2012 Scion iQ
Base price: $15,995
As tested: $19,135
MPG: 26 city/27 highway/27 combined
- A snap to park
- Premium look
- Tiny, but seats four
- Gas mileage not impressive
- Only comfortable for two
- Needs more power
By Jim Prueter
It’s hardly inexpensive and isn’t a mileage champ. It’s not very quick and has a quirky transmission. It seats four, but only if the two sitting in back are pre-teen or make their living as contortionists. It’s noisy on the road and has a choppy and crass ride that you’ll tire of within miles, not months.
It’s the 2012 Scion iQ, or Toyota iQ, as it’s known in other parts of the world. It’s popular in places where what you choose to drive is decided largely upon the price of gasoline, the number of available parking spaces, and government regulations that tax your car by the size of the engine. In this case, it has 94 horsepower, produced by a 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that zaps any possible fun out of driving.
Fuel economy is a pretty good — 36 city/37 highway mpg — but isn’t great, which is surprising for such a small car and small engine. In fact, it gets even less mileage than larger, heavier, and more powerful cars such as the Kia Rio Eco, Hyundai Accent, and Chevrolet Cruze Eco. All are non-hybrid vehicles that achieve 40, 40, and 42 highway mpg, respectively.
The iQ is very small and mainly designed as a city car that you can park just about anywhere, which is its main selling point. At a very quick first glance the iQ could be mistaken for the Smart Fortwo, only because of its diminutive size; it’s 120.1 inches long, 14 inches longer that the Fortwo but a full 26.5 inches shorter than a Mini Cooper. But while everything about the Fortwo screams “cheap,” the iQ was conceived from the start to be a “premium micro-subcompact” with a look and feel both inside and out that trumps most vehicles in its price range.
The most meaningful difference has to do with the seating arrangement. Scion has managed to actually fit a rear seat inside the iQ, in what they call “3+1” seating. It’s so called because there’s more space on the passenger side, allowing for more space in the right rear seating position than behind the driver’s side on the left. In fact, you can’t move the driver’s seat forward enough to get in the backseat. You’ll have to do that from the passenger’s side.
And before you ask, front seat room is immense. I’m 6 feet 6 inches tall and actually had to slide the driver’s seat forward a notch, something I haven’t done even in some large luxury sedans. The 50-50 split, fold-flat rear seat opens up 16.7 cubic feet of cargo room. That number drops to just 3.5 with the rear seats in the upward position.
With a starting price of $15,995, the iQ isn’t exactly inexpensive and actually sports a hefty price when considering the vast number of larger and more practical cars available for less money. Among them are the excellent Kia Soul, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, and Chevy Sonic. Even Scion stable mate, the xD with four doors, 128-horsepower engine, and automatic transmission, is a negligible $80 more.
It’s true that for the money the iQ comes standard with a ton of features such as a premium 160-watt Pioneer audio system, HD radio, Bluetooth, auxiliary and USB connectivity, a flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel that tilts but doesn’t telescope, intermittent windshield wipers, power outside rearview mirrors with turn signal indicators, one-touch up-down power windows, and 16-inch wheels.
As with any car this size, safety concerns immediately come to mind. There’s no question one can feel intimidated driving it, especially on the highway rolling between two 18-wheelers. Scion has outfitted the iQ with 11 standard airbags, including driver and passenger front airbag, driver and passenger seat-mounted side airbags, knee airbags for both front seat occupants (there is no glove box, making space for the passenger’s side knee airbag), front and rear side curtain airbags, and driver and passenger seat cushion airbag. There’s even a rear-window airbag for rear-end collisions.
Traction and stability control, antilock brake system, and electronic brake assist are standard as well. The iQ has earned four out of a possible five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in crash tests. It has not been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Under way, the iQ felt sluggish and didn’t seem to have enough power to negotiate large hills or mountain roads unless the pedal was to the metal. Also, tossing the iQ into sharp corners tests its handling limitations. Because of the short 74-inch wheelbase, the ride is choppy, the cabin noisy, and the overall ride quality compromised.
Our well-furnished test iQ listed at $19,350 and was loaded with numerous non-essential equipment such as a rear spoiler, TRD performance springs, upgraded shift knob, carpeted floor mats, fog lights ($349), Pioneer premium HD radio ($479), illuminated door sills kit and interior light ($599), XM satellite radio ($449), a Toyota Racing Developent rear sway bar ($345), and front and rear floor mats ($145).
Overall, the iQ seems like a good match for major city driving, where parking and maneuvering a vehicle can be very demanding. It isn’t much fun to drive, but for its size and price, exhibits an unusual amount of refinement. But because of its surprisingly high price, we can’t recommend the Scion to a family of four. There are numerous competing products that, for about the same money, get you a roomier car and perhaps even better gas mileage.