By on December 27, 2010

“This could be Toyota’s iPod,” said UK’s Fifth Gear. The iQ is Toyota’s (some say much smarter) answer to Daimler’s Smart. But the trouble is: The iQ is only available in Japan and Europe. Its impending arrival in the U.S.A. has been announced many times. More on that later. While in Japan, I wanted to test-drive the smallest car of the world’s largest automaker. But first, there were huge obstacles to overcome.

I don’t have a driver’s license. Technically, I don’t.

While discussing the test drive, I was asked whether I’m properly licensed, and I proudly produced three licenses: German, American and Chinese.

Not good enough for Japan. In Japan, you MUST have an international driver’s license if you don’t have a Japanese license. That international driver’s license is simply a translation of your license, and usually a waste of time and money: Show a foreign cop the thing and he either waves it away and wants to see the real one. Or he arrests you: Some countries, such as China, insist that you get their license, or a driver.

Japan is an orderly country, and don’t even think of walking up to a rental counter without an international driver’s license. And don’t go to Toyota and want a test-drive.

In the time it took me to figure out that I can simply go to downtown Tokyo, spend an afternoon and 3,000 yen at the JAF, the Japanese version of the AAA, and walk away properly documented, the friendly folks at Toyota had already figured out something else: They have a closed course down at the docklands of Tokyo, and if I come early and chaperoned by someone of their PR department, they would waive the license requirement. This time.

Coming early meant taking using Tokyo’s fabled public transport system during morning rush hour. There is no better preparation for the test of a city car than being squeezed into the JR train with millions of other sardines. After that, even the smallest car will feel spacious.

The car to be tested turned out to be a recently face lifted iQ. The trim of that model has a slight problem. It is hard to type. It’s called iQ with an arrow behind it. As in iQ → . Because “iQ with an arrow behind it” is a bit cumbersome, the Japanese usually call it “iQ Go.” The iQ Go is supposed to be a sportier version of the iQ. It can be had with the Super CVT-i continuously variable transmission, or with a six speed manual. They gave me the CVT version. According to the rumor mill, this will be the version that will show up stateside as the Scion iQ (and hopefully not as the “Scion with an arrow behind it”) if and when the iQ shows up stateside.

You should always approach an iQ carefully. It’s easy to trip over it. This car IS SMALL. Small on the outside. Inside is another story. My chaperon sized up my 5 foot 8 figure, and said: “The Chief Engineer of the car is taller than you.”

And indeed, after I hefted my slightly overweight frame into the car, I sat pretty and comfortable. When you adjust the seat to the proper driving position, it nearly touches the rear bench. The front passenger sits slightly ahead (and in Japan to the left) of you, and can still stretch his or her legs. This provides enough legroom for the backbencher behind the front-seat passenger. Daimler has a Smart ForTwo. Toyota has an iQ of 3+1: Three grownups and a baby. Or a few shopping bags.

Speaking of bags: Don’t even think of bringing any luggage if you fill the iQ with three grownups plus one. The luggage space behind the hatch of the iQ barely fits a thin attaché case and a newspaper, as long as the paper is not the weekend edition.

And again, the car demonstrates its superior iQ: If you want to go on a weekend trip with wife, or hot date, you flip the split rear seatback forward, and presto, space for his & her (small) suitcases, but no room for any witnesses.

By the way: Small size does not diminish your safety. The iQ has a 5 star rating from Euro NCAP, the whole complement of electronic gadgetry, and you are surrounded by a whole army of airbags. There is even an airbag for the rear window. Just in case.

The Toyota iQ Go is powered by Toyota’s 1.3 liter 1NR-FE Dual VVT-i engine that makes 93hp and converts 1 liter of precious gasoline into 23.5 km. Converted to U.S. specs, that’s 55 mpg (non-EPA.) The 1.3 liter engine produces 101 grams of CO2 per kilometer. If you want to have the green creds of under 100 grams, then you need to get the 1 liter version. It produces only 99 grams, but also only 67 hp. A whole lot of other interesting technology comes in that small package, too much for a capsule review. Refer to the Fifth Gear video. They explain it pretty nicely.

