturn Ion, blech), Toyota’s unit drives something like a cross between a CVT and a conventional planetary-gear auto. If you pin the throttle, it will rev up to peak power for a second, then actually select a few set ratios, and buzz to redline and shift into them. In normal driving, it slurs around like a CVT should, which gives you wonderful acceleration flexibility without the annoyance of waiting for a downshift (or waiting an eternity for the Smart’s transmission to do anything.) You would expect to hate the CVT, but you end up wondering why all tiny cars don’t have one – it suits the purpose of city driving perfectly. Compared to a Yaris with the 1.5L and Ye Olde 4-speed auto, it’s revelatory: from a driving enjoyment perspective, it’s the iQ hands down 11 times out of ten.

There are some downsides to all this micro-sized cleverness. The iQ’s powertrain is Loud, capital L intentional. In part throttle the little motor emits about twice the volume you’d expect, and it downright shouts under hard acceleration. Highway cruising is reasonably quiet, with the CVT picking a tall ratio and making small adjustments to suit up or downhill. It’s very susceptible to sidewinds and tramlining, giving you the impression it wasn’t designed with highway use in mind. Of course, the 1mpg difference between city and highway MPG also does.

“Finally,” said Bob, “A car I can hug.”

The other amusing part about driving the iQ is largely a result of it’s microscopic wheelbase. Steering responses will take drivers of normal cars a while to get used to; if you sneeze with both hands on the wheel, you will change lanes. The iQ’s parallel-parking-friendly rack ratio is probably to blame there, too. The steering is electrically assisted (what, you think they have space for a hydraulic power steering pump under the hood?) and is super light, so the iQ has go-kart responses. Steering feel is neither expected nor present. The wheel itself is quite nice: a leather-wrapped three spoker with a flat bottom, and some clever audio controls on the left spoke. Good marks for brake feel and strength, but that’s probably more a result of the low weight than any huge stoppers.

But the iQ will probably not be spotted on a drag strip or road-course any time soon. (Although Scion does sell TRD lowering springs and a rear sway bar for it, so maybe autocross? Nah.) It was designed to be a city car, and it’s excellent at that. EPA ratings are 36 and 37 – meaning it does one less MPG on the highway than the Smart, which is radically out of it’s depth on the highway. 36mpg in town without a Hybrid system is pretty impressive too. The turning radius is absurd; 26.4 feet curb to curb means you can basically do donuts without spinning tires. You could probably perpendicular-park it downtown.

Projector-beam Halogens: nice touch.

This being America, where small cars genuinely scare some people, the iQ comes over-endowed with safety equipment. Traction control, stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution, emergency brake assist, and enough airbags to turn the iQ into a raft if you drive it into lake Erie. Seriously, there are 13 airbags in this car if I’m counting right. Dual front, side, front and rear curtains, knees, inner seat, and rear window curtain airbag. It’s like Scion is saying “roll one, I dare you, I double dog dare you.”

For all it’s cleverness and modern engineering, the iQ is still a car of limited appeal. You won’t want to take a road trip in one, for the same reasons a Miata is a bad road trip car. Not a lot of cargo space, it’s a nervous twitchy thing on the freeway, the highway mileage isn’t that great (Honda’s Civic HF and the VW Jetta TDI both come to mind), it would be loud, etc. But as an around-town type of thing, it’d actually be pretty fun.

The value question is harder to answer, though. The iQ starts at $15,995 – and at that price point there are a lot of other cars with much more practicality. Toyota itself makes a lot of cars that will eat iQ sales; the Yaris starts at $14,115 and the Corolla at $16,130, both offering more space and better highway MPG – although the iQ beats both for in-town mileage. The Honda Fit starts at $15,175 and offers shocking amounts of usable interior space. But I doubt Scion will be selling the iQ on it’s practical merits – it’s a funky car that stands out and drives in an amusing manner. It actually has some character – you’ll crack a smile when you drive one, which is guaranteed to never happen in a Corolla or Yaris – and the quality of interior fittings puts both of those to shame.

So if you live downtown, it’s definitely for you. If you want a tiny car that’s a bit on the funky side, it’s for you. If you take a lot of road trips, or like going fast, it’s most assuredly not for you. But if Toyota intends to restore interest in the flailing Scion brand with this and the FR-S, they’re on the right track.

2012 Scion iQ

Base price: $15,995
Price as tested: $17,469
Options: Destination fee ($785), Rear speaker package ($100), Storage Package ($20), Floor Mats ($90), Pioneer Premium Audio ($479)
Body: Unit construction 3-door hatchback
Drivetrain: Front transverse-engine, front wheel drive, continuously variable transmission
Accomodations: 4 passengers (but more realistically it’s “3+1″)
Engine: Inline-four cylinder, aluminum block & cylinder head
Displacement: 1.3L (1329cc)
Aspiration: N/A
Fuel delivery: Electronic Port Fuel Injection
Valvetrain: Belt-driven DOHC,16 valves (4/cylinder), VVT-i
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Horsepower: [email protected],000rpm
Torque: [email protected],400rpm
Rev limit: 6,200rpm
Suspension (F): MacPherson Strut, Coil Spring, Gas Damper, Anti-Roll Bar
Suspension (R): Torsion Beam, Coil Spring, Gas Damper
Steering: Electric power-assisted
Wheels/Tires: 16×5.0J Steel w/wheel cover, 175/60/R16
Brakes (F/R): Vented discs/Drums, ABS, EBD, Brake Assist
0-60mph: 9.6s
Top speed: 101mph
1/4 [email protected]:
[email protected] (all via Car & Driver road test, Jan 2012)
EPA fuel mileage estimate: 36 city/ 37 highway/ 37 combined
Recommended fuel: 87 octane
Fuel Tank Capacity:
8.5 gallons
Theoretical Range:
314.5 miles
Wheelbase: 78.7:
Length: 119.9″
Track (F/R): 58.3″/57.5″
Width: 66.1″
Height: 59.1″Cargo Capacity: 3.5ft³
Curb weight: 2127lbs

Main Competitors: Smart ForTwo, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Fiat 500, Honda Fit
Incredibly clever packaging, cute exterior, surprisingly roomy & quality interior, high city MPG, ridiculous turning radius
Louder than a straight-piped Honda, not a highway car, priced too far into “real car” territory
Toyota shows off its engineering prowess in the hardest-to-sell way possible. You still might like it anyway.
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has anyone tried working on the Scion iQ engine so far? space looks really tight in the Scion iQ engine bay. I hope doing regular maintenance wont cost a lot due to mechanics having to hack through a lot stuff to do something simple. Can't even see the drive belt.
I have become skilled in changing my cars (and motorcycle's) oil and filter. I was planning on doing it myself on the iQ but we get 2 years of free basic maintenance including tire rotation and oil changes. Nice!
That's a good review. Thanks for posting it.
Probably the best review ive seen,thanks
I wonder if the iQ is any competition for the MINI. Comparisons are made all the time between iQ innovations and those made by Sir Alec on the classic Mini, and I'm thinking with a rear sway bar the iQ would offer similar fun, especially given the presence of that back seat. Lots of MINI owners are pining for a smaller MINI (rather than the bigger ones BMW seems to be making these days), and I think the iQ might fit the bill. It sure does for me, and I've had two Coopers. I like Toyota's engineering better.
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