2012 Scion iQ Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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If the ultimate goal of automotive design is to create the smallest, most efficient vehicle possible that's still big enough for practical use, then the trophy most certainly belongs to the Scion iQ. Introduced to the world in 2008 as a Toyota, the iQ was launched in Canada for the 2012 model year under the Scion marque. At only 3,045 mm (10 feet) long it's undeniably tiny, and with a 1.3-litre 4-cylinder engine and CVT transmission powering its 960 kg (2,116 lb) curb weight, it is also Canada's fuel economy champ (at least in regard to non-hybrid vehicles), with rated city/highway consumption of only 5.5 / 4.6 L/100km. Yet despite its tiny size (or perhaps because of it) it manages to pull off a sort of cheeky-cool style, and it can genuinely fit three people and some luggage in reasonable comfort, or a tennis foursome and their rackets in a squeeze. In this regard it certainly trumps its nearest rival, the Smart fortwo, which can only seat two and uses slightly more fuel at 5.8 / 4.7 L/100km city/highway.

So, if the question is, "What's the smallest, most fuel efficient four-seat car that I can buy?" then the answer is clearly "The Scion iQ." The only thing is I'm not entirely sure that's the right question. I spent a week behind the wheel of a 2012 Scion iQ, and was able to answer all sorts of other questions about the car, except one. Here's what I found out:

Can you fit four people in it? Sort of. The dashboard is pushed forward somewhat on the passenger's side, so the front passenger sits a little further forward than the driver. Getting a third person in behind the front passenger is therefore actually reasonably comfortable. But the space behind the driver is severely restricted, so if someone sits back there the driver needs to move their seat well forward, and unless it's a small child in behind then either the back-seat passenger or the driver (or both) are going to be rather squished.

Can you fit luggage in it? Not when there are passengers in the back seat. Actually there is a very narrow slice of space behind the rear seatbacks, enough to fit four tennis rackets if you pack them carefully, but that's about it. And the rear headrests block you from loading things onto the rear seat through the hatch, so in practical terms the hatch is only useful when the rear seats are folded flat. But in that configuration I was able to fit all the gear needed for a weekend of sail racing, which amounts to a trunkful in a typical car.

Does it have a glove box? That depends how you define the term. There's no traditional glove box, as that space is given over to the front passenger's knees. But there's a little slide-out drawer under the passenger's seat, and there are door pockets that provide cupholder space and room for other odds and ends. There's also another cupholder in the console and one for each rear seat.

Is it comfortable? Sure, with only two up front it's actually pretty comfortable indeed. The cloth front seats are well shaped and supportive, and there's air conditioning to keep you cool, a standard leather-wrapped steering wheel to keep your hands comfy, and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with Bluetooth capability and USB input to keep you entertained and connected (the radio is satellite-ready too, should you choose to splurge).

Is it fun to drive? Actually, yes. It's easy to drive, and easy to park, and that makes it more fun around the city than many bigger cars. And the handling is good, too - it's hardly a sports car, but it's eager and responsive. The rearward visibility, especially when shoulder checking, isn't particularly great (a funny thing, given how little car there is back there), but that's about my only quibble.

Is it safe? Scion's press car loan agreement prevented me from ramming the iQ into the back of a full-size pickup truck to test its crashworthiness, but according to U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ratings it is in fact good for its class. In tests for side impact, frontal impact and rollover the iQ scored four out of five stars overall (the NHTSA doesn't test for rear impacts). And the iQ does come with a full array of safety equipment including traction control, vehicle stability control, antilock brakes, smart stop technology, side impact beams and an astounding array of 11 airbags, including one for the rear window, which is a first.

Is it expensive? Hardly. The suggested base price for the iQ is $16,760 (plus $1,390 in destination charges) and it's sold in only one trim level so it's nicely equipped at that price with all the safety, comfort and convenience gear mentioned so far. Of course, being a Scion there's a wide array of available dealer-installed accessories to choose from if you want to blow the budget, but short of satellite radio and perhaps a nice set of alloy wheels I'm not sure there's any need. My test car had a rear sway bar and rear spoiler installed, and came to $18,949 including the federal air conditioning tax and various environmental levies.

Is it practical, really? Um … well … given the iQ's positive attributes around town, and the fact that it can in fact fit three people (four in a pinch!) and gets great fuel economy, it is in that sense practical, sure. But here's the thing: unlike my sail-racing pastime, in which you pay for your moorage by the foot, in the automotive world there's no particular benefit to being under a certain size, unless you ditch a couple of the wheels and enter scooter territory. So while the iQ is indeed more practical than the $14,400 Smart fortwo, it is also a lot less practical than, for instance, the $13,990 Toyota Yaris or even the $13,495 Fiat 500. Yet it offers only relatively minor fuel economy benefits compared to such subcompact cars (about a litre per 100km in the city, and half a litre on the highway), and no real savings at all in terms of parking or other practical matters. All of which begs the answer to my one, final, unanswered question:

Why? With its cheeky attitude and funky style, the iQ is sure to find some buyers within its market niche. If you're one of those who gravitate toward it, then I suppose you already know the answer to the question why. For the rest of us, well, it doesn't really matter - when I see one on the road it always makes me smile, and perhaps that's reason enough.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: City Car, Scion, 2012, iQ,

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