Review: 2012 Scion iQ

Canadians purchase more compact cars than any other type of vehicle. There are various reasons for this love affair with smaller cars, but part of it certainly involves economic need to watch the pumps. According to research, we’ll drive as far as eight blocks out of our way to save a half cent per litre.

It’s no surprise — and it’s good “eco-sense” — that manufactures have introduced so many compact, sub-compact and micro sub-compact vehicles to the marketplace this year. Light on gas, with a cheap MSRP: usually a sure combination for success.

Toyota’s popular international Scion came to Canada in 2010 and its three models have resulted in growing sales each month. This November, a fourth version is being added to the mix: the Scion iQ.

Upon release, the iQ will be the smallest four-seater in Canada. That said, to call it a four-seater is a bit of a stretch, because stretching is nigh-impossible. There are four seats and four seatbelts but, despite an admittedly clever asymmetrical design that allows the front passenger’s seat to move up further forward than the driver’s can, it would not be practical for two average-sized adults to spend significant amount of time in the back without accidental borderline sexual contact. A pair of kids, on the other hand, will fit fine. The demographic for this vehicle, then, quickly becomes inevitable.

Just how small is the iQ? By comparison, the Fiat 500 looks like an RV. Still, despite the iQ’s small demeanor and cramped rear quarters, the front portion of the cabin does feel very roomy. Scion maxed out all the interior space by making everything else smaller. The engine and air conditioning units are both micro-sized and the gas tank that sits under the rear seats has been flattened to just 13 centimeters — about the height of a pop can. Gas tanks are usually double that height.

The compact engine size also gives the iQ its best feature: the tightest turning radius of any car in the country. Outside of an alley, iQ owners will never have to perform a three-point turn. Cranking the wheel in either direction and stepping off the brake feels as if the iQ is pivoting on it’s rear wheel. Figure skaters dream of turns this tight.

Starting at less than $17,000, the iQ is mono-equipped. You can upgrade the audio system and the wheels and that’s about it. The 94 horsepower engine takes just over 11 seconds to go from zero to highway speed and the CVT transmission features a regular and sport mode, along with an incredibly effective engine braking gear at the bottom of the gated shifter.

The iQ receives parent company Toyota’s Star Safety System. Features like ABS and smart stop technology come standard, along with 11 airbags. Eleven airbags is a lot in a minivan, let alone a vehicle that could fit in one. If that doesn’t reassure drivers concerned about size, nothing will.

Side windows on the iQ are concept-car big. By moving the A pillar very far forward, Scion engineers were able to outfit the micro sub-compact with massive glass in the doors. Bonus: A large rear window and triangular windows in the back corners make for few blind spots.

Toyota invited DailyXY to Halifax to be one of the first media outlets to put the iQ through its paces. The mixture of old-world narrow streets and windy thoroughfares that are the calling card of this port town make the centuries-old city a great place to get a feel for a car of this calibre. Our route took us from the posh Prince George hotel in downtown, southwest to Peggy’s Cover and then north along St. Margaret’s Bay.

While taking photos of the iQ in a parking lot, the vehicle drew a number of gawkers. Most immediately called it a “city car,” and they’re right. The iQ sips fuel, at only 5.1 L/100 km city/highway combined; its 35-litre gas tank should allow you to go about 600 kilometres between fill ups. So, yes, it’s easily enough to get to the cottage and back but don’t forget the commensurate severe lack of trunk space — some motorcycle sidecars offer more storage — and limited (albeit ample for jaunts around town) space to really stretch your legs. iQ might be best suited for families, for those strictly committed to urban commuting, or for those who want a second “get-around” car.

Nothing wrong with that, mind, because this car’s a great way to get around.

2012 Toyota Scion iQ
Base Price, and as driven: $16,760
Available: November 2011

Image courtesy of Mathieu Yuill.


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