Speaking of videos: YouTube is chockablock full of videos that demonstrate one of the iQ’s finest features: It’s parkability. Despite being a few inches longer than the Smart ForTwo, its turn radius is tighter.

But how does it drive? Honestly, the closed circuit is no high speed test track, and the IQ Go is not turbocharged. It did fine for the city conditions under which I drove it. (If you want to take the car for a virtual spin, there you go.) In Japan, you can buy an “iQ GAZOO Racing tuned by MN.” If you can find one, limited 100 piece edition. It comes with the same 1.3 liter engine. Buying the Aston Martin Cygnet, which is mechanically identical, won’t get you more oomph either. The iQ is what it is.

And now for the big question : When can you have it stateside? The Unofficial Guide To The Scion IQ by Toyota had it on good authority that the car would have been available in the U.S. last September. September went by, the U.S. remained devoid of iQ. Later, Autoblog reported that “Toyota representatives expect it to hit dealer showrooms around March of next year.”

Well, I had my very own Toyota representative right (well, left) next to me, and I asked:

“So, when will it come to the U.S.?”

Shrugging of shoulders.

A few minutes later, I parked the iQ (not with the élan shown in the videos, but effortless no less) and I asked: “Will you go to the Detroit Motor Show?”


“Will the iQ be on display?”

“Look over there! A Toyota Century! It probably has its name because it gets redesigned once in a century. Hahaha! Do you want to drive it?”

Sometimes, you’ve got to know when to stop asking. If you see a Scion iQ in Detroit, you know it will come.

The Toyota iQ Go as tested starts at 1.6 million yen (including Japan’s consumption tax, $19,300 at today’s rate.) With leather, the price goes to 1.7 million yen ($20,500 incl tax.)

Disclosure: Toyota provided chaperon, closed track, car and less than a liter of gas.

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42 Comments on “(Space) Capsule Review: Toyota iQ. (Closed Course. Unlicensed Driver.)...”

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Scion’s web site has said Spring 2011 for the past few months.

  • avatar

    So, did you drive the Toyota Century? Such an opportunity probably only available once in a century! :D
    The IQ looks perfect for commuting here in the perpetually traffic-jammed and tight parking space Jakarta. Don’t know if they’ll ever sell it here though.

  • avatar

    I wonder if they are going to have a premium price here in the States on the iQ.  It would make no sense to have the xD cost a couple thousand less.
    When I first read about this car, I thought it would go after the under $10K spot held by that little Nissan.  It looks like a great little car with a high price tag and another fail for Scion/Toyota.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    I assume that that a US-bound iQ would be stuck with a dealbreaker CVT, because otherwise it seems brilliant.  They put the clocks in front of the driver instead of the center, and I dig the stacked controls on the center console.

  • avatar

    I used my IDL in Japan when I lived there. Honestly I don’t think they even knew what it said but it had my picture and an official looking stamp.

    Smart for2 will not survive this assault by Toyota,  if they would only charge the hill. Leave it to them to outSmart M-B

  • avatar

    “flip the split rear seatback forward, and presto, space for his & her (small) suitcases”

    Is there some kind of cover that hides the luggage when in his configuration?  (Like for Italy-like environments?)

    Interestingly, the iQ’s driver/passenger alignment (passenger forward of driver) is the opposite of the arrangement in the Smart ForTwo (where passenger sits a good 4in behind the driver.

    Could it be that two rear seats allow TMC to give-away the seat behind the driver regardless of RH or LH configuration and thus have common (and generally more useful) components for RH and LH variants?

    Re. parking:  I used to tell people something similar about my ForTwo, “Fun to drive, even more fun to park” (because you can park it anywhere).

    When I was in Japan, I didn’t bother trying to get licensed … it was so much easier just to use the (company paid for) public transport network…

    Re. that small back seat: If it didn’t infringe on the market positioning of other TMC products, I would posit that an iQ-LWB (iQ-Clubman) would be even more popular (esp. in the USA.)

