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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2012 Scion iQ

The pint-sized Scion iQ micro-car is often compared to the two-seat Smart Fortwo and the four-seat Fiat 500, but in my view, the three-and-a-half-seat iQ occupies its own special niche. It’s a little bigger and more powerful than the Fortwo which doesn’t have a rear seat; and a bit smaller and less powerful than the retro-styled Fiat 500.

Though Scion advertises that the iQ will seat “four passengers”, that fourth person has to be a baby in a child seat – there is simply no legroom behind the driver’s seat for an adult rear passenger. However, there is some legroom behind the front passenger seat if it is pushed forwards somewhat, made possible due to the extra front legroom on the passenger side. The right rear seat is rather uncomfortable for an adult, but I found enough legroom and headroom to squeeze in my 5 foot 9 inch frame.

The driver and front passenger have plenty of room due to the iQ’s wide body and tall roof, and the big doors make the front seats easy to get in and out of. For practical purposes, the iQ is really a two-seat micro car with a decent-sized trunk (473 litre/16.7 cu. ft. with both rear seats folded down) with the option of seating a third person if necessary.

As many reviewers have noted, there are a number of other cars you can buy for the iQ’s suggested price of $16,760 that will seat four or five adults and have a larger trunk. But that kind of misses the point: the iQ’s primary appeal is its urban-friendly manoeuvrability, ‘parkability’, and excellent fuel economy.

Though it’s about 50 mm longer than a Fortwo, the Scion’s overall length of 3045 mm (119.9 in.), or 10 feet, is still very short, even by subcompact car standards. The Fiat 500, for example, has an overall length of 3546 mm (139.6 in.). The Scion’s small size opens up a whole new world of parking opportunities: street parking spaces that most other cars won’t fit into are available to the iQ. That, combined with the iQ’s incredibly tight turning circle of 7.8 metres/25.6 ft., offers a level of manoeuvrability that other cars, not even the Smart Fortwo, can match. U-turns are a snap, impossibly tight underground parking garages and drive-thru restaurants become easier to navigate, and parallel parking is as easy as a few turns of the steering wheel.

Fuel economy is also class leading, according to Natural Resources Canada. The iQ is rated at 5.5 L/100 km city, 4.7 L/100 km highway. That compares to the Smart Fortwo with 5.9 city/4.8 hwy and the Fiat 500 with 7.4 city/5.7 hwy. The U.S. EPA, which has a more realistic testing formula, gives the Scion iQ ratings of 6.5 city/6.4 hwy. With a 32.2-litre gas tank, the iQ will travel 455 km on a single tank of fuel.

The iQ’s performance is not as underwhelming as you might expect. Equipped with a 94-hp 1.3-litre four-cylinder motor and continuously variable transmission, the lightweight (960 kg/2,116 lb) iQ manages zero to 100 km/h in 11.5 seconds, according to AJAC tests. That’s quicker than the 70-hp Smart Fortwo which Consumer Reports says does 0 to 60 mph in 14.6 seconds, and the 101-hp Fiat 500 which AJAC clocks from zero to 100 km/h in 12.3 seconds. The iQ is even quicker than the subcompact 100-hp Mazda2 with zero to 100 km/h in 11.9 seconds. Even the 138-hp Hyundai Accent (auto) takes 10.4 seconds.

While accelerating, the Scion’s standard continuously variable transmission suspends engine revs at a high level until the driver backs off the throttle, and it’s a bit noisy in the cabin, which doesn’t seem to have much sound insulation. On the other hand, the iQ’s CVT is considerably smoother than the Fortwo’s jerky five-speed sequential automatic transmission. Once the iQ is cruising along, engine noise is reduced with the engine turning over about 2,000 r.p.m. at 100 km/h.

Selecting S mode with the Shift lever brings the revs up to 3,000 rpm at 100 km/h, providing better response when passing, but I didn’t notice any improvement in off-the-line performance in S mode. Unlike the Fortwo and the 500, the iQ’s transmission has no manual shift mode. The transmission’s B mode is akin to a low gear that can be used for engine braking when going downhill.

The iQ’s highway ride is not as choppy as the Smart Fortwo’s, probably due to its longer wheelbase and wider track. It rides quite comfortably on smooth pavement and tracks fairly well at highway speeds, but I found the suspension very firm over pavement breaks and bumps, with some lurching motions. When starting off, the rear-end drops down a bit, and when braking the front nose-dives slightly. Handling is stable, but doesn’t feel as nimble as the Fortwo and the steering feel is rather numb. My test car was equipped with Dunlop SP Wintersport 175/60R-16-inch tires, which performed well in the wet and cold conditions during my test drive.

