It will come as no surprise to regular TTAC readers when I say that Scion has had some sales issues lately. But instead of euthanizing the brand as some on TTAC have suggested, Toyota has decided to take a different route. Thankfully, rather than creating more me-too models based off of US-market Toyotas, the plan includes some JDM/Euro models and the much anticipated “Toyobaru “sports car. The first object of foreign desire landing stateside to start off Scion’s resurrection is the Toyota iQ micro-car. The iQ should be in showrooms across the country soon, but does Scion have the IQ to make a smarter Smart?
The problem with the Smart ForTwo isn’t really the car itself, it’s not Penske (the former Smart distributer), and it’s not even parent company Mercedes’s on-and-off waffling relationship with microcars in America. The problem with the Smart car is that all the other cars on the market exist. I learnt this the hard way back in 2007 when I put a $99 deposit down on a Smart ForTwo Cabriolet. The months waiting for my precious pregnant roller-skate to arrive only fueled the flames of desire for the car only Europeans were allowed to buy. Unfortunately when the car arrived the novelty had worn off due to the anemic engine, steep pricing, lack of features and a dumb-witted automated manual transmission. When Toyota said they were bringing their micro car stateside I was suitably concerned yet strangely intrigued, as a result I could not resist an invite to Seattle to see the latest diminutive people-mover.
Numbers are important with small cars, so with measuring tape in hand let’s explore. The iQ is 14-inches longer and just under 5-inches wider than the US market ForTwo (10-feet long and 66-inches wide) making it not only the smallest four-seater in the US but in the world. For anyone counting, the iQ is considerably smaller than the former (or planned) Smart ForFour or even the Mini Cooper. Lilliputian-car lovers rejoice: the iQ is still small. Strangely however, the increased dimensions pay much larger dividends than you would expect due to packaging and the funky layout.
The Smart’s rear-engine layout hurts the tiny car’s space efficiency compared to the front-engine iQ. How can this be? Well, the radiator and other support systems, steering rack, etc. are all still under the miniature hood while cargo space is restricted by the ending in the rear. The iQ engineers on the other hand found ways to repackage everything to use less space. The steering rack sits nearly above the engine, the differential was relocated and compacted, pushing the front wheels in front of, rather than behind the engine and barely behind the bumper cover. Inside, the glove box was deleted and the HVAC unit went on a diet combining massively reduced pluming, a tiny air handler and miniaturized bits-and-bobs jammed entirely behind center console. This means the front passenger compartment could be shifted forward into the void where these systems would normally live. By shifting the front passenger noticeably ahead of the driver, you can actually fit a 6-foot-tall passenger in front, a 6-foot-tall passenger in the rear, a 6-foot-tall driver behind the wheel and a small child or a small amount of shopping behind the driver. That’s what Toyota means by 3+1.
While it is technically a four-seater, my experience stuffing journalists into the car and driving around Seattle can be summed up this way: it can carry two in comfort, three acceptably, four in a pinch. I was actually able to drive the iQ while a 6-foot-tall person sat behind me. It wasn’t awful, but I wouldn’t want to take a road trip that way. Cabin width is not an issue as the iQ is actually wider than Yaris or Corolla and this makes the iQ far less claustrophobic than a Smart. You would think the addition of extra seats would result in lost legroom upfront vs the Smart but you would be wrong. In reality the iQ possesses 3/10ths of an inch less legroom than the ForTwo in front, while adding 28.6 inches of legroom in the rear. The math whizzes in the crowd will notice that 28.6 inches of rear legroom come with an increased overall length of only 14-inches vs the Smart how’s that for IQ?
Those 2.5 passengers will at least be happy spending time inside the iQ as the diminutive people mover possesses better quality bits than most Toyota products in recent memory. (They are certainly better than Versa, which may be a strange comparison, but I was just here in Seattle for that launch, so there you go.) Most interior surfaces that you will touch are covered in a thin soft-effect plastic that is miles ahead of more expensive Toyota products like the Prius or Sienna. The integrated front-seat headrests are functional but strike me as being a tad out of place as the rears are adjustable. The loss of a glovebox (sacrificed in the name of space efficiency) may be a problem for some, but you can opt for a flimsy tub on questionable rails under the passenger seat as a substitute.
