Though the Scion iQ is new to the U.S., it's more than familiar to the rest of the world. Other countries have had micro-cars for years; Toyota is just the latest manufacturer to bring them to the States. The question is whether the U.S. will accept them.
With a miniscule 1.3-liter, 94-hp engine, the Scion iQ was the second least-powerful vehicle in our 2012 COTY competition, conceding only to the fully electric Mitsubishi I MiEv, which has less power but more torque. In fact, the iQ is the fourth-slowest vehicle of all the 2011 and 2012 model-year vehicles we have tested, quicker only than the iMiEV and two Fiat 500 convertibles. In testing, the iQ managed its meander to 60 in 10.8 seconds while finishing the quarter mile in 18.1 seconds at 77.1 mph.
For simple, around-town commuting, this kind of power is adequate, but driving the iQ anyplace other than a surface street is an adventure all its own. On the freeway, the iQ can't get out of its own way; a manual transmission would help, but not much. The short wheelbase and narrow track make the iQ wander on grooved freeways. And not if, but when you get passed on the highway by a semi, hang on to the wheel, because the amount of movement you get from the windstream will do more than just get your attention.
" It's less dumb than the Smart, but still doesn't make the Dean's List. "
Things don't get much better if you happen upon a smooth, twisty road. The small dimensions combined with the high center of gravity make the car a handful if you try to toss it around. It looks like you can do that with this car, but you can't. The iQ feels very unstable under hard braking; the nose dives and the rear hunches up and wiggles, not something you want in any vehicle. There's also the issue of constantly feeling like you're going to tip over. Just like the braking, that's not a feeling you want to have while driving.
Chris Theodore noted, "The exterior styling is cute, the interior is ultra-modern, and the materials have a premium look and feel." There was one constant knock on the interior, and that's the placement of the seat's fore-and-aft adjuster. As Allyson Harwood said, "If the seats going to have a manual adjustment, please put it as a bar under the front of the seat, not on the side, where everyone expects the reclining handle to be." More than a few editors made this exact same comment.
The biggest gripe of all with the iQ concerns its EPA rating of 36 city, 37 highway. A car like this looks like it could and should be getting at least 50 mpg. A small car with a small engine is good in theory, but that small engine has to work harder to produce the same results as a slightly bigger engine moving a slightly larger load, but not working as hard. It's a double-edged sword. There's no way around it, other than adding a hybrid system.
Theodore summed up the iQ best: "It's less dumb than the Smart, but still doesn't make the Dean's List." Vehicles like the iQ simply don't make any sense in the U.S, from either a profit or a usability standpoint. There won't be enough sales, and Americans still aren't keen on super-tiny cars, except for in very specific situations, like city driving. Unfortunately, just like the other micro-cars we have here in the States, the Scion iQ is great for anyplace but the U.S.
2012 Scion iQ
BASE PRICE - $16,050
PRICE AS TESTED - $16,050
VEHICLE LAYOUT - Front-engine, FWD, 4-pass, 2-door hatchback
ENGINE - 1.4L/94-hp/89-lb-ft DOHC 12-valve I-3
TRANSMISSION - Cont variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) - 2111 lb (62/38%)
WHEELBASE - 78.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT - 120.1 x 66.1 x 59.1 in
0-60 MPH - 10.8 sec
QUARTER MILE - 18.1 sec @ 77.1 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH - 129 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION - 0.77 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT - 28.9 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON - 36/37 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY - 94/91 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS - 0.53 lb/mile