Equipped with front discs and rear drum brakes, the iQ brakes from 100 km/h to 0 in 44.5 metres, according to AJAC. That’s a bit disappointing. It compares to the Fortwo with 42.4 metres in a 60 mph to 0 test conducted by Consumer Reports, and the Fiat 500 with 42.0 metres in a 100 km/h to 0 AJAC braking test.

The driver’s visibility is generally good, particularly as the rear window is so close to the driver, but the rear head restraints can block the view, and I’d recommend removing them if there are no rear passengers. They will almost fit in the under floor storage bin behind the rear seats, but not fully. The iQ comes with a standard rear wiper with washer and rear window defroster.

The driving position is satisfactory despite the fact that the steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope and the driver’s seat is not height adjustable. The seats, covered in a patterned fabric, are contoured to hug the body and I found them reasonably comfortable for drives of half an hour or less. The small and sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel with attractive red stitching and a flat bottom adds some needed flare to an otherwise quirky interior design highlighted by an audio unit perched on top of the dashboard with a standard Pioneer AM/FM/CD unit with small buttons that are difficult to see and operate. Fortunately, there are some controls on the steering wheel for audio volume, power, mode, channel select, and Seek. I would recommend paying the extra $595 for the optional 200-watt premium system with a large touch-screen and hands-free operation using voice commands.

The iQ’s interior surfaces are a mixture of hard black and light grey plastics on the dash and doors, shiny black plastic around the radio and door armrests, silver plastic trim under the radio, and chrome trimmed heater dials. The door armrests have unusual raised speaker supports. To my eyes, it’s a bit of a mish-mash.

Behind the steering wheel is a large central speedometer above a smaller tachometer; and to its left is an orange on black liquid crystal display showing a transmission gear indicator, fuel gauge, outside temperature, clock, trip odometer, average fuel economy, and an Eco light that comes on when the iQ is being driven sedately. These instruments look rather cheap by today’s standards and the LCD is difficult to read.

Below the radio is a simple and functional vertical row of large dials for the heating and ventilation system, and behind it a floor shifter falls readily to hand. Controls for the power windows (both have automatic down) are on the door armrests but a single button for the power door locks is located in the lower centre console next to the shift lever. There, you’ll also find a button for the Bluetooth hands-free phone, USB and auxiliary connections, and the ESC off button. A 12-volt powerpoint is also nearby.

Interior storage spaces are limited to an open bin at the bottom of the centre stack and two door pockets: there’s no glovebox or centre storage bin. Of course, with one or both of the rear seatbacks folded down, there is quite a bit of storage space close at hand.

The rear hatch is very light and lifts up easily, revealing a tiny space behind the rear seats under which is a hidden compartment. Fold down one of the rear seatbacks and you can fit an overnight bag or a backpack; fold down both rear seats and you could fit a couple of large suitcases.

Despite it small size, or perhaps because of it, the iQ offers eleven airbags: two front airbags, two knee airbags, two seat-mounted side airbags, two overhead curtain airbags, two front seat cushion airbags to prevent the driver and passenger from “submarining” under the dash, and a rear window airbag to provide more protection in a rear-ender. As of this writing, neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had crash tested the iQ.

For its $16,760 price, the iQ is fairly well equipped with a standard CVT, 16-inch tires, air conditioning, stereo with six speakers, Bluetooth, leather wrapped steering wheel, split folding rear seats, power door locks with keyless locking/unlocking, power windows, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, rear wiper and eleven airbags. The only big omissions are cruise control and a sunroof.

Available options include the premium stereo, satellite radio, front fog lights, alloy wheels, lowering springs, rear sway bar, cargo net, and hood deflector.

While it’s true you can buy a base Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent or Honda Fit for less than a Scion iQ, a comparably equipped model will come to one or two thousand dollars more. But you can’t compare apples and oranges: like the Smart Fortwo, the iQ is an urban lifestyle car with an appeal that transcends value for money and utility – well, at least in the under $20,000 category.

Pricing: 2012 Scion iQ
Base price: $16,760
Options: $670 (TRD rear sway bar $350; rear spoiler $320)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,390
Price as tested: $18,920

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