By on March 27, 2012

Every lesson in car design school is a new challenge: draw a new type of vehicle and be ready to strut your stuff next week in the studio. It was always brutal, as I wasn’t trained to be an artist.

While I enjoy Panther Love references as much as anyone, they point to a sad reality: small cars are tough to render. I always added more crumple zones, too much dash-to-axle ratio, and never added enough flair; something necessary for vehicles with a small canvas.  Maybe this is one reason why the (new) 1970s European subcompacts were always my favorite, or the 3rd Gen Honda Civic. And even the Ford Festiva…but maybe we should pretend I didn’t mention it.


On to our victim, the new Scion iQ compact.  I will admit that Toyota did an admirable job keeping the iQ visually apart from the SMART car. Witness the fat bumper, giving the impression of a bigger, hunkier, two-tier body.  The SMART looks skinny and tipsy by comparison.  The face looks decent enough, with mouth that is neither angry nor happy, with headlights that stare with the intensity of a man on a mission.  The oversized, flared emblem takes away from the package, adding a touch of Bozo the Clown where it absolutely isn’t necessary.  Distinctly not smart, indeed.


No overhangs, but the leading edge of this bumper is an interesting way to add flair without literally adding fender flares. It looks like the beginning of a retro-renaissance of open fendered beauties like the Talbot-Lago.  Okay, probably not…but such extravagance should be encouraged in vehicles this darn small.


And yes, this is a very small vehicle.  The side translation of the front’s not-SMART stance is lost in a sea of short and tall.  That’s not to say Toyota didn’t try, but the greenhouse is so “fast” you expect more overhang to extend the lines.  Honestly, that A-pillar looks like something I’d draw…and then get panned on for not being honest to the small car design.



This cowl is so cute!  Small cars don’t have to be hastily designed, as the plastic trim housing the windscreen washer has curves that empathize with the shapes on the rest of the cowl. Nice touch.


Another reason why the A-pillar is dishonest.  The little black triangle that artificially extends the silhouette of the DLO (daylight opening) shouldn’t exist. A more upright A-pillar would discourage this need for fake “sleekosity”, and probably give you a better, roomier city car too.



The big hunk of plastic near the B-pillar is terrible on the eyes. I suspect it exists to extend the door without needing a bigger piece of glass.  Which probably wouldn’t roll all the way down given the rake of the door next to the body in this area.  So perhaps the designers had no choice, and at least the curves match a corresponding crease in the metal portion of the B-pillar. The SMART car looks a little smarter here.


Wheel covers that don’t cover the wheel need to die a painful death.  Does anyone believe this could be an alloy wheel?


I suspect this odd piece of plastic re-directs air so the iQ is more stable on the highway.  A similar trim item was installed on Ford Sierras to accomplish just that.  Still, it’s a terrible implementation and needs a re-think.


I do quite like the elements presented here. The thicker bumper appears to sprout pre-war fender elements just like the front, and the taillight/glass above encourages the wave.


While I liked the front’s use of two tiers, the back looks too much like a pear.  These hips don’t lie, the Scion iQ needs a little trimming…or a larger cargo area and less tumblehome.


The hatchback’s outside release is a nice piece of design, every curve, contour and material pictured here is an ergonomic delight. Go ahead and try to open it, you will see my point.


The flat black trim that covers (and visually thins) the rear bumper has a nice touch: negative area which exposes a little bit of body coloring.  The factory has to paint the entire rear bumper, so why not show off a little more this way?  It looks more expensive than it was to produce.

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24 Comments on “Vellum Venom: 2012 Scion iQ...”

  • avatar

    Good article. Like how the engineering compromises between style, function, and cost are presented.

    I’d recommend expanding this series to some ‘older’ classics and mainstream vehicles. Why does every Camry for like the last 15 years look like it’s used the same front and rear glass?

    Why did Chevy take a gently curving design in the most recent Monte Carlo and give it squared off bumpers?

    Did Cadillac really thinking squaring the circle of the fender opening of their mid-90s cars really show ‘power’?

    And since you’re a Panther lover and I’m a proud former MN12 ThuderCougerFalconBird owner, why does Ford hate us now?

  • avatar

    I like what you’ve done here as well, Sajeev. More examples of these kinds of ‘design considerations’ would make for great reading.

  • avatar

    You folks don’t know how much I appreciate your kind words.

    I will do older cars, I have a few doosies planned…well not actual Duesenbergs, but you know.

  • avatar
    Downtown Dan

    Great post– it’s the little things we don’t think about. Saw it at the auto show, and was fooled by those snazzy wheel covers– for about a second.

    Would love to see a similar breakdown of the interior design– after all, the iQ is a car that lives and dies by its seat/dash arrangement.

    Overall, it’s a pretty clever piece of engineering, but Toyota fell down in two key areas. One, all reviews I’ve read have panned the transmission. And two, I think the price is about 2 grand too ambitious.

