(Space) Capsule Review: Toyota IQ. (Closed Course. Unlicensed Driver.)

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
space capsule review toyota iq closed course unlicensed driver

“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 i n 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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3 of 42 comments
  • Nick Nick on Jan 05, 2011

    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?

  • Brian Cody Brian Cody on Jan 11, 2011

    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.

  • Tassos Is there any reason you could not put the ACTUAL 348 mile number in the TITLE of the damned article, so I would not need to read the whole thing to find out?
  • Tassos Honda is bleeding billions in order to keep this loser Acura alive.In the REST of the world, Identical vehicles to Acuras are just called HONDAS. Best example, the NSX! It was NEVER called an "acura" outside the US.
  • Cprescott Very expensive all terrain golf cart.
  • 56m65711446 ALL AEB systems should be tested using a SES executive from DoT as the test dummy.
  • TheMrFreeze Wife and I bought just bought new (to us) daily drivers...both have manual transmissions and neither has any kind of "new" safety nanny technology in it. By choice. That's how we roll.