First Drive: 2012 Scion iQ Small Package Big Ideas

How much car do you really need?  That is what Toyota’s Scion brand is asking with the iQ it’s bringing to the market beginning in December.  Available in Japan and Europe for several years now this micro-compact is being targeted at Gen-Y buyers who live in very condensed urban environments.

At just 10 feet long the Scion iQ is the shortest car being sold in North America save the SMART FourTwo, and the less said about the SMART car the better.  While in theory the iQ and the FourTwo are priced similarly and are targeting a similar demographic, the Scion iQ is so far and above the SMART as to make the FourTwo look as sophisticated as the Wright Brothers Flyer in the world of the 787 Dreamliner.  

Priced at $15,995, which includes destination charges, the iQ is not the cheapest car on the market, but it is very well equipped and very well built.  Standard features include vehicle stability control, electric power steering, keyless entry and Bluetooth connectivity.  While there are no soft touch surfaces in the iQ, one wouldn’t expect them  at this price point either.  That said, the quality of the materials along with the fit and finish of the interior are certainly better than in larger and more expensive B and C segment cars we’ve driven in the past year.  “It’s a real car,” Scion Vice President Jack Hollis said. “It drives and feels like a Corolla, but it’s in this tiny package.”

The iQ will not have any factory options available, however, like all Scions there were be a plethora of accessories for the iQ available at Dealers to customize and personalize the iQ.  There will be one option, which is a lowering kit for the iQ, along with larger 18” wheels which Jack Hollis said looks “amazing on this car”.

In North America where bigger is always better, and in cars and trucks perceived as safer, the iQ comes will 11 airbags, and is expected to achieve an IIHS Top Safety Pick when it’s results are released.  There are are the usual airbags for driver and passenger knees, side bolster and side curtains, but two innovative airbags in the iQ are ones in the seat bottom that lift the knees up to prevent the driver from submarining under the steering wheel and a rear curtain airbag that covers the rear glass area to protect rear seat passengers from a rear end crash.

While technically the iQ is a four seat car, it is really a 3+1 as only the smallest of people will be able to sit behind the driver.  The rear seat room behind the passenger is acceptable for anyone under six feet tall.  

The packaging of the iQ is very clever.  The two front seats are offset (the passenger sits farther forward) to create rear seat leg room. The fuel tank is located under the passenger floor, the engine and transmission have been engineered to push the front wheels as far forward as possible to create more cabin space by eliminating wheel well intrusion into the cabin.  It allows to iQ to be very short, 10 feet in length, but, the iQ is very wide for such a short car.  In fact, the cabin width is as wide, if not wider than a Toyota Corolla!  You would think that driver and passenger shoulders would be touching in the iQ but it feels very much like a C segment car from the front seats.

Driving the iQ as we did, mostly in an urban setting, is quite enjoyable.  Given how short the wheelbase of the car is, the ride is not overly choppy or harsh.  The ride is firm, but acceptably so.  The steering in fairly direct, maybe not go kart sharp, but still very good.  The only transmission offered in the iQ for North America is the Toyota CVT.  We have to say that the CVT in the iQ may be the best we’ve ever driven!  It was for the most part a non factor, and that may be the highest praise we can give that style of transmission.  When asked about the availability of a manual transmission for the car, Jack Hollis said that while he, and many others at Scion North America would like to see that as an option, the fact that 95% of Gen Y’ers don’t know how to drive a manual, is an issue, plus the fact that the car is targeted at the urban environment, a CVT was a better choice.

What is astonishing about driving the iQ is just how tight the turning radius is.  It’s not a joke to say that the iQ can “turn on a dime and give you eight cents change”.  The actual turning radius of the car is 12.9 feet!!  The iQ can almost turn within it’s own length!  Parking the iQ is very easy as well.  While you can’t see the nose of the car while seated behind the wheel, the nose of the car isn’t much past your feet being on the peddles.  Rear visibility is good as well, and again the rear bumper is four inches past the rear glass, so distance is easy to judge.

The engine powering the iQ is Toyota’s 1.3 liter inline four cylinder, and with the CVT transmission it returns fuel economy in the iQ is 36mpg city, 37 highway and 37 combined.  Acceleration feels good in urban environments.  While the actual 0-60 numbers are around 10 seconds, the iQ feels much zippier than that.  On the freeway the iQ wasn’t buffeted around by large semis.  While our highway segment was short with the car, it was enough to get a good take away.  We wouldn’t want to take a four hour drive on the highway all the time with the iQ, but if your commute includes highway time, this Scion will do just fine.  Wind noise at speed is also very low, in part due the aero sculpting of the the car in the wind tunnel.  It’s had to believe, but the iQ had a drag coefficient of just .31!

The Scion iQ will be available in dealers on the West Coast beginning in early December, and roll out across the rest of the country in stages through March.  Scion are looking to sell about 2,000 iQ’s per month once the car is released across the country, and they do expect sales to be concentrated in areas like L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York and Chicago, areas where the iQ would fit well into tight urban environments.

Going in we didn’t know what to expect with the iQ, really all we’d ever really seen of it were segments from Fifth Gear and Top Gear.  It will make a great commuter car, a great car for college students, or a car for people who live in cities who need cars for things like going to the grocery store, or running a number of errands where a Zip car service or public transportation wouldn’t work out.  We have to say walking away from our drive, that the iQ is a very impressive little car. 

Have a look at the full gallery of pictures of the iQ.



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