Road Test

2012 Scion iQ

The iQ is likely to attract more attention to the fledgling to the Scion brand than its siblings

2012 Scion iQ

Despite being part of the massive Toyota empire, the Scion brand has flown pretty much under the radar in Canada. The arrival of the 2012 iQ may help address that problem.

The fourth vehicle in the Scion lineup and the smallest of Toyota’s overall brand offerings, the iQ is likely to attract more attention to the fledgling "youth" brand than the other three combined.

Billed as a premium sub-compact, the tiny little Scion iQ has a big attitude and the driving dynamics to back it up. It also sets new standards in terms of space utilization. You can actually drive this little funster without being constantly reminded of sacrifices in performance and comfort as is the case with some of its competition.

SIZE AND APPEARANCE

This is a small car – a very small car – stretching (if you'll pardon the use of the word word) a mere three metres from bumper to bumper and two metres between the mirrors. The iQ is 35-cm longer than the Smart fortwo and 50-cm shorter than the Fiat 500.

Gotta admit that the pug nose with its raised eyebrow look is kinda cute. The other end less so, looking as if the vehicle backed into a wall at speed. But there is only so much you can do within the confines of this length.

Toyota claims this is the world’s smallest four-door passenger car. That is a bit of a stretch. The iQ is a three-passenger car with space for a fourth if they don’t need space for legs – such as a child in a car seat. Let’s call it a 3.5-passenger vehicle.

The good news is the surprising amount of space for three. They can all be more than six feet in height and comfortable. The two in front, more so obviously.

The designers made this possible by eliminating the glove box and placing the front passenger seat so it can be positioned slightly ahead of the driver. By pulling it forward you can make space for a rear seat passenger on that side. With the front seat in a more rearward position, the iQ offers exceptional comfort and space for two.

Combined with lots of glass and a well-developed suspension, it feels like a much larger vehicle. Until you turn around. Boy is this thing short! You can almost touch the rear window from the driver’s seat.

That makes reversing a breeze, with the bumper literally at the base of the window. The downside for people sitting back there, is the proximity of the rear window mere centimeters from your head, much like the rear seat in a compact pickup. Fear not, for there is an industry-first airbag head restraint between your head and that glass

The missing glove box is replaced by a sliding tray beneath the front passenger seat. Trips to a big box store or even the grocery store will require the rear seats to be folded. When they are in place there is nothing but a slot behind them, suitable for a very narrow purse or computer bag.

The iQ also has a storage box below the cargo floor. The spec sheet says cargo space is 31 litres with seats in place and 473 with them folded. Since there is no room for a spare tire, it comes with run-flat tires and a can of emergency goop to inflate and hopefully seal a flat.

Getting in and out of the front seats is a breeze thanks to wide doors and a tall roof. Getting into the rear is easier than it appears thanks to a passenger seat that folds and slides well forward. Visibility is excellent in all directions.

The main instruments are in a covered pod in front of the driver. Scion owners will recognize the LCD information monitor containing fuel level, consumption and other things like average speed and ambient temperature. One neat touch we’d like to see spread through the industry is a pivoting LED dome light.

The steering wheel is slightly flattened at the bottom for more thigh room. It tilts but does not telescope and contains secondary audio controls. There are numerous bins and cubbyholes for storing small items and high-quality soft touch plastics abound.

The impression of spaciousness in such a small interior is possible thanks to a clever thinking. The industry’s smallest air conditioner rests behind the centre stack. The differential has been turned upside down and moved to the front of the engine to reduce infringement on the passenger compartment. The steering rack is up high – providing 28-mm of additional people space all by itself. The fuel tank, no deeper than a can of pop, lies below the front seats. Filling it costs less than $40 (as this is written), thanks to a 32-litre capacity, enough for the thrifty iQ to go as far as 600-km on a tank.

The iQ has all the boxes checked off when in comes to both active and passive safety systems and some new ones to address concerns related to a car this small. ABS with brake assist, electronic stability control, and electronic traction control are all standard, as are enough airbags to start a new political party – 11 - including the world’s first rear-window airbag.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

The iQ is obviously an urban car, a runabout for crowded spaces. It fits this role with aplomb. Squeezing into seemingly non-existent parking spaces and doing an about-face on narrow streets are what has made this little vehicle so popular in Europe and Japan where it was introduced in 2008.The surprise is how it fights above its weight class on the highway, moving along easily at 100-120 km/hr.

The very narrow little engine allows the front wheels to turn more than normal, resulting in the tightest turning circles in the industry. But, the biggest and most pleasant surprise is the driving experience at highway speeds. Hats off to the chassis and suspension engineers for making it possible to forget this car weighs so little and rides on a very short wheelbase. Sure, it leans and understeers when thrown into turns, but driven sensibly it handles remarkably well. There is also no sense of being tossed around when passing or being passed by larger vehicles.

Surprise! With less than 1000 kg to move, the 94-hp1.3-litre four-cylinder manages to push the iQ along with a semblance of acceleration so you can reach highway speeds, albeit at a leisurely pace.

The second surprise is the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) automatic. Instead of the awful, ear-assaulting drone common to this type of transmission where the engine is held at very high rpms while the car catches up, Toyota has given this CVT well-defined shift points.

Bury the right pedal and hold it there and at about 5,500 rpm the transmission shifts – at least twice. You’ll run out of patience, road and points before you see a third shift.

Sprightly it may be, but fast it isn’t. You need a calendar rather than a stopwatch to record acceleration times. During AJAC’s instrumented Car Of The Year testing the iQ required 11.5 seconds to reach 100 km/hr. from rest. But the Fiat 500 was even slower at 12.3 These days a respectable time for a compact or family is in the eight-nine second range.

The iQ’s $16,700 base price is $1,000-to-$2,000 lower than the completion and includes: air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, heated mirrors and a six-speaker audio system with USB, Aux and iPod inputs and a CD player with MP3 and WMA capability.

CONCLUSION

The most fuel-efficient non-hybrid vehicle on the Canadian market brings new life and lots of fun to the Scion brand.

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