  • avatar

    About touting that Chinese driver’s license… 

    A friend was living about 2 hours outside of Shanghai.  He wanted to get a drivers license.    He was very fluent in oral Chinese, but could not read Chinese.   So he went about to find out what’s required to get a driver’s license.    They said to study the book with a translator and come back to take the exam.  No driving test was required since he already had a US license. 
    He showed up for the driver’s license exam.   They told him one of the employees could take the test for him.  He said OK.    He waited an hour and they said he passed!  

    About the IQ-go…
    Will it go the way of the Smart?  I don’t think so unless the vehicle is priced too high.

    Looking at a chart of actual oil prices & futures, oil prices is starting to be a concern again. 
    This time we are not getting rapid oil price sticker shock, it is quietly sneaking up on us.    One day people will get up on the wrong side of bed and realize that “WOW” this is impacting my budget. Then it will be all over the news.   Just like politics, people will over-react and swing the other way.  Sell the SUV now and go small.    

    So the IQ-go could be the Prius lower cost alternative.   If marketed as a green alternative it could work.   Then it would be kewl to own, not a s***box.    This could work even though slightly larger cars could possibly get better mileage.       


  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    I’d like to own an IQ… it represents some real, original thinking about the packaging of automobiles.

    Bertel looks super-cool in that shot, very angry.

    Toyota Centuries are awesome, I would rather have one of those than a dozen Celsior/LS460s. It’s authentic.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    So how was the Century? ;)
    The IQ looks and sounds very interesting but I think they would only sell in most of the United States at dirt cheap prices so they could be second or third cars for most families.
    Oh, Bertel, Otto Von Bismark called.  He’d like his scowl back.

    • 0 avatar

      Otto Von Bismark called.  He’d like his scowl back.
      Freakin’ epic! As a hack historian of the WW1 period, I almost had to have my mouthful of pizza Heimliched.
      Too bad my gf didn’t get it…

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I was a history teacher by profession until taking a central office position.  I’ve always had a passion for the history of my German ancestors (and a recently acquired one for the history of my fiance’s Chavez ones.)  BTW my fiance wouldn’t have gotten it either.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, and Paul Hindenberg called; he would like his moustache back.

  • avatar

    I love perky little cars! I hope it comes with some kond of roof off option when it gets here!

  • avatar

    This looks like the courtyard of the Toyota Museum, near the Toyota MEGA WEB complex in Odaiba. I particularly remember a couple rally cars in Castrol livery parked there, and definitely remember that gaudy mural. If you really really like Toyotas, that would seem to be the place to be. Unfortunately I couldn’t test anything either, as all I had was a nearly-expired Maryland license.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s exactly where it was.  They also have a nice You Only Live Twice Toyota 2000GT there. Not for driving ….

    • 0 avatar

      there were only two of the conversion cabrios made for the film…

      I was once at a big mall in IIRC Yokohama, and there was a kind of car museum there, with a nice 2000gt coupe on exhibit.

      Interesting to note that the basis for this car was originally a Yamaha-developed concept for Nissan, which after Nissan backed-out, Toyota stepped-in.

  • avatar

    For unknown reasons upon seeing the pics of the written-about itty-bitty carlet among my first thoughts was “Hey!!!! I know what Toyota should name that car if it ever sells within the USA!!!!!”
    “What?,” I mentally asked myself.
    The “Toyota Cucumber”!!!!!
    That is such an awesome name.
    Oh the pride of the possessor who can declare with glee that they are the proud owner of a Cucumber!!!!
    Surely one’s social status would soar and if the owner is a male a bevy of lithe luscious babes will make their desire for you obvious and if a female hunky males will clamor to bestow thee with bright baubles.
    Such is what arises in a humble shanty on a chilly post-Xmas morning as the coffee is consumed.

  • avatar

    I can only read the name of this car as “ick.”  It’s not that I don’t like the car, it’s just that “ick” is how I naturally want to pronounce that letter combination.  The model with the arrow in the name, then, would be the “Toyota Ick, Go!” which is more amusing, even less appealing.

  • avatar

    I could see this being interesting optioned out at $15k or so.

