2012 Scion iQ Road Test Review

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While we generally avoid starting a review of a new car talking about a different car, in this instance it kind of begs to be done. In May of 2011, a mere 492 copies of the smart fortwo were sold in the United States-down from a personal best of 2,695 in May of '08.

The Scion iQ is directly comparable to the smart fortwo in size.

With the single most recognizable micro car in the world selling so poorly in the U.S., it's a pretty safe bet the iQ will find itself paddling against the flow of the mainstream too. However, members of Scion's U.S. marketing team (we tested it there first before doing so again at the Canadian launch in October) have outlined a strategy to ensure the iQ avoids the fate of its competition.

First and no doubt most important, they cite the iQ seats four people instead of just two for the smart. Second, the iQ will be offered in showrooms with more to offer than just the single product. This is a problem for smart. Third, they cite the considerable marketing prowess of the Scion's Toyota parent and its ability to keep the iQ front and centre in public consciousness. Additionally, they plan to physically take the car out to where the target market congregates and offer drives and opportunities for direct interaction with the vehicle.

Now that could work.

The exterior design of the car reminds us of a bulldog puppy, particularly when viewed head on. Adorably stout and squat, the Scion's look intimates an impression of strength well beyond its stature. The standard steel wheel/wheel cover solution is a bit on the economy car side, but the optional alloys are handsome and compliment the exterior of the iQ really well.

The flare of its fenders give it a racy look, while also implying the iQ is capable of carving corners into nicely managed apexes-which it actually is. Overall, the Scion pulls off an interesting feat. Where cars of this size and stature are typically automatically categorized as cute, the iQ actually pulls off handsome.

Inside the Scion, there's more than adequate legroom for anyone other than a player in the NBA. In other words, you don't have to be a jockey to be comfortable driving an iQ. Nicely equipped, Bluetooth operation of cellular phones and audio streaming are standard equipment in the U.S. model (we'll have to wait until closer to launch for details of the Canadian-spec iQ to surface. They've even included a killer stereo system (as is the case in all Scion products). In fact, there are a couple of options on that front, you can get the 160-watt killer stereo system as a base offering, or a positively homicidal 200-watt system as an option. A nicely intuitive navigation system is available as well.

The design of the interior incorporates many pleasing shapes. Yes, it'd be nicer if Scion had gone with a more vivid colour palette than the black and gray, but we particularly like the simplicity of the centre stack's three-dial configuration. The instruments are grouped into a nautilus-shaped binnacle and readily discernable. The offset design of the dash on the passenger side permits more legroom and the glovebox is relocated beneath the passenger seat in an effort to take advantage of all available interior space.

Similar tricks include reworking the rack and pinion steering system, incorporating a compact A/C compressor, and mounting a compact differential in front of the engine-all to conserve space.

A 1.3-litre inline four-cylinder engine producing 94 horsepower and 89 ft-lbs of torque powers Scion's iQ. The engine feeds a continuously variable transmission, which in turn, conducts its output to the diminutive coupe's front wheels.

Acceleration is surprisingly brisk, as the engine has less than a thousand kilos to move. However, despite iQ's light weight, the Scion feels well-planted in any driving situation. We ran it at speed on an expressway in the rain; up, down, around and through city streets; took a short run on a twisting stretch of asphalt to assess its handling; and had big fun doing donuts in an empty parking lot. At each task, the Scion proved itself completely "normal" in terms of the way it feels on the move-and exceptional when sharp changes of direction were folded into the mix.

Braking is both strong and confidence inspiring, steering is very quick and a u-turn can be accomplished on a proverbial dime. Bottom line, the iQ is a lot of fun to drive. Parking the littlest Scion is a breeze as well. Most tight spaces frequently found in the city between larger cars are perfectly sized for the Scion iQ.

Naturally, when you're looking at a car this small, safety questions do come up. In fact, when we posted a picture of the iQ to our Facebook page, a safety question comprised the very first response. High-strength steel, NHTSA-ordained crumple zones, 11 airbags (including an industry-first rear-window bag), stability control, ABS, and traction control are all standard features.

Still, it remains to be seen how the market will respond to this latest Lilliputian interloper. So far, as we've mentioned, micro-cars have yet to find their stride sales-wise in the U.S. Then again, Canada has had a veritable love-in with the smart car, so it's possible the more practical, more performance oriented and arguably more handsome iQ will fare even better.

It's true the Scion has a number of factors in its favour and whether this will be enough to make a difference is anybody's guess. Typically what happens in the case of "boutique" cars is once everybody who initially wants one gets one, there's no flood of successive buyers to maintain the momentum.

Scion's people say those initial smart car buyers didn't go on to recommend the car to their friends. And while this could be the case, who really knows where the truth lies, er, resides?

Still, we know we like it, and the price is right-starting at $15,995 plus destination in the U.S. Pricing in Canada should be similar.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Scion, 2012, iQ, $10,000 - $19,999, Subcompact,

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