  • avatar

    I agree, this is a good article—it’s akin to having a guided tour of a museum. More like this, please.

  • avatar

    Just in case anyone missed the first three in this series:

  • avatar

    Just agreeing: a very enlightening article. It’s great to learn the words that describe car design so I can sound like less of a blithering idiot when I try to explain why a vehicle looks good/bad.

    Suggestion: Compare/contrast with similar vehicles. Here, it would obviously be nice to do a side-by-side with a Smart.

    I’d love to see a “family tree” approach, for example, comparing a current E-class to the vehicle it’s trying to evoke (w124).

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Great article!

    The full on rear view reminds me (in a very bad way) of the horrible mess that is the full size ’61 Oldsmobile.

    Go ahead, I dare you to contradict me. ;)

  • avatar

    “Wheel covers that don’t cover the wheel need to die a painful death.”

    HAHA that made me laugh because it is so true. It seems however that the fake bling wheel covers have gone out of fashion. At least compared to a few years ago. Remember the fake “spinners” hubcaps one could buy from Walmart?

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      concepts drawings come with great looking wheels and then the real product shows up and holy deception, Batman

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I tossed the ones that came on my Tundra and got chrome lug nuts for the naked black steelies. It looks like the optional FJ wheel package. Ive also seen base model Honda Fits with the fake covers jettisoned and the steel wheels painted white, a somewhat retro look. Chrome plating must be so environmentally expensive today that a big plastic cover is cheaper than a handful of plated lug nuts.

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    Thank you Mr. Mehta.

    I have been surprised and disappointed by the poor mileage of the iQ, 500, Smart, etc. Does a car have to be longer to achieve good aerodynamics?

    • 0 avatar

      The iQ gets very good mileage in the city—there’s nothing else with four seats and a conventional engine that gets 36mpg on the urban cycle.

      On the highway, though, that shape takes it’s toll. And that’s fine: EPA highway queens like the Elantra and Sonata can’t get anywhere near the Scion’s city figure, so why we pick on the Scion when it’s out of it’s element it kind of unfair.

    • 0 avatar

      Aerodynamics, size of motor and gearing are all part of fuel economy at higher speeds. All these cars have small motors, quick gearing and a fairly blunt nose.

      A bigger car with more effortless cruising is necessary for highway miles.

  • avatar

    A nice series there Sajeev.

    I saw the previous installments but hadn’t had a chance to read them, well, just did the Gucci Fiat 500 a moment ago. I tend to disagree, I love it’s design and in reality, having driven the 500, the greenhouse isn’t bad at all, still way better than some cars who’s rear glass is all but slits.

    That said, it DOES, as many other cars have what looks like huge hips, thus the phenomenon called lard butts that I see plenty of at work on many women in particular, why, I don’t know other than I think they don’t eat well and get little exercise more than likely.

    As to the Scion, I see these every now and then of late and it has a rather clunky appearance, in comparison to the Fiat or the MINI but in a way, less dorky than the Smart and definitely has a more substantial look to it than the Smart.

    I DO agree that these fake alloy plastic wheel coverings suck and just look cheap IMO and unfortunately, it’s a common trait for SCION as a cost cutting move to give their cars plastic wheel covers instead of true alloys so they can market them at a lower price or simply give it some styled aluminum or steel wheels instead.

    Keep this up and one car I love but have mixed feelings about it’s front end, the 2002-’03 Mazda Protege5. Compared to the rest of the car, it’s a little humdrum, more fitting for the sedan, but not the more sporty hatchback. Mind you, I love my little car and in black, it looks a little subdued than if it were in say, red or yellow instead but still sports a sporty appearance for the most part – and has TRUE alloys on it too that compliment the car’s looks pretty well.

  • avatar

    Interesting read as always Sajeev. The part of the car that jars for me is the shape of the rear side window, the large-radius curve just seems out of place with all the other design elements, and doesn’t pick up any feature lines.

    Agreed on the wheel ‘covers’ – and after 2 years when the wheels are showing to rust it is even worse. It is surprising the tail lights seem to have a smooth curve, rather than an edge to continue the aero device you’ve noted in the window area.

  • avatar
    PJ McCombs

    +1 on all the above. More of this series please! Made me remember how much I liked the “Styling Analysis” page that R&T used to include in its road tests (back when it dedicated more than ~10 of its monthly pages to actual car reviews). Great to see the concept making a comeback.

  • avatar

    Sajeev writes: “I suspect this odd piece of plastic re-directs air so the iQ is more stable on the highway. A similar trim item was installed on Ford Sierras to accomplish just that. Still, it’s a terrible implementation and needs a re-think.”

    Sierra? I always thought the one on the Sierra was comparatively discrete:

    Maybe you were thinking of the Scorpio? That one is more visible, if nothing else because it stands out more on the all-glass rear of the Scorpio’s greenhouse:

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