New & Used Scion iQ: In Depth
2012 Scion iQ, Bear Mountain, NY, May 2012Enlarge Photo
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The Scion iQ is a microcar that mainly competes with the Smart ForTwo. Although it’s a better car than its competitors, it’s still not a car that has caught on in the U.S.
For a more detailed look at the iQ, see the full review of the 2013 Scion iQ.
The iQ is known elsewhere in the world as the Toyota iQ and is designed for crowded cities where road and curb space is at a premium. Many countries have steeply graduated tax rates as vehicle size, engine displacement, and price rise, making the little iQ "three-plus-one seater" the smallest practical vehicle you can get for crowded megacities.
In the States, you'll see Scion iQs parked at the curb in cities like New York and San Francisco. Detroit or Dallas? Maybe not so much. Even for those who like very small vehicles, the full-width occasional rear seat found in a Mini Cooper or Fiat 500 is worth the extra foot or two of length.
Size is, after all, is the iQ's unique selling proposition. Though its 10-foot length seems almost toylike next to a compact Toyota Corolla, its stance and attitude make it feel like it could pull off the trick of seating four people. Scion calls the interior arrangement 3+1 seating, since there's more leg room on the passenger side due to a hollowed-out dashboard on that side. An average adult will fit into the third seat, but the fourth seat behind the driver is only for kids--or, more likely, a backpack or bag of groceries.
Launched in 2012 and unchanged for 2013, the Scion iQ offers just one powertrain. It's a tiny 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 94 horsepower, paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It's not at its best when you're trying to merge onto a fast-flowing freeway, but in urban driving, the little iQ darts and quirts around other traffic with ease. And that's not even to mention the joys of parking in leftover spaces no other car will even attempt.
Around cities and suburbs, the littlest Scion offers enough power to feel almost frisky, something we've never said of the Smart, with its abrupt, rough, feckless automated manual transmission. The iQ's handling is a magnitude better than the ForTwo, too--it feels well-grounded at highway speeds, though you're keenly aware that you can reach over your shoulder and touch the glass in the hatchback.
For any city car, gas mileage is likely a strong selling point. Minicars tend to underperform in that respect, due to their aerodynamics. The iQ delivers 37 miles per gallon on the EPA combined cycle, 1 mpg better than the Smart (which does better on the highway). Both cars are rated as more efficient than the slightly larger MINIs and Fiat 500s, though.
Scion positions the iQ as a premium entry in its class--however you define that class--and its starting price of about $16,000 is thousands of dollars pricier than the sub-$13,000 pricetag on the Smart ForTwo. Buyers will decide it the extra value is worth it, but there's no doubt that the Scion is a more pleasant place to spend your time behind the wheel. It feels more sophisticated than the Smart, at least in fit, finish, and materials. It's also far less noisy, though the engine will howl under maximum power.
The Scion iQ will always be a specialty vehicle, and in its first full year on the market, Scion sold just 8,900 of them (against 10,000 Smarts in the same year). But while it may not be quick, or even all that cheap compared to today's compact cars, the iQ does a few things none of them can do. That impossible parking spot? It's all yours.
Even dedicated Scion iQ fans are unlikely to see the little electric iQ version; that's because it will only be offered to fleets that can use a very short-distance electric car. Its EPA-rated range of just 38 miles isn't likely to appeal to many buyers, so Toyota's zero-emission "compliance car" will instead be the Toyota RAV4 EV with a range of 103 miles from its Tesla-engineered electric powertrain.