    Also: What is repair cost if the CVT needs to be replaced? This is the big reason I stay away from CVT’s.

  • avatar

    What’s the purpose of taking the front bumper corners so far outside?  That’s the spot that will tap another car in tight parking situations.  You want those bumper corners to be rounded if you want to park with 2″ of space on either end.

  • avatar

    I have read the asking price was going to be around $16K.  Being built in Japan and the very weak US dollar Toyota has almost no wiggle room with the pricing.  At $16K given “bigger” offerings at the same price point from Toyota itself (Corolla), Honda (Fit), Ford (Fiesta), Nissan (Versa, Cube, Sentra), Mazda (Mazda2 and darn close to a base Mazda3), Hyundai and Kia (Forte, Accent, Elantra) and VW (Golf, Jetta – admitted a piece of crap in its base form) I see this as a fail just waiting to happen.

    Sure, there will be the enthusiast waiting for the iQ burst of sales when it hits the market as almost any car gets, and 48 to 50 MPG highway will be an attractive siren song; but outside of urban cores I would suspect this car will be terrifying to drive – say along I-5 from Seattle to San Francisco. Nothing against ‘Yota on the effort, but this car needs to be priced around $9K to $10K to sell enmasse to the US buyer.

    Scion is a dead brand walking as it is; they need home runs, not infield singles off a broken bat.

  • avatar

    I’m with Mr. Baruth on this one. Toyota had this car on display at this year’s LA Auto Show and it is, as usual for Toyota, a decent packaging job. What’s unusual is that they sweated the details and it is the first microcar which I could see myself driving. If Aston really gets behind an A-M version, with mods available a’la Mini, it seems quite sure they could tap into the premium city car market. The photos I’ve seen of the A-M version are quite striking. In it’s own way, it is a paradigm shifter like the original Mini was.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Paradigm shift?  I  thought   it   had  a CVT !  Channel  a  rimshot   I  see Smarts   all  over    greater  Boston.  This Toyota  looks   nifty.

  • avatar

    For the US and European markets Toyota should release the supercharged 1.3L that has been shown with Toyoda’s Gazoo (and is based on the ‘tuned by MN’).  It would go a long way to help their stale image with enthusiasts in those markets, and it definitely should be the basis for the Aston Martin Cygnet.

    Back in 2008, when the concept was first shown, 1.6 million yen was would have been closer to $13k US, now its closer to $20k with the strength of the yen.  At ~$13-14k this car would have had no problems with sales, but would have still seen some resistance in the US market due to its size (look at the Smart ForTwo).
    The pricing is going to be the real challenge of this car.  Toyota will need to justify a ‘premium’ super-mini.  A sportier variant with supercharged-engined may be good way of carving themselves out a unique niche, and be a good brand builder.

  • avatar

    Smart for2 will not survive this assault by Toyota

    no worries, is a bit like when Fuhrer told Porsche that he will take care of the VW licensing agreement as they were goin to launch the  People’s car.
    Smart may not be selling so many as its going to be a threat to these IQs.
    Unless the oel burner is coming to the stateside.

  • avatar

    Also: What is repair cost if the CVT needs to be replaced? This is the big reason I stay away from CVT’s.

    the CVT should have been much cheaper to maintain or repair, as it has only a big belt.
    if u look at the innards of  5spd, auto and a CVT, u should be able to see how simple they are. or like a Rotary engine to a Reciprocating piston engine.
    only pit fall is a rotary sucks gas & high emissions.  If u run her at high speed constantly it wont fare that badly.

    for the CVT going from slow to high speed as in stop n go traffic will wear it out soon enuf.

  • avatar
    they were supposed to be very reliable, perhaps nowaday cars had just too much power!

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah,.. Whos said DAF-66 and NSU-Ro80?!.
      Nissans with CVT are prone to failures. Early Freestyles with 3.0/CVT combo were somewhat temperamental too.