All iQ models get a standard flat-bottomed steering wheel wrapped in soft leather which I have to say is the of the best steering wheels I have had my hands on lately. With every high must come a low; I found the new “joystick” controls for the audio system a pain to use. Speaking of audio systems, Scion continues to take a novel approach on this front. All Scion models are shipped to our shores radio-free and the radio or nav system of your choice can be inserted at the dock or dealer. Fail to tick an optional head unit box and you’ll get the standard Pioneer system which includes HD radio, CD player, Bluetooth (for phone and streaming audio), iPod/USB control, AUX input and four Pioneer speakers. Stepping up to the 200-watt premium audio box gets you a 5.8-inch LCD with iTunes tagging, Pandora connectivity (via a smartphone) and RCA preamp outputs. Should money be no object, you can step way-up to the $1999 Scion Navigation System 200 which is basically the Scion version of the Toyota/Lexus navigation system in everything from the Camry to the LS600. While I find the Toyota/Lexus/Scion nav system easy to use, snappy and well featured, $2000 represents a whopping 13% increase in the price of the car just by selecting this one option. Ouch. Another oddity is the total lack of cruise control, optional or otherwise. As a city car it makes sense I suppose, but it is a nicety I’d still like to have.
Under the tiny hood beats a 1.3L four-cylinder (1NR-FE) engine, brand new for the iQ and for Toyota churning out 94 HP at a lofty 6,000 RPM and 89 lb-ft of twist at 4,400 RPM. I had hoped to see perhaps a diminutive 3-cylinder turbo or perhaps a direct injection engine, but Toyota has decided to go for the tried-and true multi-point electronic injection pioneered last century. Despite high compression of 11.5:1 only regular unleaded is required. Power is put to the ground via a new CVT making the iQ the only Toyota non-hybrid CVT product on these shores. I can’t help another Smart comparison here: the ForTwo’s automated manual shifts like a drunk 12 year old driving daddy’s John Deere, the iQ’s CVT on the other hand likes to rev the nuts off the little 1.3L engine, but at least it is smooth in the process. Pitted against the 2127lb curb weight of the US spec iQ, acceleration is neither swift nor slow but in the same realm as a Prius at an observed 10.52 seconds to 60 (0-60 quoted 11.8) keen observers will note this is considerably faster than the Smart.
The EPA has crowned the iQ with the highest combined economy for any non-hybrid in the US at 36/37/37 (City/Highway/Combined EPA 2008). During my short 105-mile stint with the car on three separate driving routes around town, I averaged 32.1, 37.2 and 49.1MPG on two city routes and one 25-mile highway run.
The safety conscious in the crowd will no doubt be concerned about driving around in a car the size of a high-top trainer. To allay these fears, Toyota has jammed 11 airbags into the iQ including front airbags, knee airbags, side curtain airbags, front thorax bags, a rear window airbag to shield passengers from a tall vehicle impacting your hind end, and finally in-seat airbags to prevent the driver and front passenger “submarining” under lap belts in a rear collision. I don’t know about you, but I want to see video footage of all those bags going off simultaneously.
Starting in December on the west coast and working its way across the country, expect the iQ to slip into dealers with a base MSRP of $15,256 plus destination of $730. Included in the price is scheduled maintenance for 2 years/25,000 miles and 3 years of roadside assistance (mostly because there is no spare). Toyota expects sales to be substantially similar to the xB and xD (20,364 and 10,110 respectively in 2010). Seeing as Smart managed to con 14,595 people in 2009 and 5,927 in 2010 into buying a fairly awkward little car, Scion’s low end sales forecast seems totally achievable. When it does land in a dealer near you the usual bevy of Scion accessories will be available including lowering springs, wheels, sway bars, fog lights, etc. One of our Facebook followers asked us if installing lowering springs would result in lowering the driver’s iQ. You’ll have to check back for the full review of the production model for the answer as well as comparisons to the Mini and 500.
Toyota flew me up to Seattle, put me up in a swanky hotel and stuffed me full of wine and food for this review.
0-30: 3.906 Seconds
0-60: 10.52 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 18.05 Seconds @ 73.6MPH