    • 0 avatar

      Nissan’s CVTs don’t show any objective data of transmission failure, not compared to any numbers of cars that do (Honda V6s from 99-04, Ford’s AXOD, Subaru’s “glass transmission” in the WRX, Chrysler four-speeds from the 1990s, Volvo’s front-drive sealed automatics). Neither does Audi’s CVT.
      As far as Ford’s uniting concerned, the problem seemed to be partially maintenance. Many Ford dealers didn’t seem to follow fluid recommendations (I witnessed this, by the way: watched a tech fill a Freestyle with far too much of then wrong fluid). Otherwise, the Freestyle doesn’t show untoward problems, either.
      GM and Honda, now, they had serious problems with their respective units, but that shouldn’t besmirch the Nissan unit or CVTs in general.

    • 0 avatar


      Do a search on P0745 Nissan Altima and do some reading.  My significant other has been chasing solenoid problems in her CVT Altima for three months now and as I feared, after cracking open the tranny for one repair its turned into a rats nest of new issues.  You can find the full TSB and read how wide spread the problems are.

      We won’t be buying another Nissan.

    • 0 avatar

      The Ro 80 had conventional manual and (torque converter) automatic gearboxes, no CVT.

  • avatar

    Getting a real Japanese license is pretty easy if you’re not from the U.S.* Just pop down to the centre, have your eyes checked, fill in a few forms, show them your original license and you get your Japanese one in a couple of hours.

    *I think this is because the U.S. doesn’t have an agreement on this kind of thing with Japan.

  • avatar

    The iQ is supposedly coming to Canada fairly soon, in time with the second waveof dealerships, and it’s being promoted as a done thing.  If I can swing it, I’ll try for one if the fuel economy is good enough. I passed on the ForTwo because I do need at least a notional rear seat.
    This doesn’t mean it will come to the US, mind you. We got the first generation ForTwo as well as the Echo hatch.

  • avatar

    I find the whole anti-CVT thing rather comical in many ways. First of all, a car like the iQ us a city car. I live in Vancouver and there is no bahn-burning or canyon carving here, or even freeways. We have an urban environment where speeds are low and parking difficult. Same goes for Japan; if you want a car with the best possible fuel economy and lowest possible emissions, the CVT us the way to go. In congested urban driving, I doubt that 99% of people driving such cars care it it is a CVT or not. They simply want an economical, reliable car that is easy to park combined with reasonable comfort. I would also wager the CVT poo-pooers have never actually driven a car with a CVT anyway.
    I would imagine the same arguments were around when the first low cost automatics became, how superior manual transmissions were to automatics, etc, which certainly didn’t keep automatics from virtually taking over the North American market.

  • avatar

    In Europe we get iQ with 1.4 diesel also. 90hp and 190Nm. For such a small car its lot of torque, definetly not boring to drive ;)

  • avatar

    Sigh, a CVT.
    Oh well, so long as it helps to remove the Smart blight from our streets, so be it.
    Who will be the first to mount an LS small block in the middle of one of these?

  • avatar

    Nice review. Why are you so angry in that picture? It’s the CVT, isn’t it?
    I understand. When our iQ GRMN was having its master cylinder replaced at 1000 kms (warranty) we were issued a rental iQ CVT similar to the one you drove. The CVT destroys much of this little car’s appeal.
    The fun of owning one comes from its unique ability to turn the biggest city into your own personal racetrack. We can bounce off the rev-limiter in 1st through 3rd before making it overKachidoki bridge (the one that Godzilla took out years ago) on our way downtown. Try that in a 911 turbo and you would end up in the backside of a tuna truck comin’ out of Tsukiji.
    It’s got short little legs but they are long enough to have a blast in this metropolitan nightmare. Its illegal U-turn ability catches the envy of many S-class chauffeurs and has saved countless hours of what would otherwise be dead time having to negotiate the hellish one-way system downtown. Bored? Head on over to the docklands for your personal gymkhana course! You can park the damn thing wherever you want. The ensuing flock of housewives and teenage girls flocking around the car yelling “KAAAAWAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIII” keep the parking patrol guys at bay.
    The biggest problem we have encountered so far? Fuel starvation accelerating out of tight corners with less than 3/4 of a full tank. And catastrophic brake master cylinder failure.

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